Ever wondered what music means to people from a culture other than your own? Well, ethnomusicologists do, and I recently had the great pleasure to sit down with Revell Carr, one of the ethnomusicology professors here at UNCG. Professor Carr unloaded his background, new project ideas and what he loves about music and his field of study.
First off, ethnomusicology is a long word for a way of studying music that does not focus on the music itself, but on creators and listeners of music. By researching the culture of the musician and the listeners, an ethnomusicologist can understand what music means and its various functions in specific cultures.
Unlike many grad students, Professor Carr stumbled upon his passion as a Master’s student. Carr was never a music major prior to earning his doctorate, Carr actually earned his undergraduate degree in creative writing. He then received his master’s in folklore, before changing to ethnomusicology for his doctorate. Carr explained he jumped majors not only from professors and friends guidance, but also because of a simple summer job.
In the summer, Carr worked for a maritime museum, where he began learning about sea chanteys, or the music sung by sailors on their long journeys at sea. This, mixed with his love for folk music guided him in the direction of his future. While unfolding his story, Carr made a good point, “you never know what path you’ll lead in life”.
Professor Carr seems to always have his hands tied with research and extracurricular work; however, he recently has taken a break from his intensive schedule. In the past few semesters, Carr has handed over the reigns as director of the Old time Ensemble to his grad student, Christen Blanton. Since its creation in 2008, over 150 students have participated in the Old Time Ensemble.
The ensemble, Carr mentions, is a perfect introduction into this type of music, and five bands have successfully formed since its inception eight years ago. Even though Carr is not director for this season, he shared with me that Blanton’s students will perform on Monday, November 21st at 5:30 pm at the Organ Hall in the Music Building. Carr will not be playing, but definitely there for support.
Professor Carr has also recently published his first book, “Hawaiian Music in Motion: Mariners, Missionaries, and Minstrels,” in December of 2014. It was selected by the Society for Ethnomusicology’s Alan P. Merriam Prize in 2015, and was recognized for its contribution to the field of ethnomusicology.
I asked Carr what he plans to do next, and he mentioned he has a few projects in mind. First, he wants to continue his research on “Dead Heads”, otherwise known as Grateful Dead fans. His end goal is writing a second book on this contemporary and less trespassed ethnomusicological territory. Professor Carr also hopes for a future filled with travel, particularly to port cities, to understand cross-cultural interaction of people and “how the traffic makes unique musical cultures”.
Professor Carr also talked about which genres of music and artists he is most excited to hear. Carr favors listening to “Americana” musicians and roots rock bands, including the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Alabama Shakes, respectively. But, his music spans a multitude of genres because any song that includes well-crafted instrumental and thought provoking lyrics will take his interest. “I try not to judge new music by what’s on the radio,” says Carr.
Of the myriad of music cultures Professor Carr teaches, there are two he enjoys most: Native Hawaiian and Native American. The former genre is influential to many other music cultures around the world, sadly, Carr noted, Native Hawaiian music lacks the appreciation it deserves. Insufficient appreciation is obvious from this fun fact: the first electric guitar was made for Hawaiian music. Many people would not connect the high-pitch sounds of the electric guitar to their general ideas of Hawaiian music, but this is one simple fact lost in the mainstream. The latter genre, Native American music, is also culturally important and lacks appreciation from other Americans. However, the best piece of information I gained from this interview is a majority of people believe these music cultures are dying, I myself believed so too, but Professor Carr debunked this myth. Carr expanded by stating they are thriving now as much as they ever did in the past, except today they are also infused with other popular genres.
In Carr’s opinion, “music is a way for people to communicate by sharing their politics, culture, emotions, and religion”. I gather from Carr, that he views music to be as necessary as regular speech or writing is to get your thoughts across, instead it is just another form. Therefore, I could not agree more with one of his last quotes, “[Music is] one of the best ways to learn about people we don’t know….and something we need right now”. Ethnomusicology opens doors to explore, and Dr. Carr is one of many always searching for new doors to open.