Monday, May 01, 2006

David McAllester

The ethnomusicologist David McAllester has passed away. One of the four co-founders of the Society for Ethnomusicology, his contributions to the study of Native American music, especially Diné (Navajo), were great. His books on Peyote Music and the Diné Enemy Way are classics. Originally an anthropologist, he switched his affiliation to the music department at Wesleyan (where I was lucky to be the TA for his "Worlds of Music" course). David delighted in singing and dancing, and, in his lecture hall, it was often contageous, which was a marvelous way to make the case that knowledge of the world's diversity of musics was general, not specialized, and belonged in the center of the educational experience.

David had an ethical hard core. He was a CO during the Second World War. He had been quite literally adopted by his Navajo informant family, and had become so trusted by some Native American musicians that they allowed David to make documentary recordings of sacred repertoire only under the condition that David closely supervise the conditions under which the recordings were used, a condition that he honored completely. Although most of David's work concerned traditional repertoire, his ears were always open and alert to new developments in music made by Native Americans, be they pop, country, Mormon, or "New Age". He was not imune to John Cage's (an important visitor to Wesleyan) challenges to the extent and limits of music making, and I recall his enthusiastic response to Pauline Oliveros' ceremonial opera Crow, to Stockhausen's Am Himmel wander Ich, and to David Cope's The Way.

3 comments:

Bill Jefferys said...

I have started a WikiPedia article on David, and I hope that others can add to it and improve it.

Bill Jefferys (Wesleyan '62)

Bill Jefferys said...

Forgot to note the URL of the WikiPedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_P._McAllester

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