Saturday, December 16, 2006

Charles Seeger, 120

Just noticed that Charles Seeger, composer, musicologist, ethnomusicologist, and general thinker-of-big-thoughts-about-music would have celebrated his 120th birthday on the 14th. Seeger's writings on music made a great impression on me as a student, especially on those sleepness nights spent pondering the question "what is music?" Perhaps the most encouraging quality of Seeger's work on this question was its provisional quality or incompleteness, with an refreshingly honest mix of authority and failure in the face of a difficult question. Anyone writing about music is touched by "Seeger's dilemma": that thinking and discoursing in the "language mode of communication" about the "music mode of communication" dominates, directs and, above all, limits research about music.

American music is also in debt to Seeger for his encouragement of the younger composer Henry Cowell, as well as the musical gifts of his more famous progeny. (The jury is out on Seeger's role in the career of his second wife, the remarkable composer Ruth Crawford). Seeger was also a founder or co-founder of several academic societies, including the American Musicological Junta Cartel Society and the Society for Ethnomusicology, perhaps in a restless search for the proper community in which to share his work.

1 comment:

Robert said...

I can't really vouch for his contributions to musicology but I read his biography and was impressed in his versatile career.