Let's Envision A Dissertation Topic...

Greetings VibesWorkshop!

As some of you know, I’m currently knee-deep in year two of a 5-year doctoral program in Ethnomusicology (sometimes defined as the anthropology of music). I’m getting close to the time when I should have an idea for my dissertation…and I don’t have a research project. That’s where you come in!

Ideally, I want my dissertation to serve as a meaningful contribution to the vibraphone community (and music education as a whole?), but I haven’t figured out how. I’ve spoken to a few people from the site for ideas and brainstormed a bunch, but my advisor doesn’t think any of the ideas are quite original enough for an ethnomusicology dissertation. However, she does like the idea of vibesworkshop.com and the community, educational opportunities, and musical developments that have emerged as a result of the site’s existence. She said there might be a unique, one-of-a-kind angle somewhere within that sphere and encouraged me to think more about it.

Now I’m reaching out to all of you. Can you help me envision a research project (which I’ll have at least three years to work on) that would be more than just facts and figures? For those of you who attended the World Vibes Congress, you might remember that we spent a good chunk of time discussing vibraphone innovation, education, development, etc. The fact that the vibraphone community is at a point where we devote whole weekends to gathering to discuss the future of this instrument, whole weeks attending workshops where we are immersed in all-things-vibraphone practically 24/7, and hours to watching “vibe hangs” online is incredible. The fact that we connect with players all across the globe, receive feedback from the pros, and share resources and achievements so easily online is incredible. The fact that the vibraphone is slowly making its way into university music programs, high school jazz bands, and school music competitions in incredible.

These are all incredible…but they’re not a research project or dissertation. The problem I’m running into is that most Ethnomusicology students study more (and I cringe as I write this word) “exotic” forms of music. For instance, students in my program are conducting research on protest music in Colombia, Mexican immigrant music in New York, music education in Venezuela, children’s music in Senegal, music and identity in Brooklyn’s Jewish communities, music’s role in Sufi religious ceremonies, etc. One student is doing his research on jazz music in New York, but he is primarily studying the role of identity and race in specific jazz styles.

So…if I can find a meaningful, one-of-a-kind angle, I may be able to write a vibraphone-related dissertation (or possibly another kind of dissertation such as a community project, digital platform, or some other alternative to a giant paper or book for publication). If you have any input or ideas (remember, I have three years to devote to research, so it has to be substantial) I would love to hear them. You can email me directly at c.stallard22@gmail.com or leave comments here on this post. Thanks in advance for your support!

Always for the vibes,
Carolyn

you know the vibes are used a lot in Indian music.

it's interesting that within the last 10 years there HAS been a jump in visibility with the vibraphone.

i think it's interesting that there is a big community around vibesworkshop, and there are careers that we are witnessing coming out of this community. not sure if that's enough of an angle. maybe you should pitch it at the congress this year and talk about it for a few minutes.

I should pitch it at the Congress! Oh man...that would be a great place to talk about this and get ideas. Good thinking Tony!

Personally, I think vibes are perfect for such a project because they are primarily used in jazz. Jazz is entirely about ethnicity because it is the artistic expression of the unique intersection of African music and European music.

The history of the vibes perfectly represents the very American blending of ethnicity and tradition that is the heart of our culture. It reflects both the successes and struggles... And it is all there in the vibes.

Best of luck.

Hi Carolyn,

I think it would be hard to find a vibraphone specific topic, since from the little I understand about ethnomusicology, it isn't really about the particular instruments right? It's about the people, cultures, communities, etc. who are making music together regardless of the style or instruments they happen to play.

Having said that, I think a great topic would be looking at how online communities have changed the way people learn and play music. Vibes workshop is a great example, of course. I'm thinking also of online courses like Gary's and Jam of the Week on facebook. These media transcend the usual ethno/national boundaries, which make them interesting, especially in light of the idea that music brings people together. Mexican immigrant music in New York is great, but how many different cultures and nationalities exist here on the site?

Fellow dissertater,
Tristan

I was thinking the same thing. That was one of the ideas I mentioned to my advisor, and it was the one she was most encouraging about because of precisely those three communities, especially vibesworkshop. However, just writing about them isn't going to be enough of a "unique" angle, so I need to find a way to make my work more impactful (I'm studying what is called "applied ethnomusicology", which connects ethnographic research and data to real world - or virtual world - projects and communities). So...my thought is that perhaps that's an angle I can explore (there doesn't seem to be too much written about this phenomenon yet) but expand it into a project for vibesworkshop or something? I don't know what that "unique" it is yet. Hopefully it will reveal itself in some way...

something about how people use these communities to learn. those especially from remote parts of the world. I can give you demographics. I have everyone's state, and country.

That is an interesting question, Tony, but I do not think it is an ethnomusicological one. I believe it is very hard to write about the vibraphone from an ethnomusicological point of view because the vibraphone is such a technical and "non-ethnic" product invented by Henry Schluter at J C Deagan Inc. in 1927. The situation is very different for the xylophone which was a folk music instrument in e.g. Europe already in the 1500's.

I was thinking this as well. But we tend to think of "ethnic" in very binary terms, i.e. almost western/non-western. It reminds me of how people talk about food. Ethnic food = Chinese, Indian, Thai, etc. whereas "American" food is just "food". What about diner food in Philadelphia? Could that be ethnic food? That seems to be the same kind of division as talking about "Mexican immigrant music in New York".

Here is the first definition I get of ethnic: "of or relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition."

Is there any reason why the history and context of the vibraphone cannot be included in some tradition or other? I always thought it was interesting how the instrument was invented in times of great economic and technological growth on a model of an instrument as old as music itself. That is particular to the national and cultural tradition of the United States in the early 20th century, but maybe that doesn't count as ethnic.

Maybe these issues just show the limitations of ethnomusicology as a field of study, since the most promising angles proposed here seem to point more to a sociological perspective.

Thank you, Rogersvibes, for a very interesting and relevant comment. Historically, "ethnic" was used to label something of foreign countries or tribes and not that of one's own country or people, but that ethnocentric view and understanding had to yield for the true meaning of the term. Then there is a meaning in "ethnic" that makes it linked to the people of the country and not to its elite. A certain style of e.g. court music in a country is not considered ethnic if it differs much from the folk music.

"Is there any reason why the history and context of the vibraphone cannot be included in some tradition or other?"

It is probably or even certainly in some tradition, but could that tradition be regarded as ethnic?

I believe the most promising angles are the organological and the sociomusicological.

Here's my two cents. First building on the other comments here about this site, and second perhaps another angle.

Regarding this site. To me there is a very interesting "ethnological" angle at vibesworkshop. So here's my coffee inspired stream of consciousness: Since few of us contributors post videos or pictures/videos of ourselves, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc. can be anonymous if one chooses. From what I can tell, in our tight community we care little about such things. Perhaps it's that we can't afford to discriminate because our numbers are so small. I bet there's a lot more negative discourse in general on other sites that cater to something like Drums, or Guitar etc. I've been involved in other sites over the years and vibesworkshop is hands down the best place for open discussion, kind and thoughtful discourse, and people helping others who seek no financial reward. (BTW a lot of this credit goes to Tony who works his butt off to make this happen). Another thing specific to the vibes is seems (I have no evidence here -prima facie) that players are equally distributed among ethnicity, however with a bias (in numbers) toward men over women, which sets up my second angle.

There could be some paper material comparing and contrasting the ethno-diversity of Vibes and Marimba. Marimba seems to have ethnic "pockets" where is is popular, and vibes appears more about jazz in general.

Finally, I may be able to put you in touch with someone who recently completed his masters (and will likely pursue a PhD), in anthropology who is done a lot of research around on-line/anonymous personas, in a non musical setting. Let me know here if you want me contact him in your behalf.

Best of luck with all this.

--IndianaGlen

My academic interests are related to the mechanisms of hearing. So your interests relate to several questions of interest to me:

1, Are the "chords" of the music of one culture related to the vowel sounds used in the language of that culture? The sounds "a" "e" "I" "o" "u" have frequency peaks that behave exactly like chords.

2. As pronunciation of language shifts with geography in a culture, do chordal preferences switch with it? e.g., south to north in the US, London to Edinburgh in the UK?

3. As language changes over time, do chordal preferences change? e.g. 18th century compared to 21st century English?

These questions tend to be a lot easier to ask than to come up with definitive answers that can be defended. But I suspect the study would tell us something about how our brains are wired. And by extension, studying them would lead to insights about how the brain evolved to process both language and music.

Carolyn,

I can't say that I have any specific ideas for your dissertation, but I do have some thoughts. I'd be happy to talk to you, maybe some more ideas will spring from that. Please contact me and we'll swap phone numbers. At the minimum we'll have a nice conversation.

Good Luck
Blake

Greetings, Carolyn and others!

As I understand it, ethnomusicology is about folk music. Does the vibraphone have a place in folk music? If it hasn't, can ethnomusicology be the study of the ethnicity, and changing ethnicity, of the vibraphone?

Sincerely,
Magnus
http://doublemalletgrips.wordpress.com

Hi Carolyn,

First, congratulations on your pursuit of a doctoral degree in ethnomusicology; as a Ph.D. in Sociology I can appreciate the work you've accomplished so far and the work that lies ahead of you, especially your focus on exploring the world of vibraphonists. I'm confident whatever direction you end up pursuing will be a valuable contribution to both music and ethnography.

Several comments responding to your post have in some way mentioned a concentration on the online community here at vibesworkshop, which I too, believe could be the a very interesting jumping off point. While fascinating in its own right, the question of impact looms on the horizon. In this age of burgeoning online education (MOOG's come to mind) there can be rich territory to explore. Given that the vibraphone is associated so intimately with jazz, and jazz is particularly an improvisers art, which is quite personal and individual, you might consider a study of the way this worldwide online community of improvisers who openly share ideas and performance technique has developed and made its mark on broad world of jazz. Compare this contemporary experience, for example, to the "cutting" and jam sessions that were so prominent in Kansas City among saxophone players (think Charlie Parker) which certainly shaped the development of bebop and beyond. Those sessions, which also took place in New York, Chicago and ,at some point, Los Angeles (west coast cool) were crucibles for profound innovation -- especially expressed by saxophone players. Could the same be happening today, in a non-competitive, more supportive way with the vibesworkshop community? If so, what is that impact. How is the work and sharing by Joe Locke, Gary Burton, Dave Friedman, Behn Gillece, Warren Wolf and Stefon Harris, to name a few contributors to the site, broadly influencing the direction of jazz worldwide?

I hope this stimulates a few fruitful ideas for you.

Michael DuBick

Hi Carolyn,

I wonder if there is anything to be said about the vibes in southern Mexico and Guatemala? I know that in that area, the marimba has long been a very important instrument as a vehicle for traditional music. I'm willing to bet that in this day and age, things have broadened out a whole lot more: i.e. western music being mixed with traditional music (a sure bet), and with it, classical European percussion instruments. I'd be curious how the vibraphone has been inserted into such a situation, and what impacts it may have had, culturally as well as musically.

Best of luck with your research. Keep digging!

Mackenzie

I searched the Internet for "vibraphone folk music" and got to http://www.folklib.net/folkfile/v.shtml where it said: "vibraphone rarely if ever encountered in folk music. The vibes are an elaboration of the xylophone - tuned metal bars mounted in a frame and played with mallets. Vibrato can be obtained through a motorized mechanism of pipes and valves mounted under the bars."

Carolyn: "I’ve spoken to a few people from the site for ideas and brainstormed a bunch, but my advisor doesn’t think any of the ideas are quite original enough for an ethnomusicology dissertation. However, she does like the idea of vibesworkshop.com and the community, educational opportunities, and musical developments that have emerged as a result of the site’s existence. She said there might be a unique, one-of-a-kind angle somewhere within that sphere and encouraged me to think more about it."

I think your advisor should be concerned with if Vibesworkshop.com is a starting point for an ethnomusicological dissertation at all, and not if it is possible to find a unique, one-of-a-kind angle within it. To me it sounds more like a starting point for a sociomusicological study.

Carolyn: "The problem I’m running into is that most Ethnomusicology students study more (and I cringe as I write this word) “exotic” forms of music. For instance, students in my program are conducting research on protest music in Colombia, Mexican immigrant music in New York, music education in Venezuela, children’s music in Senegal, music and identity in Brooklyn’s Jewish communities, music’s role in Sufi religious ceremonies, etc. One student is doing his research on jazz music in New York, but he is primarily studying the role of identity and race in specific jazz styles."

Ethnomusicology must not necessarily deal with exotic forms of music but with ethnic music, be it the music of the same ethnic group one is part of. Thus, "protest music in Colombia" and "music education in Venezuela" perhaps sound ethnomusicological but don't have to really be so, and the subject "music's role in Sufi religious ceremonies" is most likely not.

wow look at this conversation. pretty cool. i don't know enough about ethno socio. personally i hope we fit in, but maybe we don't?

what about how this community or any vibe player is affecting jazz and pop music. that is taking the players of this uncommon instrument (that we're trying to make more common) and put it out there in specific music. it's used a lot in Indian music according to randy sutin. there are some bands using it as a replacement for a piano playing interesting music. ilyan who plays with nguyen le. i used it with the jost project and I'm sure there are others.

i'll keep checking here!

Tony: "what about how this community or any vibe player is affecting jazz and pop music."

That is a sociomusicological or more general musicological question but I can't see it as an ethnomusicological question since it isn't coupled to any specific ethnic musical expression.

Tony: "it's used a lot in Indian music according to randy sutin."

I tried an Internet search for "Indian music vibraphone" and found these two:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mE2vpMJYjr8

http://www.snapdeal.com/product/heart-desire-vibraphone-instrumental-aud...

Is it possible to regard these as Indian folk music? What would Carolyn's advisor say?

Hello Carolyn- Commendations to you for your graduate work.

Here is a possible suggestion for your dissertation. As far as I know, there is no definitive and comprehensive written- illustrated history of the Vibes. This would be an apt time to create such a document (book!) in that 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the instrument’s invention.

A comprehensive history would include:

- An in-depth narrative of the instrument’s history including the social context into which the instrument was developed. This social context influenced the instrument’s design, acceptance or non-acceptance, and use.

-A thorough description of all of the models of the instrument with accompanying photos, diagrams, dates, and catalog reprints beginning with Hermann Winterhoff’s 1916 Leedy instrument up to the present day.

- A selected discography- photo collection that gives examples of vibists performing on and the music being played on those instruments.

This dissertation idea is relatively straightforward, but the finished product could be very worthwhile. I would buy a copy!

Hello!

Although I can't see how a comprehensive history of the vibes can be an ethnomusicological dissertation I would certainly like to read or listen to one.

The first vibraphone, the Leedy vibraphone, was really more of a low glockenspiel with its steel bars and sharp ringing tone, so I am inclined to date the invention of the vibraphone to Henry Schluter's instrument, the vibraharp, of 1927 with aluminum bars and dampening mechanism. Here is a little video with a Leedy vibraphone from 1935 when, I believe, Leedy had followed the design of Schluter's Deagan instrument:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhRDuy8D9MU

OK I can't resist.. how about a dissertation pertaining to all the help you've gotten for your dissertation? i.e. "in cyberland, is it possible to have grandchildren without having children?"

-- It's Friday, I flew home with a head cold, please give me a break.

--IG

Haha yes, I could write a whole paper just on how quickly this community has responded to my plea for help!
But seriously...I think that fact definitely has to be a part of my larger research. It's just another example of why this community is so unique and influential!

Wow...I didn't visit vibesworkshop for a couple days and now there are so many responses! This is great. I'm going to respond to them collectively here.

First, ethnomusicology is NOT just about folk music or just about ethnicity (in fact some people say that the very term ethnomusicology should be changed so there is less confusion over what the field consists of), and all of these topics DO very much fall under the scope of the field. Some ethnomusicologists study a particular community or kind of music, but many others study music's relation to a specific topic. For instance, there is an entire subcategory called medical ethnomusicology which focuses on the study of music's use in medical settings (in some ways, this overlaps with music therapy), and there are ethnomusicologists studying music's relation to neurology/cognition/psychology, music's relation to spirituality, music and gender, music and identity, music and migration, etc. etc. It is an extremely wide field. Ethnomusicologists could also study the history of a particular instrument, though it's more likely they'd study the history in relation to social context in some way. Think anthropology or sociology with a musical angle.

Second, the fact that I've gotten so many encouraging and information responses just from one post once again reinforces my belief that focusing on the role of online "imagined" communities (as they say in anthropology) in creating/influencing actual communities, and specifically how vibesworkshop has affected the instrument and players worldwide (and in turn the broader categories of the vibes' use in music, in education, etc.) is really something worth pursuing. Collectively, we have so much information to share...we just need to organize it.

On that note, I like the idea of the history of the vibraphone, but through the lens of its changing role in society. I love Randy's comment: "The history of the vibes perfectly represents the very American blending of ethnicity and tradition that is the heart of our culture. It reflects both the successes and struggles... And it is all there in the vibes."
Heck yes it is! So maybe my project is a history of vibes, but telling it through a social context. The gender gap, the instrument's use worldwide (how DID it get to be prevalent in Indian music?), our online personas and demographics, the way online education transcends ethno/national boundaries, the fact that the vibraphone started out as a fairly well-known instrument, then died away, and has now reemerged and become more visible in the Digital Age, the ways online education has affected instrumental improvisation, innovation, etc., the way this "imagined" community has in turn created real life communities (it's very cool how many of you I've met in person because of this site and the workshops, World Vibes Congress, etc.), and how online education has allowed the vibraphone to experience such a lift.

Hmmm...just trying to make sense out of all of this. There are so many angles here, just have to find one that my advisor likes too!

On a similar note, I'm planning to apply for a research grant to do a short-term summer research project here in NYC on something vibes-related. I have some ideas but rather than write them out here, anyone have any input? This community is great!

Keep the comments coming, and thanks so much for your support! This is becoming a great thread :)

"Ethno" in "ethnomusicology" means nation and the term "ethnomusicology" means the study of ethnic music. Thus it can not be the study of international music like Western classical music or the specific study of a non-ethnic music instrument like the vibraphone; the latter is called organology. Studying communities and music is called sociomusicology, and the study of music and neurology is called neuromusicology.

I am, however, not surprised by the relativism you profess, Carolyn; it is a very clear power in the humanistic research field that causes a lot of confusion.

I was poking around and thought I'd bump this thread. My guess is Carolyn is knee deep in school and may not be on vw much, so if anybody knows I'd love to get an update. I'm probably not the only one who is curious what the final topic is.