Published January 6, 2012


Anthony Seeger, Distinguished Professor of Ethnomusicology and Director of the Ethnomusicology Archive, will retire at the end of the winter 2012 quarter, after more than a decade at UCLA. In celebration of his career, his work at UCLA, and his family legacy, Professor Seeger will present four lectures for the winter 2012 Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series, sponsored by the department (see the schedule below). Donna Armstrong interviewed him recently.


Armstrong: In your interview with, you said that among the Suyá Indians of Brazil, music is created for the purpose of organizing the society and creating relationships. You said that for them, music is about sacred, formal things, and everybody participates. I was struck by how much similarity there is between this conception of music and what I understand about the music that was created by members of your own family. What do you think about this? [Many Seeger family members have been songwriters and folksingers, including Pete Seeger, who wrote songs that defined the political movements of the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s—“If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” and others. Also, the activities of various Seeger family members have helped to organize people in this country, and improve relationships, giving a voice and a sense of identity to many].

Seeger: My own experience of music as a member of a musical family certainly made me especially aware of certain aspects of the music of the Suyá/Kïsêdjê, but so did my anthropological training and extensive reading in social theory. People use music to do many things, and the experience of performing and listening to it has profound effects on participants and audiences. Some aspects of music among the Suyá/Kïsêdjê are very different from those I had experienced in my life before; other aspects seemed rather familiar to me both from my own experience and from reading anthropology and ethnomusicology. My uncle Pete Seeger is especially good at getting audiences to sing together; he is also a brilliant songwriter. The Suyá/Kïsêdjê Indians of Brazil create a kind of solidarity through singing together, but do not write songs at all. Instead they obtain them from animals, spirits, and enemies. While Pete Seeger is also well known for using music as a means to raise consciousness and advance political agendas, the Suyá/Kïsêdjê do not have topical songs. When someone is very angry they do not sing about it, instead they become silent. Silence can be a very noticeable expression of unhappiness or anger. Imagine! A Seeger living in a society with no songs of protest!

Armstrong: In reading about your family, I noticed another commonality was a belief in the “power in solidarity;” that there is something of value in everyone, and that we as individuals can contribute to making our society better. This idea seems to have been passed down through the generations in your family. How did this happen? How did it happen in your own life? [For example, according to Wikipedia, Charles Seeger (Anthony Seeger’s grandfather and father of Pete Seeger) had a “political awakening” after he became aware of the lives of migrant workers in California. Because his subsequent left-wing activism caused “deteriorating relations with the university,” he left UC Berkeley and returned to the family home in New York. He later became director of the Roosevelt Administration’s Farm Resettlement Program. When traveling with his father in North Carolina for that job, Pete Seeger first became aware of and enthralled with the banjo, and later used that instrument to sing songs intended to raise political awareness].

Seeger: While some people find in their religions the basic values around which they organize their lives, this has not been the case in the Seeger family for at least several generations. I think there is, however, a shared family culture of concern with ethics and social justice, as well as a willingness to take chances and invest immense amounts of work on projects to which one is committed. My grandfather Charles Seeger and most of his children have been driven and highly focused people.  This was certainly the case for my father John, his older brother Charles Jr., his younger brother Pete, and his half-siblings Mike and Peggy Seeger. Some of us were fortunate enough to marry strong-willed spouses who humanized us to a certain degree and pursued their own projects as well as helping us with ours (Toshi, Ellie, and Judy Seeger are examples of these). Others were not so fortunate, but this did not reduce their drive. There are some other "family traditions" besides music: Grandfather Charles protested the entry of the United States into World War I; my father was a conscientious objector in World War II; my uncle Mike was a conscientious objector during the Korean War; and I was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. We all share a commitment to supporting the creation of a more equitable world. I once introduced myself to a class of students saying (as a serious joke) "I am one of those people your senators warned you about: an agnostic professor whose family members were active in the Communist Party, was raised in Greenwich Village, went to "red diaper baby” schools, and believes that the way things are is not necessarily the way they should be." I do not say that anymore—academic life is more affected now by the political climate than it has been since the 1960s.

Enlarge  Photo/Todd Cheney  

Armstrong: Please talk about your work with the Suyá of Brazil, with regard to issues of music ownership and fairness.

Seeger: I have always felt that the purpose of knowledge was to use it in order to benefit people or groups of people. It seems to me that scholars have an ethical responsibility to find ways to communicate what they have learned to audiences outside the University, and for purposes of social and political action. One of the ways my research has helped the Suyá/Kïsêdjê Indians has been in securing the rights to their ancestral lands. My publications and research notes provided unequivocal proof of their right to land that had been taken from them in the 1950s. It was eventually restored in the late 1990s. Another kind of "property" or set of rights over which there is a lot of conflict today is that to song and knowledge, especially pharmaceutical knowledge. I have used what I have learned from the Suyá Kïsêdjê about their music to challenge some of the simpleminded thinking on issues of "intellectual property" and copyright. Since Suyá/Kïsêdjê music is old and said to be learned from animals rather than composed by individual men and women, it is in a sense "public domain" and thus usable by anybody in the world for any purpose whatsoever. On the other hand, they are very proud of their music and do not share that idea of a "public domain" that anyone can use. There are thus things that are legal, but not ethical; there are also some things that are ethical but not legal. It seems to me that ethnomusicologists need to be addressing these issues because most of the discussions of copyright are developed from European thought in the 19th century and ignore the ideas and musical activities of many other peoples around the world.

Armstrong: This brings us to the intertwined ideas of recording, selling, and preserving music, which you have talked a lot about in the ten years that you have taught at UCLA. Tell us something about your experience at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and what you teach students in your Music Industry course.

Seeger: One of the things I tell both undergraduate and graduate students is that you cannot understand most of the musical traditions in the world today unless you understand something about the industry of which they are a part. Only in a few isolated cases is music still transmitted only orally without the use of any kind of media. As Steven Feld has eloquently written, once music can be recorded on media there is a separation of the sound and the social context in which it was originally made that allows the sound to travel far beyond its original place and time.  It is almost unimaginable today that there was once a time—it was not that long ago, 1877—when sounds could never be heard the same way twice.  They could not be recorded and played back.  The development of technology and the industry of marketing and distributing recordings had an immense impact on the music of our times and on people's lives.  I experienced this when I was director of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (1988–2000).  First, even though the CD was 72 minutes, a great deal of the music in the world is much longer than that and thus producers had to select parts of larger performances to record and distribute.  Second, we occasionally received letters or e-mails from people who bought the recordings telling us how their lives had been changed by listening to them.  Although I was running a record company, I felt that what I was really doing was running an educational program that had the capacity to change lives and inspire people.

Armstrong: You say in your interview that everyone sang in your family. Tell us a little bit about what it was like, as a boy, growing up in the Seeger family.

Seeger: For the past two generations, almost everyone in the Seeger family has learned to play music or sing at a very young age. I have often joked that I was born with a banjo in my hand just as the legendary John Henry was born with a hammer in his. My grandparents on both sides of the family were musicians, many of my uncles and aunts were, and my parents sang all kinds of music in close harmony. They used to like to sing driving in the car (they had no radio then), and engraved in my memory is a moment in which I stood up between them in the front seat (there were also no seatbelts then) and announced "be quiet, I want to sing now." They were quiet and encouraged me to sing then, and then to accompany them on the banjo, which I began to play when I was about 12. I gave my first concert at a school assembly when I was in sixth grade, and had a fan club of younger girls who would scream every time they saw me, much to my deep embarrassment. (Ethnomusicologist Lucy Duran was one of my young fans back then). I wrote a "talking blues" about being behind in your schoolwork that I had to sing so often that I never wanted to write another song. My sister, nine years younger, grew up with the guitar and founded a group called the Short Sisters, in which she still plays today. Many of my cousins are musicians, songwriters, instrument makers, or (in some cases) potters.

Armstrong: I have heard you say “if we lose our memory of the past, there will be a lack of resources for the future.” Many of the stories of the American past are embedded in our folk songs. Tell us some of your thoughts about how we can preserve these songs.

Seeger: Archives and museums suffer from the general conception that they are all about the past, repositories for useless things that people do not want any longer. In fact, I am convinced that archives are really about the future. In times of rapid change, many communities look to the past as a basis on which to construct a new future. I have seen this repeatedly in the way audiovisual archives are used. Some of the uses are obvious, for example when a community cannot remember certain ceremonial songs and consults an archive to get copies of early recordings of songs in order to perform them again. Others are unexpected, as when Australian Aboriginal myths originally recorded by an anthropologist for research are ruled as admissible evidence for proof of land ownership and territorial rights, or when Black South Africans are able to use archives to produce evidence of where they lived prior to the forced removals during apartheid. Individuals and communities do not always need archives—they can live for decades without giving them a thought. But at certain times, the past is a valuable resource for creating the future. If archives have done their job well, the materials are available and they can serve as a fundamental resource.

Armstrong: Please name the most important institutions that you either helped to found, or that you helped to develop, and what you think the lasting effect on society these institutions will have.

Seeger: I have spent a fair amount of time during my career working to strengthen various kinds of institutions and professional organizations. I believe that they are very important parts of civil society, and worth the effort I put into them. In 1980, when I was living in Brazil, I was elected President of the Comissão Pro-Índio of Rio de Janeiro. This was a civilian organization established to support the Brazilian Indians’ struggles for rights to land and services. It was a little strange being a foreigner leading a Brazilian human rights organization, but I was a recognized specialist in indigenous issues and employed at the National Museum. The combined activities of the indigenous rights organizations in Brazil in the 1980s was very important in reducing the damage done by the policies of the military dictatorship with respect to indigenous issues. While I was in Brazil I was also co-founder of a graduate program that combined ethnomusicology, musicology and music therapy at the Brazilian Conservatory of Music. It was one of the very first programs that included ethnomusicology in Brazil. Today the study of ethnomusicology is booming in Brazil and I just finished a term as Vice President of the Brazilian Association for Ethnomusicology. I twisted the arms of several of my former Brazilian students to get them to host the ICTM World Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 2001, and the Brazilian Association for Ethnomusicology had its organizational meeting at that conference. In the United States I was active in the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM), and served as program chair, member of the Council, member of the Executive Board, and eventually President of the organization. At the same time, I was also an elected member of the Executive Board of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM), a UNESCO affiliated NGO. I was recruited to the ICTM by the ethnomusicologist Dieter Christensen and his wife Nerthus. This is a far more international organization than the SEM, and it gave me a very different view of the diversity of ways in which people around the world are studying musical traditions. I wish all of our students could participate in the ICTM—but unfortunately it involves a good deal of long-distance travel. One of the things I negotiated for in my employment contracts was extra travel money so that I could be active in international organizations. I could not have been so active on the international scene without the support of the Museu Nacional, Indiana University, the Smithsonian Institution and UCLA. In the area of archiving, I am proud of the collaborative work that Shubha Chaudhuri and I have done at the Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology in New Delhi within the American Institute of Indian studies. After a memorable conference in December 1999, we established the Research Archive Section of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA), of which I was chair for the first four years.

My grandfather Charles Seeger was a very active founder of institutions, among them the American Musicological Society, the Society for Ethnomusicology, and the US- based society for comparative musicology, and to a degree the ICTM. My uncle Pete Seeger was active in a number of musical organizations, among them People’s Songs and Sing Out! magazine. He also attended the first meeting of the SEM. I am less of a founder of new organizations and more of a reinvigorater of existing ones.

Armstrong: You have had a varied career, moving from teaching in the U.S. to spending many years in Brazil, running a recording company, and back to teaching. Was it difficult to make these career moves? Is there a common theme or thread that you are following in making your life choices?

Seeger: I have been lucky to have had a number of different jobs in my career. My father told me that Grandfather Charles had once declared that every person should have at least three or four careers in a lifetime; I seem to have followed his dictum. Looking back on my career, I see a number of distinct phases that begin with a decision to become an anthropologist rather than a musician that I made in college, and then 15 years during which I devoted myself almost exclusively to research and writing on South American Indians. After getting my PhD I was invited to join the graduate program in social anthropology at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, which was a wonderful experience. Between my graduate student research and the seven years I spent teaching in Rio, I spent 10 years in Brazil. The next phase was nearly 20 years devoted to audiovisual archiving and the dissemination of recorded sound and images (1982-2000). At Indiana University I was put in charge of the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music, where I learned a great deal about the intricacies of older recording media and the challenges of running archive and making their music available. After six years at Indiana University, I was invited to apply to be the first curator and director of the Folkways Collection that the Smithsonian Institution had recently acquired following the death of the company's founder in 1986. I had to give up my job security (tenure) when I moved to the Smithsonian, and there were number of other aspects about working in the United States' national Museum that were quite different from my experience in Brazil. I was both curator of the archival collection and director of a running record company, which was expected to be self-supporting. I was told I could do anything I thought was justified with the label, except lose money. Thus began an intensive course in how record companies worked in the 1980s, and a series of initiatives to put the entire collection online. I had a wonderful time at the Smithsonian Institution, but I missed teaching, and I missed the challenge of students asking questions that are difficult or impossible to answer. So in 2000 I moved from running a record company at the Smithsonian Institution to teaching in a field I had never taught before, Ethnomusicology. I had taught courses in ethnomusicology, but always in departments of anthropology. My move to UCLA was a real challenge—I had to prepare entirely new courses and teach in an entirely new environment after 12 years with little teaching. Another, perhaps parallel, set of activities has been my participation in administering professional organizations. After holding a number of different positions, I served as president of the Society for Ethnomusicology and was for many years on the executive board of the International Council for Traditional Music—of which I was later President and subsequently Secretary General. I have also served on the advisory boards of many organizations, and the executive boards of a few others.

Is there a common thread running through these? Well, all of them had to do with music in some form or another. I was usually invited to apply for (or just to accept) challenges that I felt would be really interesting to take up. I didn’t plan this career—it happened by a series of happy circumstances and luck.

Armstrong: Your wife goes with you to Brazil, is that right? She was with you the first time, and then after that…? What role did she play in your research? What is her profession and how do you balance your careers?

Seeger: My wife, Judy Seeger, and I have known each other since I was about a month old when, I am told, she pushed me off a couch. My parents and her aunt and uncle were very good friends. Although her family moved to Pittsburgh, we went to summer camp together and later worked at that summer camp together. We reconnected when we were both undergraduates at Harvard University and found we enjoyed singing together and working together. Instead of attending my college graduation, we got married in a large family ceremony in Vermont and that fall began graduate school together—Judy in Romance languages (Spanish and Portuguese) and me in anthropology. One of the reasons I chose to do my dissertation research in Brazil rather than some other place in the world (Papua New Guinea and Australia were alternative possibilities) was that Portuguese was an area of interest for her. I could never have done my field research among the Suyá/Kïsêdjê Indians without her. When I was out hunting and fishing, she would be working preparing manioc with the women and cooking food. At night I would sit with the men; she would sit with the women. When I asked women questions about something, they almost always referred me to a man as the knowledgeable respondent. When my wife asked women the same question, they would talk with her for hours about the subject. She was a sounding board and proofreader for many of the publications I have written over the years. For her dissertation, she studied ballad singing in a fishing village about 400 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, where she lived for a year and a half to research rather similar to what ethnomusicologists do today. She did it with the additional challenge of having a young daughter with her, and only being joined by me on weekends and some holidays when I could get away from my work in Rio. Judy’s book on the results of her research in Brazil and Spain, Conde Claros, Study of a Ballad Tradition, was published by Garland Press in 1990. For the past 19 years Judy has taught at St. John's College in Annapolis. This is a an unusual liberal arts college with a "Great Books" curriculum in which all of the teaching is done in seminars and most of it focuses on reading and seeking to understand original works in literature, science, math, and philosophy. It was relatively easy for me to work at the Smithsonian institution in Washington DC and her to work in Annapolis Maryland—they are only about 30 miles apart. My move to Los Angeles was a lot more difficult, and for the past 11 years we have had a bi-coastal commuting marriage in which I would be away for weeks or months at a time and then back in Annapolis for summer vacations and holidays. I have traveled a lot throughout my career (Judy reminds me that I complained about too much travel in the 1970s). But the past 11 years have been trying. Although I am sad to leave UCLA, there is no question that I am happy to stop this commuting relationship that necessitated so many goodbyes. In 2012 we will celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary. Our two daughters, Elizabeth and Hiléia, were both born in Rio and are now both adult, driven, committed professionals trying to benefit people’s lives—classic Seegers. Judy and I are both very impressed by their courage and intelligence.

Armstrong: Your grandfather, Charles Seeger, invented the melograph and helped to establish the ethnomusicology program at UCLA, beginning in the late 1950s. Did he influence your career path?

Seeger: My grandfather Charles did not have a great direct influence on my career. He always lived fairly far away, first in Washington DC and later in California, and only occasionally paid short visits to my parents’ home. When I was studying for my doctorate at the University of Chicago, I met Charles at the apartment of his friend Klaus Wachsmann at Northwestern. Because he was hard of hearing, I had a very hard time communicating to him that I was his grandson. Finally, I pulled out a business card and showed it to him, at which point he not only recognized me, but I felt that he paid full attention to everything I did and said from that date on. He did have an indirect influence on my career, however, when I was in college. I was unhappy that in order to take further courses in music at Harvard University I would need to learn to play the piano, since I had taken music theory courses in high school largely using a guitar. When my parents reported to him about my problem he answered “Keep Tony away from the music department; they will ruin him!” My parents did not mention this at all, but it may explain why I majored in social sciences with a minor in folklore rather than in music. I did not know that grandfather Charles had been born and raised in Mexico City until after my years in Brazil, but both of our lives revolved in important ways around Latin America and its music. We both worked at universities and in public sector jobs in Washington DC. I began my job at the Smithsonian at about the same age as he began his with the Roosevelt administration, and it seemed inevitable that I should be invited to apply for a job at UCLA in the very program in which he had enjoyed an entirely new career in his retirement—he taught at UCLA from age 70 to 82 or so. I hope I find as much challenge and satisfaction in my retirement as he did during his.

Armstrong: I know that you are a member and former president of ICTM (International Council for Traditional Music). What type of work is that organization doing? How are you involved with ICTM? Also, how does ICTM differ from SEM (The Society for Ethnomusicology)?

Seeger: To quote its own mission statement, “The ICTM, a non-governmental organization in formal consultation with UNESCO, is the World Organization for the study, practice, and documentation of music, including dance and other performing arts.” Note that the word "ethnomusicology" does not appear in the statement. As I see it, this is because the ICTM supports a wide variety of approaches to the study of all kinds of music, dance and the performing arts, and does not proclaim the discipline of ethnomusicology to be the unique approach to them. The ICTM was founded in 1948, in the aftermath of the devastation of World War II in Europe, and one of its objectives was to enable scholars to maintain contact in spite of the political differences that often separated their countries. At the time of its founding it was called the International Folk Music Council (IFMC), but changed its name in 1981 to the International Council for Traditional Music. Many things about the ICTM are different from the SEM. They both publish journals, hold meetings, and are governed by an executive board, but the members of the executive board of the ICTM have always been consciously international: the 11 current members are from 10 different countries. The ICTM's Journal, the Yearbook for Traditional Music, characteristically has contributions from scholars in many different countries. The ICTM holds annual meetings every other year, in different parts of the world. The past six have been in Brazil, China, the UK, Austria, South Africa, and Canada; the next one will be held in Shanghai, China, in 2013. Just as important as the world conferences are the many study groups that focus on particular topics, such as ethnochoreology, historical sources of traditional music, applied ethnomusicology, music and minorities, and quite a few others. Most of these groups meet in the years when there is no world conference, and some of them more often. Some people have complained to me that the presentations at the ICTM are very uneven in quality; my response to them has been that this is the result of the truly international nature of the organization—it may not be the quality that is variable, but rather the philosophical underpinnings of the approach that are difficult to comprehend. I served for many years as a member of the ICTM Executive Board; I was book review editor of the journal for a while; I edited the CD series the ICTM produced for UNESCO for short time; I was President from 1997-1999, and then assumed the much more onerous position of Secretary General from 2001-2005. In this kind of organization, the executive board decides what the policy should be and the secretary general is the one who has to figure out how to implement that policy and make it work. In practice, the secretary-general does most of the work of running the organization. In this capacity I moved the ICTM office from New York City to Los Angeles and then from Los Angeles to Canberra, when Stephen Wild became Secretary General. I was greatly assisted in running the ICTM by the support of the School of the Arts and Architecture, the dedicated work of my wonderful assistant and ICTM treasurer Kelly Salloum, and the patience of my colleagues and students. I traveled to Paris fairly frequently for meetings at UNESCO and was responsible for the "scientific and technical evaluation” of many of the nominations for the UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage (I did not do them myself, of course, but contracted specialists to do them).

I grew up on the East Side of New York City. My father would sometimes take me for walks by the main building of the United Nations on the East River and tell me that the future of the world was partly determined by what went on in that building. UNESCO, although it is not a perfect organization, is a very important one for many countries around the world. People in the United States, which has often taken a fairly isolationist and critical stance with respect to international organizations it did not create and control, are fairly ignorant of the activities of the United Nations and its many branches.

The SEM, by contrast, is a United States professional organization with foreign members. It was founded partly to establish ethnomusicology as a discipline and give people interested in the topic a place to meet and exchange ideas. It was not founded to overcome political divides or to coordinate with international bodies. It has grown and developed over the years in very good ways, and I enjoy attending the annual meetings, but it is not at all like the ICTM.

Armstrong: You are planning to retire at the end of the winter 2012 quarter. Is there anything you would like to say about the time you have spent at UCLA?

Seeger: During the years I was running Smithsonian Folkways Recordings at the Smithsonian Institution I was offered several positions or professorships that I declined because I was not ready to move. After 10 years at the Smithsonian, however, I began to think that I would like to return to teaching and as luck would have it there was a search open at UCLA for a senior faculty member. I thought the position was an ideal one for me, since I would not have to be chair of the department (I had been doing heavy administration for the past 11 years) and I could devote myself fully to teaching a new topic (I had always taught in an anthropology department before). I was also happy to be going to a department that had a number of other ethnomusicologists in it, since I did not consider myself fully versed in the field and did not want to be one of only a few ethnomusicologists in a musicology department. I had a wonderful time here and enjoyed working with both undergraduate and graduate students as well as colleagues. Just as I had hoped, the graduate students challenged me to think in new ways and to read in areas that I was not already familiar with. The undergraduates challenged me by the courageous questions they asked, and also the changing teaching and learning environment in the 21st century. I have also enjoyed supervising and playing with the Bluegrass and Old-Time String Band for the past few years—we have some amazing musicians in this department. I am deeply indebted to all of the department staff for the support they have given me during the 12 years I will have been at UCLA, to the staff of the Ethnomusicology Archive, and to my colleagues. I will probably talk more about this during the lectures.

Armstrong: You will be featured in the winter 2012 Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series, which meets on Wednesdays from 1-3pm in the Ethnomusicology Lab (B544 Schoenberg Music Building). Could you tell us a little about your talks for this series?

Seeger: It is unusual to have a series of talks by the same person in the Department colloquium, and I was greatly honored by the invitation to give four of them. I decided to take on four topics chronologically, paralleling the sequence of activities in my own career. In the first lecture I will be talking about the Seeger family in the context of the political, economic, artistic upheavals of the 20th century (I will probably start in the mid-19th to take into account Charles Seeger's birth and youth in Mexico City and go to the aftermath of the McCarthy investigations). In the second lecture I will talk about my work with the Suyá/Kïsêdjê Indians—my research there was anthropological as well as musical, and a good deal of my contribution to Ethnomusicology stems from my research there and the subsequent years I spent teaching in Brazil. The question is why, when there are so many kinds of music to study, I went to central Brazil to the Suyá/Kïsêdjê The third lecture focuses on applying ethnomusicology outside the classroom and University and will cover some of the issues raised by the activities I have done in the area of applied ethnomusicology. The fourth lecture, "It All Happened in Westwood," will talk about the fairly intense history of part of the Seeger family with UCLA, beginning with my grandfather and his children and continuing to my own experiences in the department. I am still doing research on them, and probably will finish preparing the lectures at the last minute, but I hope they will combine general observation on important issues in the field of ethnomusicology with an inside view of one of the families that had a fairly large impact on the study and performance of American music in the 20th century. I hope the lectures will be interesting and fun, with lively discussion periods.

Armstrong: You will also teach a final course this quarter, called “Audiovisual Archiving in the 21st Century,” with Archivist, Aaron Bittel. Could you tell us something about this course?

Seeger: Aaron Bittel and I will be teaching a seminar on audiovisual archiving in winter quarter this year. 30 years ago, when I was on a postdoctoral fellowship at Indiana University, I took a three-week intensive course from Louise Spear on audiovisual archiving. It was a very informative course, and was the only preparation I had before being appointed director of the Indiana University Archive of Traditional Music two years later, with Louise Spear as my associate director. Louise subsequently came to UCLA and worked for many years in the archive here. When I came to teach at UCLA in 2000, Louise and I decided to give a 10-week version of that course here at UCLA. She left shortly thereafter, but I have taught the seminar every other year since then with the assistance of one of the librarian/ethnomusicologist/archivists. While doing things is very important, it is also important to reflect upon what it is we do and why we do it the way we do it. One of the biggest challenges of "applied ethnomusicology" is having time to reflect upon what works and what does not work and what needs to be changed in the way we think about things and do them. The course on audiovisual archiving gives Aaron and me a chance to review current literature and rethink how audiovisual archiving can best be accomplished in the rapidly evolving global context of which archives are a part.

Armstrong: Is there a belief or philosophy that best describes the way you have lived your life?

Seeger: This is a hard question to discuss in a short time. I suppose the short answer would be "work hard at something you believe in, listen to what people say, treat others as fairly as you can, and have fun." I am pretty sure I worked hard and had fun, I cannot say how well I have done with the rest.

Thank you, Professor Seeger.


Bluegrass and Old-Time String Ensemble (2010)
Photo: Courtesy Jennie Gubner


Winter 2012 Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series Schedule

All lectures will take place from 1 – 3pm in Room B544, Schoenberg Music Building and are free of charge.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series
Aaron Bittel, Archivist, UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive
“21st Century Archives for a 21st Century Ethnomusicology”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series
Anthony Seeger, Distinguished Professor of Ethnomusicology, UCLA
“‘Are you related to . . .?’ Growing up in the Seeger Family—Music, Politics, and Repression 1900-1958”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series
Anthony Seeger, Distinguished Professor of Ethnomusicology, UCLA
“Why Study the Suyá Indians of Brazil?: Anthropology, Music, and Ethnomusicology”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series
Anthony Seeger, Distinguished Professor of Ethnomusicology, UCLA
“What is it all for? Applying Scholarship Outside the Classroom: Indigenous Rights, Archiving, Folkways Records, and Professional Organizations”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy Colloquium Series
Anthony Seeger, Distinguished Professor of Ethnomusicology, UCLA
“It All Happened in Westwood! The Seegers at UCLA: Charles, Pete, Mike, Peggy and Tony in the Land of the Bruins—1958-2012”


Anthony Seeger is the author of Why Suyá Sing: A Musical Anthropology of an Amazonian People, Cambridge University Press, 1987 and co-editor of Early Field Recordings: A Catalogue of the Cylinder Collections at the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music (Indiana University Press, 1987) and two other books and three co-edited volumes. His numerous published articles have focused on issues of land and human rights for Brazilian Indians, issues of archiving and intellectual property, and ethnomusicological theory and method. Recent articles appear in the Anthropological Quarterly, the Jarbuch 1 Des Phonogrammarchivs der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, and the IASA Journal. Seeger served as Director of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings at the Smithsonian Institution from 1988 to 2000. He served as Director of the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University and as a professor in the Department of Anthropology there from 1982 to 1988. He was a researcher and professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro from 1975 to 1982. Seeger was Executive Producer of all recordings issued on the Smithsonian Folkways label between 1988 and 2000, a total of about 250 recordings. He also prepared five half-hour shows on American Folk Music that were broadcast on the BBC in 1998.

Professor Seeger conducts research and teaches on the subjects Amerindian music of Latin America; Anglo-American folk music; music of protest and struggle in the U.S.; archives; the recording industry; music and ethnicity; music and politics; music education. He received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, an M.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. in Social Relations from Harvard University.



The American Folklife Center “How Can I Keep from Singing?” A Seeger Family Tribute at the Library of Congress

UCLA Today, March 31, 2011 by Wendy Soderburg, “Scion from famous folk-singing clan puts his own spin on music”

"Who Owns Music and Why Should You Care," 110th UCLA Faculty Research Lecture, April 5, 2011 Interview: “Music Education Profile – Ethnomusicologist Anthony Seeger of the University of California, Los Angeles”

University of Illinois Press: Why Suyá Sing A Musical Anthropology of an Amazonian People

Sociosound, September 16, 2010, “Short videos from Dr. Anthony Seeger”

Pete Seeger Music

Wikipedia: Pete Seeger

American Folklife Center, Folklife Center News
Summer-Fall 2010 – article about “Kumbaya”
Winter-Spring 2010 – Mike Seeger obituary

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Recording Spotlight: Lead Belly