May It Fill Your Soul; Mantle Hood, Alan Merriam, and Robert Garfias

Cover of May It Fill Your Soul: Experiencing Bulgarian Music, by Timothy Rice, University of Chicago Press, 1994.  

Q. May it Fill Your Soul — didn't you also discuss fieldwork and some of your theoretical ideas in that book?  

A.  What May it Fill Your Soul represented for me was this: in those days, from about 1978 on, perhaps…. Well, in all my time growing up in ethnomusicology, there had been a tension in the field between people trained in musicology, who thought that the most important subject of the field of ethnomusicology was music, and people training in anthropology, who thought that the most important subject was the behavior and the social organization and the culture of music, of which music itself was just one element. And there was a great deal of tension in the field which was slowly in the early 1980s getting melded together and merged and the field was becoming mature, I would say, as a discipline that could unite these two projects.  My thinking with May it Fill Your Soul was that if I wanted ethnomusicology to be read outside the field of ethnomusicology, and when it came to writing about Bulgarian music I knew there were all these folk dancers and other people who enjoyed Bulgarian culture and music and dance, and they’d probably want to read this—what would I be writing about—and I decided that a focus on either of the two prongs of ethnomusicology, the musicological or the anthropological, probably wouldn't be of interest to them. What people are really interested in at base are people and May it Fill Your Soul in some sense puts two people —a couple, a married couple —at the center of the narrative. At one level, it is a story about them and they are the center. From that center, we learn about the musicological aspects of the tradition on the one hand and the cultural and social aspects of the tradition, but through the experience, really, of two human beings. And I thought that's what ethnomusicology should be about; it should be about people. And that feeds into the seminar I'm doing now, which is called "Musical Experience." It really is about people and their bodily experience of things, and that has been a strand in ethnomusicological research, that's for sure, and I realize now that it exists a little bit in parallel with an emphasis that would be called properly anthropological or sociological. The social life of music on the one hand has been very important, but in some sense, the psychological or physical life of people making music has been very important as well. And I think in my career overall I have tended to emphasize that part of ethnomusicology, not to the exclusion of, but a little more than the sociological side.

Q. But you also emphasize the importance of the sound itself. Is that what makes you an innovator?  You came to UCLA, a place where Mantle Hood's philosophy of "bi-musicality" formed the foundation. How were you thinking about "bi-musicality" in 1987?

A. I think that Mantle Hood's notion of bi-musicality.... I think he wrote that in 1964, and that was the year that Merriam published "Anthropology of Music," and both, I think, are absolutely fundamental to the field. So that even the people who want to follow in Alan Merriam's footsteps, although not Alan Merriam himself, would, as they went out and did some of the research in the field that Alan Merriam was advocating for, would probably be trying to become bi-musical. It's just the way into a culture that we're going to study a music —taking music lessons and becoming bi-musical. It is one of the fundamental features of our fieldwork. So I don't think I was in any sense innovative in that. I think the thing that made that book May it Fill Your Soul pretty well-liked in the field of ethnomusicology was that it was so human. Instead of being a book about Bulgarian music, it was really a book about a couple of Bulgarians and then all of the people that surrounded them.  If you ask me who might have been influential in that respect, I would say it might have been my teacher Robert Garfias. Because I realize in retrospect that in his classes he did a wonderful year-long survey of musical cultures of the world which he had learned from Mantle Hood, that we have continued at UCLA all these years. And he was a fabulous teacher of that course. I realize in retrospect, something that didn't dawn on me for a long time, but we were learning about... let's say we were learning about Chinese music, in one week for example, but we would really be learning about the best Chinese musicians, many of whom Garfias knew personally, and had met through his fieldwork. And if we studied Japanese music, we would be studying about the best Japanese musicians. I didn't consciously absorb that but I think now in retrospect that emphasis on these two wonderful musicians from Bulgaria, is, in some ways, I can see that as linked to the kinds of lessons that I was learning from Robert Garfias.

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