My name is Hannah Standiford and I am a third-year graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology in the Music Department at the University of Pittsburgh. My research for my Master’s thesis focused on issues of consent with the Pittsburgh swing dance community.
Using interviews and participant observation in Pittsburgh’s swing dance community, I investigated how accepting or declining dances and expressing discomfort have changed since the swing dance revival of the 1990s. My dissertation research will focus on a repertoire of traditional Indonesian songs known as langgam Jawa, looking at the way these songs are entwined with discourses of modernity and nostalgia in Java.
My immersive entailed a collaboration with a nonprofit called Classical Revolution RVA, and Pat Healy, a Ph.D. student of Information Sciences at Pitt. Together we created an interactive website called soundscape.social that allows listeners to move through a sonic space, enjoying music from a range of styles and backgrounds. This website addresses a main aim of Classical Revolution RVA, a chapter of a nationwide organization, which is to make classical music more accessible to wide audiences. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Classical Revolution RVA held performances in atypical venues such as cafes and art galleries. The pandemic has made it difficult to engage with music interactively and soundscape.social offers a novel solution by giving each participant an avatar so that they are able to connect with other listeners and musicians throughout this virtual space.
The Music Department at Pitt has recently been taking part in larger conversations in the field regarding applied ethnomusicology. Applied ethnomusicology aims to put ethnographic work and music to practical use. The Music Department has begun hosting discussants who hold Ph.D.s in ethnomusicology and have taken career paths outside of academia such as nonprofit work. I consider this immersive to have been a valuable opportunity to experience collaborating with a nonprofit, work that I found I deeply enjoyed. It was meaningful for me to be able to work with a nonprofit to help them further their goals, culminating in a public-facing project that was available to the community. This immersive may be something of a departure from my academic research, but it aligns well with my goals of engaging diverse audiences in discourses surrounding music.
I found I was able to use my skills in time management and research to create plans for releases with Classical Revolution RVA and offer feedback for ways to improve subsequent iterations of the website. At the same time, I was able to build skills in website management and promotion. Although I have previous experience in event promotion, this immersive demanded a slightly different set of skills because promoting this unconventional format proved somewhat of a challenge. This has given me the opportunity to practice honing my ability to clearly and concisely talk about a project, a valuable asset in any field, whether inside or outside of academia. For the third and final iteration of the website, my main aims will be to further refine my explanation of the project and to find new avenues for promotion such as local newspapers and blogs.
The terrain of the job market for Ph.D. students, particularly in the humanities, is rapidly changing and the impact of Covid-19 on this market remains to be seen. Jobs both within and outside of academia demand ever greater versatility and well-roundedness from applicants. Within ethnomusicology specifically, many programs are interested in hiring candidates who, in addition to research and teaching, are able to create programming for the local community. Opportunities to do immersive work that culminate in something other than a manuscript are valuable in preparing Ph.D. students for the evolving job market.
The second iteration of soundscape.social is still currently available and will be archived once the project is completed. Anyone with a web browser can follow the url www.soundscape.social to enter an interactive soundscape featuring music from a solo cellist, a jazz trio, a percussion ensemble, and a trumpet player. We encourage listeners to use headphones for the best listening experience and to highlight the spatialization of sound as one moves through different “rooms.” The final launch of the project was in May, featuring a new set of musicians and spaces.