The first paper was challenging for me in a lot of ways, many of which were (for me) unexpected. I discussed how aspects of feminism, religion, and music come together in the fascinating biography and music of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. a nineteenth century German composer. It was surprisingly hard to find plenty of reliable, relevant sources; and the further I delved into research, the stronger my thesis got…but the more it deviated from the focus of the class. But one thing that did make it easy and enjoyable for me was personal investment in my broader topic (specifically feminism and music). I didn’t think too much about this detail at the time, but I now realize that because I identify as a female, I already had some first-person grasp of the importance of feminism. I subconsciously felt like I had authority: the innate knowledge of which sources were “good” or “bad,” and which perspectives were “informed” or “biased.” Which is a pretty foolish assumption to begin research with as a musicologist, to be honest.
But now, I will be researching elements of the sacred and secular in African-American spirituals. And so there’s one detail about my sequel paper which makes it trickier for me as a musicologist: I am an undisputed outsider. No matter how much musical analysis or historical research I do, and no matter how open-minded or empathetic I am, I know that as a white person, I will never fully understand African-American spirituals from a social or cultural perspective. In an attempt to work with this issue as someone on the “outside,” I’ve been reading sources from black scholars wherever possible, and I found an extremely well-reputed bibliography with hundreds of recommended readings sorted into various aspects of spirituals research and performance (e.g. slave religion and culture; use of spirituals in art music; women’s theological perspectives; etc.).
One pleasant surprise for me was the number of (hopefully) reliable sources on this topic. I am fed up enough with institutionalized patriarchy and racism (including that of musical study) that I assumed there wouldn’t be very much to work with when I first ventured to the search bar – especially not by black authors. However, I’ve already found a few books and articles that I think will work well, and I think my thesis will be well on its way much quicker than last time. And if not…as another singing diva might say, “at least I can say that I’ve tried.”