IASPM-US/POP Conference Round-Up: Rebecca Cweibel

by justindburton on April 2, 2012

In the next few weeks, in the follow-up to the IASPM-US/POP Conference in NYC March 22-25, we’ll be posting several round-ups from those who attended. The goal is to provide a mosaic of several different experiences instead of a single, authoritative account. So each of these will be subjective, focusing on one person’s navigation of the power-packed program of events. Today’s round-up comes from Rebecca Cweibel and can also be seen at her blog. All contributions are welcome, so if you’d like to participate, send yours to justindburton@gmail.com or iaspmus@gmail.com.

I am simultaneously exhausted and beyond energized post-EMP/IASPM-US Pop Conference. The exhausted part comes from waking up too early, focusing for long periods of time, and dealing with the FDR and I-87 south of the GWB (and obnoxious New York pedestrians. When I walk, I’m one of them; when I drive, I hate them).

This was my first Pop Conference, and I’m so glad I was able to go. Not previously being all that in-the-loop, I found out about it as part of an IASPM-US tweet. The dates nicely coincided with the opening weekend of UD’s spring break, so I’d be able to stay over in the ‘burbs and commute into the city for the few days. When I looked at the program online, I noticed lots of big names. I also noticed some very familiar names–two out of three of my thesis committee members slated to present. (The third works on 16th century Italian music. Not exactly PopCon material). So that was it, I decided to go! I’m glad I got to go at this point in my career, a point at which I’m finishing up a chapter and thinking about how to write the next one. I’ve got some potential projects budding in my mind, and the motivation to follow through. My senior thesis needs to get done first, though.

If you’re a Twitter follower of mine, I’m sorry. I think I tweeted close to 50 times during the conference. There were lots of great moments throughout, and I’d like to flesh a few of them out in a bit more than 140 characters. I’ll go in chronological order.

Friday morning, 11:15-12:45. I went to the NYC Boombox session for Kathryn Ostrofsky’s paper “Taking Sesame to the Streets: Young Children’s Interactions with Pop Music in the Urban Classrooms of 1970s New York.” I saw on the Twitter later that she won the award for best student paper. Seriously deserved! Sesame Street isn’t cool; there’s really no way around that. Regardless, her paper presented a well-researched, interesting, and approachable account of Sesame Street‘s capacity to educate. The show’s philosophy states that entertainment should be a prerequisite for learning. Rather than simply glorifying the show’s success and reach, Ostrofsky exposed its pitfalls and occasional tendencies to not accurately reach its goals. I’m eager to relate her work to my own on Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, in which Bernstein used entertainment as a prerequisite for learning, if I may borrow the phrase.

I stayed for the rest of the session, and heard an interesting paper on boombox culture, and an interesting postmodern rant about a compilation record.

Saturday morning, 9-11. Beauty, Noise, and the Canon. All four papers were really great, but one stuck out to me. “Noise and the Canon: The Meaning of Classical Music in Late-1960s Rock,” presented by Jessica Wood. Her work examined classical quotation in rock music, but many references were obscure. The obscurity of the pieces she studied was acknowledged in the Q&A. The part I found most interesting was an anecdote about the New Jersey Bach Society (which doesn’t seem to exist anymore) demanding that radio stations not play songs that quote classical repertoire because such songs are abominations. Radio stations responded saying that most contemporary performances are equally problematic and that they would continue giving the rock songs airplay.

(Shout-out to my two UD professors, Phil Gentry and David Suisman, for their awesome papers. Neither were in my area of expertise, so I’ll leave it to someone else to sum those up.)

Sunday morning, 9-11. Started with Daphne Brooks’ “‘One of These Mornings, You’re Gonna Rise up Singing’: The Secret Black Feminist History of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.” Fun fact: “Summertime” is the most recorded song out there. I wanted to stay and ask about the Janis Joplin cover, something I listen to with nothing but love and energy. Instead, I dashed to the “Distanced Learning” session in time to hear Mark Katz’s paper on digital turntables. The final paper in that session, Karl Hagstrom Miller’s “I am Sitting in a Room: The Private Pop Experience,” was one of the best treats the conference had to offer. Miller started with Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room” as an example of repetition smoothing out imperfections (in Lucier’s case, his stutter). He then played a clip of himself trying to play the opening of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” with imperfections galore. His paper went on to present digital ethnographic (and well-theorized) work on people playing music alone in their rooms, mostly captured on YouTube. Best quote: “sounding terrible must be the most universal experience of being a musician.” We all start awful, and practice–repetition–helps us smooth out imperfections. This works if we’re learning a virtuosic concerto or sweating through 3 open chords on a guitar.

So, thanks to the EMP Museum and IASPM-US for putting together a great conference! I look forward to many more pop conferences.

Rebecca Cweibel is finishing her senior year at the University of Delaware, where she majors in Music History & Literature. She is completing a senior thesis titled “Selling Out in the Sixties: Commercialization and Commodification in Three Musical Genres” as part of the Bachelor of Music with Distinction degree. She will spend the summer in the Junior Fellows program at the Library of Congress before beginning graduate study in musicology in the fall. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccacweibel and subscribe to her blog, “Musically Middlebrow,” http://rebeccacweibel.blogspot.com.

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