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Interview with Aaron Allen: Co-Winner of the SEM 2018 Koskoff Prize

Thursday, September 5, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Stephen Stuempfle
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Interview with Aaron S. Allen: Co-Winner of the SEM 2018
Ellen Koskoff Edited Volume Prize

By Jesse Fivecoate, Indiana University Bloomington

Aaron S. Allen, Associate Professor of Music and Director of the Environment and Sustainability Program at University of North Carolina Greensboro, received the inaugural SEM 2018 Ellen Koskoff Edited Volume Prize (along with co-editor Kevin Dawe) for Current Directions in Ecomusicology: Music, Culture, and Nature (Routledge, 2016). The Koskoff Prize honors “a book collection of ethnomusicological essays of exceptional merit edited by a scholar or scholars, one of whom must be a member of the Society for Ethnomusicology.” Furthermore, the prize “acknowledges the value of the collective contributions to a volume, while recognizing the central role of the editor(s) in conceiving and shaping the whole.” I recently spoke with Allen about his approach to the field of ethnomusicology. A condensed version of our conversation follows.


Photo courtesy Aaron S. Allen.

Like many, Allen came to ethnomusicology after having studied other subjects. As an undergraduate at Tulane University, he majored in environmental studies as well as music. (At the time, there were no classes in ethnomusicology, but he was able to take an independent research course on the topic.) Though his two majors seemed like separate worlds, he later was able to combine them in the field of ecomusicology. He completed graduate work in historical musicology at Harvard University and, once he obtained his first tenure-track job, worked to connect music and environmental studies. It was his commitment to the intersection of these disciplines that culminated in his collaboration with Kevin Dawe (University of Kent).

Allen has published in areas of Beethoven studies, campus sustainability, and ecomusicology. Although he does not employ ethnography as a research method, he believes that ethnomusicology is an important area of study and scholarship because of its commitment to the present. It is about the here and now, with a particular concern for the problems of contemporary societies.

Allen notes that collaborations with other ethnomusicologists have fueled his research agenda and credits co-editor Kevin Dawe for making Current Directions in Ecomusicology a reality. He also has enjoyed a number of collaborations with ethnomusicologist Jennifer Post and has worked with ethnomusicologist and folklorist Jeff Todd Titon on various projects related to applied ethnomusicology, sound studies, ecological sciences, and ecomusicology. His current research is on the environmental impacts of musical instruments, and he sees his work moving more into Italian studies in the near future.

For Allen, the Koskoff Prize is an acknowledgment from his peers of the importance of the field of ecomusicology within the larger discipline of ethnomusicology. At the SEM 2018 Annual Meeting, Koskoff Prize Committee Chair Ruth Hellier-Tinoco observed that Current Directions in Ecomusicology is “a concise yet wide-ranging volume offering deeply original and provocative contributions to scholarly debates in the field of ethnomusicology by specifically opening up complex and controversial issues of ecomusicology—what it might be, how it might be conceived, how it is important and useful, and where thinking is at right now (current directions).” She continued by noting that, “This is a deeply relevant volume for generating new paradigms and concepts, for creating manifold interactions and interconnections with multiple fields, and for enabling deep and serious pedagogical, scholarly and life-changing actions connected to critical environmental and ecological issues.”

Allen joined SEM 2010 and says that he found a welcoming professional society that embraced his and others’ proposal to create the
Ecomusicology Special Interest Group in 2011.

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