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Interview with Richard Jones-Bamman: Winner of the SEM 2018 Wachsmann Prize

Wednesday, October 23, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Stephen Stuempfle
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Interview with Richard Jones-Bamman:
Winner of the SEM 2018 Klaus P. Wachsmann Prize

By Jesse Fivecoate, Indiana University Bloomington



Richard Jones-Bamman, Emeritus Professor of Music at Eastern Connecticut State University, was the winner of the SEM 2018 Klaus P. Wachsmann Prize for Advanced and Critical Essays in Organology. The prize was awarded for Building New Banjos for an Old-time World, published by the University of Illinois Press in 2017 as part of its “Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World” series. SEM awards the Wachsmann Prize biennially in recognition of a major publication that advances the field of organology through the presentation of new data and by using innovative methods in the study of musical instruments.



Jones-Bamman began his career in ethnomusicology after completing a bachelor’s degree in music (focused on early music performance) at Stanford University. He admits that he has had an interest in musical instruments since he was a child and remembers being intrigued with “how they were built, functioned, valued.” He continues, “By the time I was in high school I had assembled a small collection of instruments, mostly gifts from adults who no longer had use for them.” After completing his undergraduate studies, he started an apprenticeship in instrument repair and restoration with two well-established friends of his. He eventually became a partner in their business but missed the intellectual challenges that had characterized earlier parts of his life. So, he decided to continue his education. By this time, he had found the discipline of ethnomusicology (through reading Merriam, Nettl, and Hood) and it seemed to be the right fit. “To be honest, if I had known more about this discipline previously, I suspect I would have pursued entering the field much earlier. But I also believe my experiences with instruments and musicians had a very powerful impact on my research choices in graduate school and beyond.”

Jones-Bamman has had a continuing interest in the structural side of instruments. Speaking of his time as a professional in the repair and restoration industry, he states: “It was during that phase that I also came to recognize the relationships that exist between those who build/repair instruments and those who play them.” The examination of this relationship informs Building New Banjos for an Old-time World. Jones-Bamman says that he chose to examine the banjo as it is made for old-time music, as opposed for bluegrass music, for two reasons. “As someone who has played both styles of music extensively, I knew that the old-time world was much more flexible in terms of the types of banjos that were deemed appropriate, which made for a broader area to cover.” In addition, he had “become aware that there were some very interesting developments within old-time music in terms of representation and agency that seemed to be attributable to corresponding developments among banjo makers.”

Jones-Bamman views receiving the Wachsmann Prize as a tremendous accomplishment. “At the risk of sounding overly enthusiastic, I have to admit that receiving this award felt like the most important thing I’ve achieved in my career.” He adds that the award confirms his belief that “there is room within ethnomusicology for this type of research topic” and hopes that his contributions will inspire others to pursue similar research trajectories.


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