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William Kay Archer
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William Kay Archer



Memorial Citation by Bruno Nettl

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign



William Kay Archer, a member of SEM in the 1960s and 1970s, was one of a substantial group of scholars whose main field was elsewhere, but who made significant contributions to ethnomusicology and to the Society.

Born in New York on May 16, 1927, Bill Archer attended the New York High School of Music and Art and received his undergraduate and graduate education at the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University, along with serving in the U. S. Navy. He studied linguistics and anthropology as well as education, but his interests went much farther, encompassing psychology, art, South and West Asian studies, and very significantly, music. In his youth he studied piano, and later also clarinet and sitar. I think he can be honestly described as a polymath, but he considered himself principally an anthropologist and linguist.

Some high points of Bill Archer's varied career: He taught at Fairleigh Dickinson University and at Hunter College, and he also taught English as a second language in Afghanistan. In the early 1960s, Bill Archer came to the University of Illinois as a member of the Institute for Communications Research, a unit led by the psychologist Charles Osgood, working in a project on affective meaning systems and teaching in the Department of Anthropology. In 1966, he went to found, together with his wife, Forough Minou Archer, the University of Illinois' Tehran Research Unit, an elaborate field station which supported research and teaching in several fields, significantly including ethnomusicology. Bill Archer was active and, I may say, enormously helpful in facilitating research on Iranian music by scholars from the University of Illinois (including graduate students Stephen Blum and Daniel Neuman), the University of Tehran, and other institutions. He held this position in Tehran from 1966 to 1972.

Bill Archer was active in SEM, attending meetings regularly, reading papers in 1969, 1973, 1974, and 1975, and accepting, for a few months in 1966, the position of Book Review Editor, hoping to manage this position in Tehran as part of an effort to internationalize the Society.

Bill Archer's writings on music, though not numerous, were in the vanguard of scholarship of the early 1960s. Best known among his publications is his article "On the Ecology of Music,” Ethnomusicology8 (1964), which related music, culture, and politics, and associated the basic assumptions of ethnomusicology with current events in the field of music in (what was then) unexpected ways. In 1962, Archer organized in Tehran the first international conference on an ethnomusicological topic held in the Middle East since the 1932 Congress in Cairo; this resulted in his edited book, The Preservation of the Traditional Forms of Learned and Popular Music of the Orient and the Occident (1964). Among his most widely read publications were reviews of books about Middle Eastern politics, culture, and literature in The Saturday Review. Of course Professor Archer made significant contributions as speaker, author, and organizer in fields outside music—linguistics, psychology, anthropology—to which he was devoted.

At the University of Illinois campus from 1972, Bill Archer taught an occasional ethnomusicology seminar, but in late 1974 he suffered a stroke which substantially handicapped and immobilized him and inhibited further professional activity, although he continued reading widely and occasionally attended concerts. He continued living in Champaign, Illinois with his wife Forough and his son Darius for twenty-five years until his death on December 7, 1997.

I knew Bill Archer as a colleague and friend for about 35 years, but my memory is most intense for the late 1960s, when we were both in Tehran, and I owe him a great debt of gratitude for his support in many ways. I remember him best for the many-sidedness of his interests and knowledge. He was never without a book in his hands, and I found myself alternately intimidated and amused by his nimble intellect. Rather ahead of his time, when most of us were looking for "authentic” and "traditional” musics to document, he drew my attention to the interest of change, the interpretation of current events, and the way musical life in Tehran reflected politics. I can see him still in my mind's eye, a tall, flamboyant figure with bristling mustache and bow tie, speaking loudly and with the pointed distinctness of an experienced teacher trying to impress uncomprehending students; carefully practicing ta'arof(the ceremonial politeness which put much of the fun into life in Tehran); double-parking while he dashed for a pack of cigarettes; and, whenever possible, surprising his family, friends, and colleagues with unexpected news, interpretations, requests, practical jokes, multilingual puns, and shaggy dog stories. He was a superb lecturer, perhaps the most articulate person and the best raconteur I have known, and I am happy to contribute to his memory in the annals of SEM, the society which, among all the various organizations of which he was a member, he may have enjoyed most.


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