Aarhus Universitets segl

First impressions of Aarhus University Musicology

Af Klisala Harrison

When I first came to Aarhus University Musicology, I felt delighted that the teaching of music happens on a broad scale in terms of disciplines of music and its scholarship. Courses are offered in or involving music analysis, music history, popular music studies, soundscape studies, music media, music sociology, sound design and practical music-making including of voice and conducting. These different disciplines offer a broad array of skills and future options to students. But I was told what was missing from Musicology was an international perspective on music cultures outside of Denmark as well as strong training in ethnographic fieldwork methods such as interviewing, making participant and participatory observation, descriptive observations, and related audiovisual documentation plus the analysis of its qualitative research data. I conduct ethnographic research on live human subjects as well as netnography, online. Thus, I took it as my task to bring these perspectives in when teaching about music cultures and cases from around the world as well as in Denmark.

I have really enjoyed facilitating students’ critical thinking and competency development on broad socio-cultural patterns, issues, and problems when it comes to music in and as culture globally. Students tend to light up when they find that they can do important work relating to music and, for example, issue-areas such as health and well-being, ecology, war and conflict, activism and advocacy, decolonization, and equality in music education. No matter what their backgrounds or personal politics, collaborative discussions and learnings give them a range of ideas about what they can contribute to society and culture in their work life.

Musicology’s study program very carefully considers how students will apply the knowledge, skills, and competencies that they gain while studying, in their employments following graduation. They do not “only” do book learning but study the rich theories and methods of academic knowledge with a view to applying these in the workplace.

Career Perspectives

At Musicology, students learn the practical skills needed to run a music(-related) institution, such as how to think about its social and cultural organization, involved policies, and politics in Denmark and beyond (since the cultural workforce is getting more and more internationalized). I see more and more students, after graduation, working broadly in the cultural sector. For example, they take initiative to design and run music projects, for instance, if they are music teachers, after-school music programs focused on specific socio-cultural needs or, if they train in musicology more broadly (e.g., the cultural promotion stream at the bachelor’s level), music events, festivals, or concert series. They may also work as music journalists or do fundraising or policy work for cultural organizations. They may do cultural work for the government or for corporations, or perhaps arts administration for a performing arts company, for just some examples.

For such jobs, students need to gain the practical knowledge of how institutions run, and how are the music scenes in Aarhus (and elsewhere). This year, students in my classes studied many institutional contexts including the singing kindergarten programs in Denmark as well as many of the local music scenes in Aarhus, from those featuring choral music and musical theatre to its informal music jam and live DJ scenes to venue-based scenes at Godsbanen and Turkis. It increases job possibilities to know about project management, including how to quickly gather and evaluate the main socio-cultural facts and contexts, and apply these to music contexts. Knowledge of musicological research findings and ethnographic research skills are both fundamental for coming up with ideas for innovative music projects, successfully applying for funding and documenting project results to funders.

It is exceptional in the Musicology program that there are so many courses that reach out into the real musical life in the musical surrounding. This year I heard that the course Event Culture invited students to design music events for a local venue. Soundscapes: Listening and Soundscaping asked students to create a sound installation that was then performed at Music City Aarhus 2022. Students in Music as a Means of Social Engagement create action plans about how to improve existing music initiatives.

Offering anthropological perspectives and a view from outside

It was obvious that the study program had missed a permanent faculty member in anthropology, which is where ethnographic methods come from. The department had sustained a focus on the cultural aspects of music, and various faculty members have published outstanding research in cultural musicology and culturally relevant music sociology. Faculty members’ interests, in deepening and broadening student knowledge about how and where to research music culture, opened up a place for me at the department. I am pleased to be called on by my colleagues to teach the ethnographic research methods in more detail, for example, in co-taught courses that introduce students to ethnographic field methods such as Music Culture and Contemporary Music Culture. In master’s courses such as Music as a Means of Social Engagement 1 and 2, I teach ethnographic methods in detail.

I also enjoy being called on to bring in musical examples from around the world. I write this from Nuuk, Greenland, where I have been conducting ethnographic research for two projects, Music for Health and Well-being in Arctic Indigenous Cultures and Musical Climate Art for a Sound Future. Because this such an exciting life to live as a music anthropologist, I hope that there are going to be students from Aarhus University who go on to do music anthropology at a professional level. It gives the possibility to meet people from different cultures, and the challenge of trying to understand different ways of thinking and being. My work as a music anthropologist has allowed me to meet Sámi musicians in Finland, Norway, and Sweden; Indigenous musicians from Canada and the USA; musicians in Greenland; and scholars of music culture on five continents. It has familiarized me with music of the poorest of the poor in a big city (Vancouver, Canada). Music anthropology has also given me the opportunity to explore diverse types of music, in my case popular and traditional musics; and to continue performing as a classically trained violinist when conducting fieldwork.

Everyone in the department has been so friendly and collegial. I have been particularly impressed by the inclusive tone of Musicology department meetings. Colleagues have gone out of their way to help me feel “at home” at work and in a new country—because I am from Canada and Finland (dual citizen). I have enjoyed many afternoon coffees with both students and teachers, as well as the communal lunch gatherings at the School of Communication and Culture.

Fieldwork in another culture

This first year has been about me trying to keep my head above water in terms of orienting in a new country, when teaching new courses and in a new academic culture. As an anthropologist, I take this as fieldwork in another culture. What has been new to me is democratic discussion among the faculty members about every decision affecting the department, approached as something undertaken collectively. Meetings are set in case student cohorts have, for example, a problem with study workload so that accommodations can be made when revising the study program. Such attitudes are incredibly positive, cultivating a healthy dialogue in the work and study environment. Also, what is new to me, in teaching, is that the students need breaks every 45 minutes in two to three-hour classes. When I studied for my bachelor’s degree at the University of Victoria in Canada, breaks were much shorter and not regulated in any way. Compared to my previous experiences teaching at other research universities in Canada, the USA and Finland, I found the great consideration given to what students will do with their lives after graduation to be an incredibly fair and responsible approach to university education.

One of the courses I teach, Music Culture, is structured as a two-hour lecture per week followed by group teaching. For group teaching, I meet with each half of the class for two hours each to work through the course materials. I particularly enjoy this because it gives me a forum to use active learning methods such as discussions of readings, role play (e.g, for how to do a research interview), music performance analyses, and online exercises. I use constructivist teaching methods, through which I co-construct new learnings together with my students (i.e., build collaboratively on the knowledge they hold and share). The group teaching sessions allow me to employ a constructivist approach to active learning in a way that is tailored to small groups. I think that the creation of the so-called study groups, of first-year students who work together in groups of four to six, is brilliant. It provides students with great support in their learning processes.

One funny thing is that my name was written everywhere at the department as Klisala Rose, maybe because there was a need to emphasize my gender. My first name comes from the west coast of Canada, where it was a gift for my birth from a Kwakwaka’wakw Indigenous matriarch, Lucy Brown. Klisala (or t´łisala) is the Kwakwaka’wakw word for “sun.” So, I carry the region of my birth in my name, even though I had grandparents on three sides from Europe and ancestors from Denmark.

After I had followed the first two-hour department meeting in Danish, this confirmed the need for me to intensify my studies in the local language. The students have rarely complained about using English in the classroom, and I hope that my lecturing in English gives them the possibility to sharpen English language skills. Maybe it also opens new job opportunities for them after graduation, as the world is large and their education in music scholarship can be applied many places in the world.

All in all, I have only positive first impressions of the teaching, study, and research priorities at Musicology. I very much look forward to continuing my work with faculty and students in the coming years.