After over ten years of research, writing and editing, Dr. Revell Carr of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance’s Department of Music Studies has published his first book, “Hawaiian Music in Motion: Mariners, Missionaries, and Minstrels.” The book, which is published by the University of Illinois Press, one of the most prestigious publishers of books on music, is the first in that publisher’s venerable series “Music in American Life” to discuss Hawaiian music. The study of Hawaiian music is often marginalized, perhaps since Hawai‘i is seen as outside the mainstream of American society, but Hawaiian music has had a major influence on all areas of American popular music, especially jazz, the blues, and country music. Dr. Carr’s book discusses the influence of cosmopolitan sailors on the music of Hawaiians, and also uncovers numerous, never-before-told stories of Native Hawaiians performing on American stages in the 19th century. Dr. Carr has also recorded a selection of songs that are discussed in the book, which are available for streaming online through the University of Illinois Press. Recorded with UNCG students, and alums, The Zinc Kings, all of whom have worked with Dr. Carr in the UNCG Old Time Ensemble, the recordings include 19th century sea chanteys, sailor ballads, music hall songs, and songs sung in Hawaiian, which tell the story of Hawaiians‘ relationship with American seafarers. This is not only the first book on Hawaiian music in the 40-year history of the “Music in American Life” series, it is also the first time the press has made recordings by the author part of an online supplement. Dr. Carr recently performed some of these songs at the Festival of the Sea in San Francisco, and this summer he will be giving lecture/recitals at several museums and historical societies in the Northeast. Dr. Carr was invited last Spring to be a keynote speaker at a conference in Liverpool, UK called “Atlantic Sounds: Ships and Sailortowns,” where he spoke about sailor songs as a type of prototypical “world music.” While in Liverpool he also performed a set of sea chanteys at a 300-year old sailors’ pub, and sat in with the house band at the Cavern Club, where the Beatles got their start. Currently, Dr. Carr is a finalist for a Fulbright Fellowship which would allow him to spend a semester studying the multicultural music of the port city of Liverpool as it was during the nineteenth century. On March 25th, Dr. Carr presented his work, focusing on 19th century multiculturalism, as a part of the UNCG Black Faculty and Staff’s “Author’s Spotlight on Inclusive Excellence” series.
Dr. Carr was able to answer a few questions for us regarding his work in ethnomusicology and on this recent publication:
1. Why ethnomusicology? What is the draw for you in the field?
The long answer to this question would be my entire life story, but I’ll try to express it in a nutshell. I grew up playing music, starting with piano lessons when I was five, but I knew from an early age that I was more interested in “vernacular” music than classical music, so my musical life before grad school was filled with playing guitar and singing in rock bands, singing and dancing in musical theatre, and performing folk music. I discovered the field of ethnomusicology while I was getting my master’s degree in folklore, and I realized that the folklore I was most interested in studying was folk music, so I decided to pursue ethnomusicology. To me, ethnomusicology represents the most inclusive way to study music. We see our field as encompassing all of the world’s people and all the many varieties of music people make, not just the music of elite performers or famous composers, but music that is made by regular people in their homes and communities. As someone who is interested in genres like work songs, occupational ballads, the music of Pacific Islanders, Jamaican music, Indonesian music, Hawaiian music, as well as American old time, country, blues, and rock and roll, I have found that ethnomusicology allows me to study all these things and more. Also, most ethnomusicologists learn to play the music they study, not necessarily to become professional performers of it, though a few do, but to learn about other ways of thinking, other ways of conceiving of music and creating music, so that we can better understand the people who make that music, so I enjoy that “applied” aspect of the discipline. Most importantly, I feel like in today’s world, where boundaries between musical genres are falling apart and everyone is borrowing from everyone else, I think the world needs ethnomusicologists to educate us, not just about the world’s music, but about the world’s people and what their music means to them.
As for the question about performance, for almost 30 years I have been part of a small niche in the folk music community called the “Sea Music Revival,” which is basically people who love to sing the sailors’ sea chanteys, nautical ballads, and other songs of the sea, mostly from the 19th century. For a long time, most of the people who perform that music have played it in a distinctly Irish/Scots/British style, but my book shows that the music of sailors in the 19th century was very diverse and cosmopolitan, and was influenced by Pacific Islanders, Caribbean Islanders, African-Americans, and many others. So, I and a couple of other friends of mine who are scholar/performers of this music, are trying to find ways to encourage people to perform sea music in a way that honors those influences, primarily by emphasizing rhythm, particularly syncopation, and the kind of sliding “blue notes” that were favored by Hawaiians and African Americans in the 19th century.