UC San Diego's Department of Music

November 23, 2015

  The Distinguished Lecture Committee presents Kay Kaufman Shelemay, the G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music, African and African American Studies and Ethnomusicology at Harvard University. Kaufman will deliver her paper "Making Sense of Things".

From her Abstract: "Well before the recent 'sensory turn' in musical scholarship, scholars of religion recognized that religious rituals were multisensory experiences.  This presentation will explore the interactive role of music with a range of senses through a discussion of the musical liturgy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, an indigenous liturgy dating from the entry of Christianity to Ethiopia in the early fourth century. Transmitted by highly trained church musicians, this venerable musical /liturgical tradition has for the last forty years circulated worldwide as a result of the forced migration of many Ethiopian Christians in the wake of the country's 1974 revolution.  Interpreting sensory interactions in a living liturgical tradition, as well as crossing cultural boundaries to do so, raises challenging theoretical issues with relevance beyond the boundaries of this case study.
In the paper, I will make two interrelated arguments.  I'll suggest first that the distinctive Ethiopian highland concept of seven senses as realized in liturgical performances supports an interpretation of sound's primacy in this multisensory liturgical setting.  I will next argue that Ethiopian liturgical musicians are the primary agents who transmit liturgy as well as link ritual sensory domains with practices in the secular world. The paper's conclusions will address the flow of liturgically-shaped senses into other aspects of daily life, questioning the relationship of music and musicians to broader aspects of habitus.  
This paper is based on data gleaned from participating in and observing Ethiopian Christian musical performances both in Ethiopia and in its global diaspora; on testimonies by and about Ethiopian Church musicians present and past; and on evidence about Ethiopian Christian cultural life drawn from other expressive domains, including proverbs and paintings.  The  first part of the presentation will provide an overview of the larger project of which the sensory materials are a part; the paper will include DVD footage of liturgical performance as well as other visual images."
Kaufman is the author of Let Jasmine Rain Down: Song and Remembrance among Syrian Jews; Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World and other books, as well as numerous scholarly papers. As an ethnomusicologist she is particularly interested in Africa and the Middle East as well as the United States. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007

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