Interviews with ethnomusicologists
Alexander Knapp interviewed by Carolyn Landau. (2 of 4).
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Rayners Lane, West London, Greater London
Knapp, Alexander (speaker, male, interviewee)
Landau, Carolyn (speaker, female, interviewer)
Landau, Carolyn (speaker, female
Track 2 [1:27:26] [Session one, continued: 25 June 2010] Description of how parents had encouraged AK's musical education and how unusual this was for Jewish migrant families in the post-world war two period. Explanation of how his plans changed upon receiving his A-Level results which were better than expected, such that, rather than going to music college, he interviewed for Selwyn College Cambridge and was offered a place on condition that he withdraw all other applications, which he did. Description of interview at Cambridge and reaction upon receiving the acceptance letter. Reflection on time in Cambridge: BA for 3 years followed by MusB for one year and then PhD for 3 years: 1962-1970 with one year out in New York in the ethnomusicology department of the Jewish seminary. [06:18] Discussion and reflection of how he and his parents reacted to his study of music at Cambridge, in hindsight. Description of practical music making at Cambridge, commenting on how high the standard of performance was, particularly among those studying subjects other than music and reflections on how surprising AK found this. Description of student body at Selwyn and Cambridge University more broadly and commentary on his own position amongst these as a Jew. Reflection on how enjoyable he found his student days and on how much he admired and appreciated the principal of the college, Owen Chadwick. Further reflections on repertoire he performed and compositions he composed and performed (including ballet suites) while at Cambridge and how he found these experiences very exciting. [14:18] Further discussion of his postgraduate studies: explanations of the educational system and music degrees at Cambridge. Discussion of his PhD topic: how it came about and developed. Discussion of his compositions at this stage and their relation to Jewish music. Mentions his discovery of the composer Ernst Bloch and how he was drawn to his music and started to research him and his Jewish-ness. Describes how this interest led him New York to the ethnomusicology department of the Jewish seminary where her spent a year learning under Professor Joanna Spector and Ernst Bloch's daughter, Suzanne Bloch. Both women were like aunty figures to AK. Comments that this was his only formal ethnomusicology training and what a very special year it was. Description of Suzanne Bloch and her influence on AK and his understanding of the Bloch family and study of Ernst Bloch via Suzanne. Comments on his research into the Jewish perspective of Ernst Bloch's life and compositions and his family's perspective on this part of research. Describes how he learnt a great deal about Bloch's personal life, which was very colourful. Describes his role in introducing Joanna Spector and Suzanne Bloch and their musical collaborations following this introduction. Describes a key musical encounter he witnessed between these women and others, playing Middle Eastern music together and how this experience made a profound impact on AK as a young student, age 23. Reflects on how this was a formative year in his training in music, broadening his scope from Western classical music to many other types of music. [28:42] Mentions how Laurence Picken's presence at Cambridge didn't particularly influence him, since Picken was not part of the Music Department's activities and how his year in New York was therefore very important in his introduction to ethnomusicology, as the discipline simply didn't exist in the UK at that point. Discussion of other students with AK in New York: mainly Jewish Cantors and the discussions they enjoyed about the nature and practice of Jewish music; description of different types of training for Jewish cantors, in relation to the seminary in New York. Comments on how exposure to the other students' musical practices and Joanna Spector's teaching of non-Western musical traditions was very new and exciting to him, particularly the introduction to middle-eastern modes. Reflects on wider impact of Joanna Spector in the US as an ethnomusicologist and how her experience of Auschwitz impacted the direction her work took. Further discussion of what she taught AK in terms of ethnomusicology. [39:42] Reflection on the state of ethnomusicology in the US at this time, which was already established, in stark contrast to the situation in the UK, where ethnomusicology was little known. Discussion of John Blacking's influence and role in bringing ethnomusicology to the UK and making it a respected discipline, following on from comparative musicologists, but some ten years later than had occurred in the US. Reflects that many people were doing ethnomusicology before Blacking, however it labelled as such. Remembers other important figures in the early days of 'Anglo-ethno', such as Stanley Glasser and Neil Sorrell, when the discipline was being attacked by other academics. Compares this to how dentistry was established. [43:57] Description of return to Cambridge from New York and how difficult he found the return to his PhD. Description of his supervisor, Philip Radcliffe as a piano player. Description of how he started teaching piano in 1970 at the Cambridge Polytechnic and piano and theory at the junior college of the Royal College of Music for two years, before trying to finish his PhD whilst continuing to teach. Married Caroline in 1974, with whom he is still in good contact. Description of how she was a primary music teacher and supported him whilst he tried to complete his PhD. Later AK taught theory and keyboard skills at Goldsmiths, before being appointed as assistant Director of Studies at the Royal College of Music, which was an administrative role, where he remained happily for six years. Comments that during this period he did very little in the way of Jewish music. In 1983, AK went to Wolfson College Cambridge as a visiting scholar where he tried again to finish in PhD. Description of his struggles in forming his research at this time. Describes how his own thinking and writing on Bloch then gradually developed as he realised what material was and wasn't available on the composer. Describes other teaching and performing work he also did at this stage before taking decision to leave Wolfson College to freelance for the next 9 years as a lecturer, performer, teacher etc, before becoming the Joe Loss Research Fellow (later to become a Lectureship) in Jewish Music at City University, which was a new post created by the Jewish Music Institute and Geraldine Auerbach in 1991, in collaboration with Malcolm Troope (of City University) who both wanted to put academic Jewish music on the map in the UK. Remarks how forward looking the curriculum at City was in comparison to other universities at the time. Stayed in this post for 7 years at which point the position was transferred to SOAS in 1999, where he remained until 2006. Discussion of how the study and teaching of Jewish music, and his thinking on the area, developed at this stage and how his move to SOAS with so many ethnomusicology colleagues helped this development. It was at this stage that he became interested in China. [57:12] Conversation moves on to talk about how his interest in China came about, via his cousin who was in street theatre and wanted to refine his understanding of The Clown and pursued this at the Beijing Opera School. Through this connection, AK was invited to give 19 lectures on Jewish music at the Central Conservatory of Beijing, which he did during the period of one month. Whilst in China, he became interested in traditional Chinese music and instruments and also learnt a little about Chinese Jews and their music. Explains how he resonates with Chinese culture. [1:05:02] Description of audio recordings that AK has made as an accompanist of Jewish Cantorial and Folk music, whilst he was accompanying Cantors at weddings, which he initially found very challenging and unusual in comparison to playing Western music. Description of challenging experiences of accompanying various Cantors and becoming a 'composer-performer' through improvising in performance settings and learning structures and rules for improvising; remarks on enjoyable and enriching he found these experiences, but also how particular he has become more recently in who he chooses to accompany, avoiding particularly unpredictable Cantors. Describes how he has made recordings of these types of performances, as well as his own compositions and arrangements of traditional material. Description of a conference he attended on religious music in Adelphi, where he spoke about and performed his own Art Music arrangements of traditional Jewish repertoires and how this provoked a negative reaction from some Armenian audience members who felt he had appropriated the traditional melodies. Discussion of rationale for / philosophy behind making arrangements of traditional materials. Reflects that his methodology has been doorstep ethnomusicology with Jewish Cantors and understanding how they work and how this relates to Western Art Music performance. Discussion of learning and speaking Yiddish. [1:24:42] Discussion of his archive of cassette recordings of performances and rehearsals as well as his paper archive and how this is currently stored in his house. [End of track as door bell rings]
Interview with Alexander Knapp (2 of 4). The ethnomusicologist talks about his research. Interviewer: Carolyn Landau.