Reflections/Impressions from the Community Musicology Class

Report by Margaux Simmons, Ph.D

Our project idea for the NJCH incubation grant was to conduct a musicology course that would investigate the contemporary music and musicians of Orange, New Jersey for the purpose of illuminating and sharing musics as a means of asset building and community development; a community musicological study of Orange, New Jersey.

We held four class sessions of two hours each, conducted interviews with community musicians, canvassed our University of Orange community with questions about the role(s) music plays in their lives, and held a lecture-recital by two community musicians that focused on the role of music in their lives and in the broader community of Orange, New Jersey.  

The musicians interviewed spanned the range of professional performers and composers, music educators, music students of all ages and amateur musicians.  Our aim was to get a sense of how music and music-making functions in Orange on a day-to-day level; how it functions in the living, breathing life of the city, as we believe the music-making in Orange is a vital force that can be channeled for productive community development and asset building.   

Our goal in this project was to unearth the diverse musical traditions and perspectives of the multi-racial, multi-generational, predominantly immigrant and low-income community of Orange, New Jersey and create a foundation of cultural sharing and cooperation that could be used to boost the economy and the overall health of the city.  In addition to professional artists who are making a living from their art, the example set by Cicely Tyson with the donation to the performing arts center next door in East Orange, New Jersey and the recent work of our students who are donating time and skills to the acquisition of meeting and classroom space by the University of Orange, we see how the arts, at all levels, can serve to uplift the actual economy of our area.  

The participants/researchers in the course learned a great deal about the various types of music being made in our community.  The interviews with performing musicians and music educators provided valuable insight into the creative processes involved in the music of our city. In addition, participants gained skills in interview techniques, mapping and other highly useful methods of conducting humanities research.

As a result of the community musicology investigation, we have greatly broadened our Music City Festival representation as well as interest in our music department course listings.  Also, community members have expressed interest in sponsorship of our music programming and professionals have donated their time and skills.

I think our community musicology course has been successful in bringing to the forefront the rich wealth of music-making that is an intrinsic part of everyday life in the city of Orange.   In most cities, the everyday music-making traditions of the city are not celebrated as they are in our community musicology course. From public school classroom music ensembles, school choirs, church choirs, amateur open mic performance settings to professional artists, our aim has been to highlight the vast richness of the music that is being made in Orange in the variety of settings that it exists, from the classroom, the informal open mic performance settings to the formal performance venues.  We find there is a need to provide the intermediate performance opportunities between beginning lessons and professional status in a way that opens the participants to the positive aspects of making their own music in a joyful manner. This, in turn, can only serve to improve the overall health of the residents of the city.

Our community musicology course has successfully laid the groundwork for continued investigation, highlighting and sharing of the music in Orange.  This course has provided a necessary first step in the further growth of our community music program and development.


This report was created as a part of the Community Musicology Project

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