Be a good neighbor


This photograph might not look like much, but it depicts some of the results of a beautiful collaborative endeavor.  It’s completely unclear at this point where and when the main collaborators will be recognized.  I want to use this forum, small as it may currently be, to publicly recognize those people.

Two years ago, while I was on a three-month stint in Uganda for language training and preliminary dissertation research, I met a colleague named Suzanne Wint.  She was in Uganda on a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship.  From the first day we met, I noticed that Suzanne reaches out to colleagues across disciplines to engage in scholarly discourse and undertake interesting projects.  On previous trips to Uganda, she had met Drs. Justinian Tamusuza and Sylvia Nannyonga-Tamusuza, both professors of music at Makerere University’s Department of Music, Dance and Drama (MDD) here in Kampala.  Both Suzanne and I had met some of their best students, no fewer than three of whom are now pursuing terminal degrees in music.  She noticed, however, that preparing these students for graduate programs had been unnecessarily difficult.  These fine professors had been lending from their personal libraries so that eager students could work with essential literature.  The main library has a negligible music collection, and at the time MDD had virtually no collection of its own.

Suzanne paired her status as a Fulbright-Hays Scholar with her network of colleagues at the University of Chicago to build a music collection for MDD.  She had hundreds of pounds of books sent to Uganda to build the initial collection.  Meanwhile, Dr. Jane Clendinning, Professor of Music Theory at Florida State University, came to Uganda that summer for a short visit.  She and I both saw what Suzanne was doing and decided that we had to find a way to help.  When I got back to Florida State after that summer, I linked up with Dr. Clendinning and we used our departmental listservs to request that our colleagues donate their desk copies of textbooks and as many monographs as possible.  We received an overwhelming response, and Dr. Clendinning paid out of pocket to ship books from Florida State.

Now Dr. Nannyonga-Tamusuza had been receiving books from another professor from Pittsburgh University for some time.  Now there are three separate universities concentrating their efforts on building this collection.  On the Ugandan side, Dr. Nannyonga-Tamusuza has been very busy ensuring that these books have a secure home.  The new MDD reading room features locked shelving, a large table for reading and small seminars, and some more efficient shelving for instrument storage.  I’ve had the privilege of visiting that space on several occasions already, and it’s wonderful to see students there using the materials and enjoying a quiet space to study.

What you see in the photograph above is only the beginning of these efforts.  Dr. Nannyonga-Tamusuza has worked with the main Makerere library, the American Embassy and two Norwegian grant makers to build a new listening lab.

Dr. Clendinning is currently organizing several more boxes of donations from Florida State students and professors.  Now that the reading room has been stocked with basic texts for undergraduate curricula, I hope to work with Suzanne and other American colleagues to secure continuing donations of monographs and biographies for historical and ethnomusicological research.  Meanwhile, scholars working on music in Uganda know that their theses and dissertations will have a home at MDD, where we hope that students will read and critique them as we continue to foster discourse and interaction among American and Ugandan music scholars.

Suzanne really taught me a great deal about overseas field research during that first summer in Kampala.  Whereas an old paradigm in anthropological and ethnomusicological research used “informant gifts” and even direct payment, these methods seem to pay our field consultants to be silent after we return home and write up.  This is the worst kind of field exit.  Being nice to consultants, buying gifts and paying for transport is still important.  Paying transcription assistants an honest day’s wage is still an honorable and necessary protocol.  However, Suzanne’s dedication to this project reflects a spirit of fully engaging local scholars and field consultants in intellectual discourse.

Our work will be richer for this kind of interaction, but that’s not even the best reason to do it.  Now there’s a whole new generation of African ethnomusicologists who will make meaningful contributions to the field.  Working to ensure their access to resources isn’t a way to “pay” people.  Trite as it may sound, being a good neighbor just makes the world a better place.

Can’t wait to see an offering from this generation of African ethnomusicologists?  Here’s a preview.  Artist feature coming soon . . .



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2 responses to “Be a good neighbor

  1. aren’t the other folks also abroad when you are just the coolest? i hope you are well and we are thinking of you much. i haven’t even tried to call. if it were ever quiet around here for more than 2 minutes I might. we got a piano–which is awesome but also means the quiet thing happens even less than usual. i love love love love love you

  2. Yeah, I don’t mind saying publicly that Suzanne has inspired me on so many levels.

    Piano, huh? Make sure if they’re hammering, it’s Hanon exercises. The next generation must suffer as we did!

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