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Academic hailed for "outstanding scholarship"

Posted on 17/11/2010

Anon., 1674–80, Hospital de los Naturales Parish, Corpus Christi series (Cuzco)

Dr Geoffrey Baker, from the Department of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London, has won a prestigious award from the American Musicological Society. His book, Imposing Harmony: Music and Society in Colonial Cuzco, has received the Robert M. Stevenson Award, which recognises outstanding scholarship in Spanish and Latin American music.

This award is presented annually and the winner is selected by a committee of scholars appointed by the President of the Society.

Dr Baker says: “Robert Stevenson is widely regarded as the leading scholar of Ibero-American music in the English-speaking world, and his article on music in Cuzco opened the door to my research, so it’s a great privilege to receive this prize.”

Imposing Harmony is a groundbreaking analysis of the role of music and musicians in the social and political life of colonial Cuzco. Challenging musicology’s cathedral-centered approach to the history of music in colonial Latin America, Dr Baker demonstrates that Cuzco’s musical culture was remarkably decentralized.

Building on recent scholarship by social historians and urban musicologists and drawing on extensive archival research, Dr Baker highlights European music as a significant vehicle for reproducing and contesting power relations in Cuzco. Described by scholars as “a profound analysis” and “a great read”, the book uncovers a musical life of considerable and unexpected richness throughout the diocese of Cuzco.

Dr Baker is currently in Venezuela undertaking research on music education and childhood musical learning, looking mainly at El Sistema – Venezuela’s famous system of children's and youth orchestras – but also at the learning of traditional music, such as the harp music of the central plains and African-derived drumming practices on the coast.

This research is made up of two projects: the British Academy-funded project 'El Sistema: Music as Social Action in Venezuela', and the AHRC-funded 'Growing into Music'.

 “El Sistema is simultaneously very familiar and little known outside the country”, explains Dr Baker. “Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra are international stars of classical music, and there are several documentaries and many journalistic articles about El Sistema, but I’m trying to do something that has not really been done before: to get behind the scenes, observe how El Sistema works up close, and analyse how it achieves its stated goal of social action."

He adds: “I’m also working on documentaries on more traditional forms of childhood musical learning in both Venezuela and Cuba, and these should provide some interesting points of comparison.”



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