Congratulations to Schulich Professor David Brackett, one of McGill University and Canada’s new Canada Research Chairs, Tier 1! This prestigious award recognizes outstanding researchers, acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their field.
In celebration of his new achievement, we asked Prof. Brackett a few questions via email:
What will your research as a Canada Research Chair focus on?
I plan on studying the role and meaning of popular music in North American culture over the last 60 years, and will develop new methodologies for studying how people communicate about music. I will do this through two interrelated research axes. The first of these investigates the interrelationship between the three major branches of Western music—popular, jazz, and Western classical music—and the change in status between them in the mid-1960s. I ask why and when did popular music begin to be taken seriously, and what impact did this new treatment of popular music have on the kind of attention given to jazz and classical music?
The second axis analyzes creativity in the recording studio from an historical and ethnographic perspective, which means looking at the creation of music through the interaction of musicians, engineers, producers, and studio technology in the recording studio. This research axis not only studies collaboration between participants in recording sessions, but will be undertaken in collaboration with members of the sound recording area as well as with colleagues in musicology. I (along with the other members of the team) will study both recording sessions taking place in the present and famous recording sessions of the past for which ample documentation exists.
Why is it important to research the relationship between music and people and not just focus on one or the other?
Much of what we learn as students of music is how to make music by playing an instrument or singing, or by studying how music is organized by learning about its theory—the technical means by which it is structured. We also study history, which (already) focuses on the relationship between music and people, and tends to concentrate on who creates music and on changes in musical style. I am interested in these approaches, but I am also interested in what people do with music, why it is important to them, and what it means to them. I ask questions such as how does music become important to our sense of who we are? Why and how does music become involved in debates about politics, and about social boundaries and differences? Finally, the relationship between a type of music and the people who most strongly identify with this music often affects the ways in which the music is evaluated. In other words, the relationship between music and people can help us understand why some types of music are revered as great, timeless masterpieces while other types of music are considered disposable trash. I argue that the value we attach to music is produced by the actions of people who make, discuss, listen to, or otherwise participate in music—value is not separable from the historical and social conditions in which the music is made. That is why it is important to study the relationship between music and people.
What excites you most on being awarded a Canada Research Chair?
I look forward to having the time and financial support to pursue these projects that would otherwise be difficult to pursue. The CRC funding will also enable me to support graduate students and to build a team that will collaborate on intellectual goals of mutual interest.
This year, the Schulich School of Music is pleased to share that two professors were awarded a Canada Research Chair! Congratulations also to Prof. Edward Klorman who received a Canada Research Chair Tier 2 for his research in musical analysis and performance. Read Prof. Klorman’s Q&A here.