Cambridge Colloquium 2008

The eighteenth ICTM Colloquium took place at Corpus Christi College Cambridge, 20-23 July, doubling as an interim meeting of the Study Group on Anthropology of Music in Mediterranean Cultures. The Colloquium was sponsored by a UK-based charitable foundation (whose policy is to remain anonymous) with additional support provided by Cambridge University’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the Faculty of Music and Corpus Christi College. The programme committee comprised Philip Bohlman, John O’Connell and Marcello Sorce Keller (Study Group Chair) with Salwa Castelo Branco and Ruth Davis as Programme Co-Chairs.

The theme was inspired by the concept of the Mediterranean as a site of intercultural encounters across time and space, and the pivotal role played by the three Abrahamic religions in the process. The focus on the Jewish diasporas of Al-Andalus was treated inclusively – an approach which proved exceptionally fertile as cutting-edge contributions by key players in the fields of Jewish music and Al-Andalus were juxtaposed, sometimes in startling ways, with perspectives from scholars representing the wider Mediterranean environment. The quality of presentations was superb, and the fact that draft papers were circulated in advance doubtless contributed to the high level of discussion throughout; this was particularly evident in the final discussion led by Stephen Blum, whose trenchant commentary subjected to critical scrutiny key processes, terms and concepts pertaining to the core theme of intercultural encounters, integrating observations drawn from the Colloquium with evidence from a wide range of musical and other sources.

The Colloquium began with welcoming speeches by Ruth Davis, Salwa Castelo Branco, Marcello Sorce Keller, and Svanibor Pettan (representing the ICTM Executive). The first session set the stage in medieval Iberia with presentations by Hilary Pomeroy on ‘The Light of the East’: Islamic Influence on Sephardi Culture’; Dwight Reynolds on ‘Contact, Influence, or Hybridization?: Jews, Muslims, and Christians and the Formation of medieval Andalusian Music’ and a recital paper by Judith Cohen ‘Remembering the graceful doe: Jewish, Christian and Muslim women and music in medieval Andalusia and beyond.’ Focusing on religious ritual, the second session began with Mark Kligman’s account of ‘Arab Music and Aesthetics in the Syrian Jewish Sabbath Liturgy’; Emmanuela Kavvadia presented the results of her joint research with John Plemmenos (prevented from joining us at the last moment by an accident) on ‘Synagogue Music of the Romaniote Jews: The Case of the Ioannina Community’; and Piergabriele Mancuso introduced us to the extraordinary ritual and musical world of the sabbatini of Sannicandro Garganico. Journeys in time and space across and beyond the Mediterranean linked presentations by Philip Bohlman on ‘Enlightenment Andalus - Herder’s Search for Mediterranean Modernity in the Jewish Past’ and Edwin Seroussi, whose paper ‘Musical Memory: The Journey of the Selihot according to Siftei renanot from Lucena (Al-Andalus, 11th century), to Djerba and Tripoli (16th century), and to Netivot and Tel Aviv (Israel, 21st century)’ was presented in his absence by Salwa Castelo-Branco.

Symbolic meanings attached to the Sephardic heritage came to the fore in presentations by Vanessa Paloma ‘Music and Gender in the liturgy of Northern Morocco:  the role of Andalusian and Judeo-Spanish melodies’; Jehoash Hirshberg‘The Sefardi as Source and as an Icon in Israeli Art Music’ and John Morgan O'Connell on ‘Continental Rift: Ashkenazi and Sephardic Musicians in Turkey (1923-38)’. Notions of a ‘golden age’, multiple diasporas, and issues of exclusion and distorted memory surfaced in presentations by Tony Langlois on ‘Jewish Musicians in the ‘Musique Orientale’ of Oran, Algeria’ and Goffredo Plastino on ‘The lacerating expulsion: Al-Andalus, Mediterranean jazz and world music strategies in contemporary Italy’.

The Colloquium relaxed into more informal formats on the second afternoon, beginning with Judith Cohen’s report on contemporary representations of medieval Sephardic music in ‘Three Cultures’ festivals in Spain, with Dwight Reynolds responding. Marcello Sorce Keller reported and led a discussion on developments and future plans for the Study Group, including ideas for future venues. There followed a visit to the University Library to view selected items from the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection (manuscripts retrieved from the Ben Ezra Synagoue in Cairo) introduced by the Collection’s Director Ben Outhwaite. A public concert of Sephardic song by the ensemble Joglaresa in the Chapel of Corpus Christi College rounded off the second day. On the final morning Philip Bohlman convened and introduced the panel ‘Mediterranean City Profiles’, with Salwa Castelo-Branco (Cairo), Ruth Davis (Tunis), Iain Fenlon (Venice), John Morgan O’Connell (Istanbul), and  Merav Rosenfeld (Tel Aviv). The Colloquium culminated in Stephen Blum’s discussion session, referred to above. Throughout the two-and-a-half days, the presentations and discussions were punctuated by references to the late founder and guiding spirit of the Study Group, Tullia Magrini, whose untimely passing in the summer of 2005 continues to be felt as resounding loss, and whose pioneering vision of the Mediterranean as ‘a setting for musical syncretisms that result from unique historical vicissitudes and from the ability of certain social groups to elaborate cultural encounters in original ways’ penetrates to the heart of the Colloquium’s debates.

A proposal to publish the conference papers as an edited volume in the Europea Series of the Scarecrow Press (series editors Philip Bohlman and Martin Stokes) is currently under discussion.

Ruth F. Davis, Vice-Chair and Convener
Cambridge, 29 August 2008



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