October 13 marked the opening of “Encountering the Other,” an exhibit at the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library. With an emphasis on the music of “the other,” the exhibition is a culmination of extractions of non-Western music from the library’s otherwise predominately Western music collection.
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The exhibit was curated by Emily Ferrigno, who began her work at the library two years ago after receiving a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology. While working in the library’s Special Collections, helping researchers find various items for further study, she kept stumbling upon artifacts she knew did not fit into the category of Western music.
“When I found things that were not part of the Western classical canon, I kept track of where they were and what they were,” Ferrigno said. “After a while I thought, why not make an exhibit out it?”
The exhibit contains a wide range of pieces, ranging from the early 16th century with the Gabinetto Armonico — a book composed of numerous engravings of instruments from both the European folk music tradition and cultures in Africa, Persia, Java, the Americas, etc. by Flemish artist Arnold van Westerhout — to a more contemporary photograph of Francis Poulenc, a composer of the Parisian avant-garde.
Many of the pieces have an audible element attached to them — such as the 1906 cover of Italian music magazine “Ars et Labor,” which features an Ethiopian musician playing the masenqo. The viewer can listen to music made by the instrument at a nearby sound station.
Ferrigno also runs a blog that runs side-by-side with the exhibit. Most posts feature items in the exhibit, but some comment on artifacts from the collection that are not on view. relating to the works featured as well information on artifacts that are not featured.
The majority of the items featured in the exhibit present solid evidence of the interactions between the musical as well as cultural traditions of differing ethnicities. The items relating to John Rosamund Johnson are an example of this
Johnson was an African-American composer and performer of vaudeville and musical theater. His musical “The Red Moon,” about a young woman of mixed African-American and Native American descent who is kidnapped from her life in Virginia and brought to her Indian chief father’s reservation, was hailed so highly by the Iroquois people that Johnson was made co-chief of the Caugnawago Reservation.
Viewers can actually see the letter, with a picture of Johnson in traditional Iroquois garb, signed by Chief Clear Sky of the reservation, inducting Johnson as part of the tribe.
One of the more striking artifacts of the exhibition is a set of two icon paintings, one of Mary, one of Jesus, done by Russian artist Yuri Titov. A performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor by the Robert Shaw Chorale during a 1962 Soviet tour, sponsored by the U.S. State Department in an attempt to smooth Soviet and U.S. relations, inspired Titov to take a more religious approach to his artwork. His change in aesthetic caused the KGB to label him as a dissident and was exiled to Paris. Most of his work was destroyed on the way.
“‘Encountering the Other’ isn’t just about the West,” said Ferrigno. It’s about people from other cultures encountering each other.”