Editorial: Six-part Counterpoints


For the sixth edition of British Postgraduate Musicology, about sixty prominent musicologists were invited to offer six words of advice for postgraduate musicologists everywhere, punctuation and short explanation optional. Six took up the challenge. This had an alarmingly/pleasantly constructivist ring to it (delete according to taste). A seventh then replied, removing the hex, so to speak, and in doing so providing a useful reminder that musicological endeavour, like most good music, usually benefits from transcending a system.

So here they are: seven voices in six-part counterpoint, and seven provocations to postgraduate musicologists everywhere.

Nicholas Reyland
Editor, British Postgraduate Musicology


Twice said because so difficult to absorb: an incantation against obsessive perfectionism and the endless unfinished rewrite, taught to me by that most supportive and wisest of graduate advisors, Susan McClary. It is printed in large letters (admittedly only once, however, as I don't care whether it comes to six words or not) on a piece of paper by my desk. Now if I could only finish something...

Dr Paul Attinello
University of Newcastle upon Tyne

If in doubt, go for it

This may or may not be good advice for life – that depends on the risks – but I think it's good advice for musicology. Musicology isn't like designing planes: if you get it wrong, hundreds of people won't die. Don't quote me on this, and maybe you have to choose the right area of musicology to work in, but I think you can build a musicological career by getting one (risky) thing right for every two you get wrong. But one word of caution before you take my advice: are you really in doubt? Probably you aren't. Probably you know what you should do. In which case you don't need my advice at all.

Professor Nicholas Cook
Royal Holloway, University of London

Keep a carefully updated address book

This is one of the few pieces of advice no one ever told me. The best scholarship is produced in a community, in conversation. Staying in touch with people means you have readers for drafts of your work, people who will write recommendation letters for you, and colleagues who will tell you about things you should be involved in. A well-maintained, well-used address book is one sign of a good scholar.

Associate Professor Anahid Kassabian
Fordham University

But where's the bloody horse

Emeritus Professor Joseph Kerman
University of California

People are more important than books

Professor Roger Parker
Cambridge University

Don't continue unless you'd die otherwise

When I think about the hardships that have always faced graduate students (the arduous studies, the loneliness of the dissertation), and add to those the unreliable job prospects that face them now, I cannot in conscience advise any young person today to enter, or finish, a Ph.D. program in the humanities. The one exception is the student for whom there is no other choice. I once heard a gloriously committed boat-builder, in a televised interview, say about a third person, 'He doesn't build boats; how happy can he be?' Those are the words I would have chosen if I'd had nine at my disposal. If you can substitute 'study music' for 'build boats', you should ignore my advice.

Professor Rose Rosengard Subotnik
Brown University


Professor Stephen Walsh
Cardiff University

The Editor and Editorial Board would like to extend their gratitude to all of the above.

© The contributors, 2004

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