IAML Update: IAML-ICTM-IMS joint conference in Abu Dhabi

Please enjoy the following report by IAML president Barbara Dobbs Mackenzie about the conference Music As Cultural Heritage: Problems of Historiography, Ethnography, Ethics and Preservation, held 13 to 16 March 2017 on the campus of NYU Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates:

This was the first-ever joint conference of IAML, ICTM, and IMS, and we were hosted by Ginny Danielson (head of NYU Abu Dhabi’s library and previously the head of Harvard University’s music library) and her colleagues. NYU Abu Dhabi Institute sponsored the event, which was limited to 30-35 participants due to various resource constraints. Given this limit, the three societies decided to invite 7 to 8 participants each and then encourage as much regional participation as possible. IAML has few members indeed from this part of the world and has not yet connected the way we would like to in this region, so especially with this in mind, the conference was an important event for our Association. And what an event it was!

The prospectus for the event was as follows:

What is cultural heritage as it relates to music, and how should it be preserved? These are the key questions of this colloquium, which brings together members of the three largest international societies of music scholarship—The International Musicological Society (IMS), the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM), and the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML). Hosted by the NYUAD Institute in Abu Dhabi, this workshop will engage across disciplines and with local experts on the Arabian Peninsula to discuss problems of historiography, ethnography, ethics, and preservation as they relate to music as cultural heritage.

Preserving cultural heritage has been on the agenda of national policy makers in recent years, driven by UNESCO’s increased attention to threats posed by the “unprecedented acceleration and intensification in the global flows of capital, labor, and information” (UNESCO, “The Future we Want”) as well as political instability and conflict in certain regions of the world. This colloquium will bring voices and perspectives from the international societies of music scholarship into the broader conversation on cultural heritage. It will explore the role of musical heritage in nation building and social betterment, and the philosophical, political and practical problems of musical heritage and its preservation across cultures.

In addition to fostering cross-disciplinary discussions among music scholars, this colloquium will also bring music scholars from around the world into conversation with local heritage experts in the UAE, including officials from the National Archives of the UAE, the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), theHamdan bin Mohammed Heritage Center, and the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF).

Stanisław Hrabia and I were both on the programme committee for the conference as IAML representatives; Stanisław carried the bulk of IAML’s work on this. The programme can be found here.

The conference began with introductory remarks by the presidents of the three societies—Salwa El Shawan Castelo-Branco (ICTM), Dinko Fabris (IMS), and me—briefly describing our societies and the hopes and goals of each for the conference. Let me summarize my remarks:

After a very brief description of IAML and its beginnings, I talked about the importance of the connections between IAML, ICTM and IMS.  There are lots of interwoven and interdependent goals and activities of the three societies, and while the main focus of each is different, research, documentation, and preservation in the realm of music and—importantly--in an international context are common to all three. We each mutually need and rely on the work of the other two, like a three-legged stool that supports and promotes music research and preservation. Without one of the legs, the stool would collapse. I reviewed the connections and joint work of the three societies over time. It would be hard to imagine a more fitting conference theme joining all three societies than the preservation of musical heritage. For IAML, every one of our stated purposes relates to this theme in one way or another.

Then I focused on the one word (besides “music” or some form there of) common across the names of all three societies, which must be central to IAML’s goals and a primary reason we have been so enthused about this conference: That word is “International”. All three claim to be international organizations, and we certainly are in that we are not bound to one nation or region. But all too often in years gone by, “international” has meant European and North American, and when the focus is that narrow, when we are not actively engaged in all parts of the world, we are not truly “international” and our societies are significantly weakened. For IAML, we have not connected well enough in places like Asia, Latin America, Africa, and certainly the Middle East.

I pointed out that worldwide outreach and inclusion has been a high priority for IAML in recent years because we recognize that we need to expand our focus and become actively engaged in all these areas of the world. And while we have a ways to go, we have made some important strides in this direction, visiting and engaging with local music librarians and archivisits in China and South Korea, Brazil, Cuba, and Chile, and Morocco. And there have been some good results so far, including two new national branches in Brazil and in South Korea (and I want to mention that we have another new branch in Greece as well). The area missing from these outreach activities up until now has been the Arab-speaking world. This region has been on our radar for some time, and it is a central reason why I asked Ginny in the first place if she thought a joint conference of some kind in Abu Dhabi might be possible. Her first reaction was so positive that we three organizations leapt at the opportunity.

What does IAML hope to achieve during the conference? We would like to learn as much as we can about the situation with music material collections here and in the Middle East in general, to meet folks engaged with these collections locally, to talk about shared challenges and successes in the areas of preservation, dissemination, and documentation of music materials. And perhaps most importantly, we hope to establish connections and form relationships with people engaged in this work in the Middle East, and then continue to build on these relationships and professional connections long into the future for, we hope, mutual support and understanding on all sides.


And this is what the conference, indeed, achieved. The most important success was to have met so many amazing colleagues, and to learn about what they are doing, what their successes and challenges are, and to form relationships with them.

Here is a brief summary of the conference programme: Stanisław gave an excellent presentation about IAML, its past, present, and hopes for the future. Other IAML colleagues discussed preservation projects focused on music manuscripts and sound archives, on the musical heritage of the USA, and on digitization projects underway in Germany. IMS presentations addressed the history of the IMS, the preservation of opera, and a major project to write a global history of music. From ICTM participants we learned about heritage from an ethnomusicological viewpoint, about ICTM and UNESCO’s work in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, about efforts to preserve musical heritage represented in Arabic sung poetry, Sufi music, African music in the Emirates, the traditional musics of Socotra and Egypt, and Kuwaiti pearl divers songs. There was a paper on Tanzanian song as “preserved” in literature. We heard brief presentations about the Oman Royal Opera House, the Dhow Countries Music Academy in Zanzibar, and the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation. There was a presentation on the politics and aesthetics of musical heritage, and on issues of ownership, preservation, and dissemination in an Indian ethnomusicological archive. We visited the breathtaking Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and we heard performances of traditional Emirati and Zanzibari music. All of it was eye and ear and mind opening.

The final paper of the conference issued a challenge to all three societies to be far more public and visible in our work, commitments, and statements. Other international societies make statements in and are quoted by the press, but that almost never happens with IAML, ICTM, or IMS. Why aren’t we involved when the bombing of a city destroys music libraries and archives? Why don’t we issue press releases to protest this destruction, and work to understand what may have been lost? Why don’t we seek out musicians and music researchers and librarians among refugees struggling to survive and try to help them professionally in some way? Why don’t we think on a public level like this and take positions related to our professional portfolio? It was a worthy call to action and it brought commitments from the three societies to bring these issues to their Boards and membership. This small paragraph is just a first step in that direction; I’m sure we all will discuss this together in some depth.

In sum, for me it is not an overstatement to say that this conference has had a major impact. The kinds of connections and communications that we have established and shared together across all manner of boundaries is the most valuable thing that could have come out of these days, and in a small but profound way, the world has changed as a result, in both tangible and intangible ways. And there is great energy to follow up on ideas, plans, possibilities, and especially communications in the weeks and years to come. All three society presidents as well as ICTM’s Secretary General Svanibor Pettan, and Daniel Chua and Stanisław Hrabia (the incoming Presidents of IMS and IAML, respectively) found our discussions and meetings and communications with colleagues living and working in this part of the world so valuable and enlightening—we have learned so much and have so enjoyed our time learning and forging new relationships and connections—that indeed we are determined to make this only the first step. At all costs, we do not want this to be a one-time event, but only the beginning of meetings in and with the Arabic-speaking world. Doors have been opened, and we want to do all we can not only to keep them open, but to open them wider and wider in the years to come.

To that end, we—IAML, ICTM, and IMS—would like to establish a joint forum of the three societies as an ongoing entity, perhaps focused on issues of musical heritage. The next step for this forum could be to work on organizing another conference in this region, to take place in approximately two years’ time. So stay tuned for more information as this develops, and if you have thoughts or ideas regarding this plan, please speak up! Your views are very welcome indeed.

I would like to thank, on behalf of the IAML board, Ginny Danielson, Jesse Boere, Carlos Guedes, the Institute, and all the colleagues there for organizing this very important event for IAML. And to my fellow presidents of IAML’s sister societies, ICTM and IMS, thank you for your ongoing collaboration and friendship, and to all the presenters from IAML, ICTM, and IMS for their participation. And most importantly of all, to everyone working here in the Middle East, thank you for participating and for sharing and teaching us so much.


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