Mongolian music lecture draws a crowd –ama

Alex Schaaf

Many of the professors here at Lawrence surely have very interesting stories about the different steps in their lives that led to their presence here on our campus.
Not too many, however, can say that they were inspired to study their current field by sitting in a tent in a mountain range in India, listening to a Tibetan herder sing folk songs.
That is the story of Lecturer in Music Peter Marsh, who gave the latest Music of the World lecture last Tuesday night.
His talk focused on the music of Mongolia, as well as the field of ethnomusicology in general.
Marsh, a member of the Lawrence class of 1988, went on an overseas study program to India as a junior to learn about the Indian music, which fascinated him.
During a break in semesters, he took a trip up into the Himalayan Mountains. He met some herders from Tibet that were coming to trade.
“That night, they sang songs in their tent,” said Marsh. “It was completely different than anything I had ever heard in my life.”
Marsh graduated from Lawrence with a double degree in English and music performance. From there, he went on to earn his masters in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University and his doctorate in Mongolian studies from Indiana University.
Marsh then spent roughly six years living in Mongolia between 1996 and 2006, and is here at Lawrence only for this year.
Marsh gave his presentation on Tuesday night to a packed house in Shattuck Hall. Students and professors alike filled the room, all eager to hear of music that does not usually get talked about inside the walls of Lawrence.
Marsh started the lecture by discussing genres of music, and what makes music what it is. “There is much more to music than its sounds,” said Marsh.
“There is a whole range of ideas connected to the music that explain what the music is and why it sounds the way it does.”
Marsh emphasized that while music is one of the most universal of human phenomena, it is not a universal language.
“You have to understand the culture that the music comes from to understand the music,” he said.
The lecture then turned to the subject of Mongolian music as Marsh described his time in Mongolia. He showed videos of three different musicians performing, including a fiddler, an epic singer and a throat singer.
After discussing the historical instruments and the music of the countryside, Marsh showed a video of an urban Mongolian hip-hop group, which drew amused responses from the crowd.
The introduction of ethnomusicology itself was one of Marsh’s main points of the presentation.
“One of my goals was to introduce what ethnomusicology is, and what we as ethnomusicologists do,” Marsh said.
Lawrence currently has no permanent ethnomusicology faculty, something that Marsh hopes will change in the future.
To help the students for now, Marsh is teaching two courses in the spring, “Popular Music and Culture” and “Introduction to World Music and Culture.