Emory Report
February 27, 2006
Volume 58, Number 21


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February 27 , 2006
Conference to put ancient song under interdisciplinary microscope

by alfred charles

The philosophical viewpoints of three different disciplines—classics, music and religion—will intersect next month during a three-day seminar designed to stimulate discussion across disciplinary lines and encourage new possibilities for the study of music, ritual and cultural identity.

The conference, “Ancient Song in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Ritual, Performance and History,” will be held March 3-5 in the Carlos Museum reception hall and includes an 8 p.m. musical performance Saturday at the Emory Conference Center.

Sandra Blakely, associate professor of classics and the conference’s principle organizer, said the event aims to foster understanding and learning beyond the traditional boundaries of academia.

“I hope this will be a tangible demonstration of what happens when you bring together scholars and performers engaged in the same problems, but from the perspectives of entirely different disciplines,” Blakely said.

The conference exemplifies the University’s long-held mission of encouraging interdisciplinary study. Scholars from places such as the University of Chicago, the University of Southern California and the University of Arizona will join Emory faculty members for a series of lectures and panel discussions that revolve around set topics tied to Hindu, European, Greek and Roman cultures. There will also be discussion about African American musical traditions of the Deep South.

Students, faculty and staff are all invited to the symposium. Presentation of papers will include performances, films and even re-creation of ancient musical sounds, to be followed by 10 minutes of debate.

“The benefit of an event like this is that scholars may discover an entirely new approach to a problem they have worked on for many years,” Blakely said. “Discussion with colleagues in other disciplines can open unanticipated doors because it forces us to re-examine the ways our disciplines have taught us to frame questions.

“You never know precisely where the discussion will lead,” she added. “We have an energetic, innovative group of thinkers coming to a single place, all of whom like to think outside the box. I think we can expect a lively few days.”

Music is the common theme woven through the conference because it has a universal appeal that transcends time, race, culture and religious belief, Blakely said.

“I am optimistic about the appeal of the event,” she said. “Very few people don’t feel at least some connection to music, and this means that the speakers and the audience should be quite engaged.”

Examples of the scheduled sessions include one by Theodore Burgh, faculty member at the University of North Carolina, who will present a debate titled, “Who Played What, When and Where? A Discussion of Sex and Gender in the Musical Culture of Iron Age Israel/Palestine.” Dwight Andrews, associate professor of music, will lead a session that explores “African American Identity and the Spirituals.” And Rephael Peled, a doctorate degree candidate at Emory, will present his current research in a paper titled “Opening the Language, Closing the Language: Myths About Meters in Early Indian Literature.”

For more information about the conference, log on to: www.classics.emory.edu/song/.