Professor of Music Marc Benamou has a challenge for you. Find another college or university in the country that has a music department as small as Earlham's, where one of the faculty members is an ethnomusicologist. You might find one, but you certainly won't find many.
"There are a number of large and well-respected departments - like Princeton or Stanford - where there are 30, 40 or even 60 faculty members, and not a single ethnomusicologist. But Earlham made a major decision to move outside the canon of Western music," says Benamou.
Benamou, whose book, Rasa: Affect and Intuition in Javanese Music, published in 2010 by Oxford University Press, leads Earlham's Gamelan group, a traditional form of music popular in Java, which incorporates various percussion instruments, including gongs. The group - one of only about 100 on American campuses - offers a public concert each semester.
When Benamou first encountered gamelan music, he didn't know what to make of it. But as he has studied and played the music over the course of many years, he has found richness in a form that sounds strange to Western ears.
"I couldn't wrap my mind around what was happening in the music, and that was what I found so fascinating about it," notes Benamou. "I also like the fact that with ethnomusicology there is not such a constricted body of work that you have to know."
It is that openness to new ideas and less well-known forms of music that Benamou and his colleagues in the Earlham Music Department hope to instill in their students. Like any part of the liberal arts curriculum, music courses at Earlham encourage students to think critically about subject matter, striving to make connections between different forms of music and between music and the culture from which it comes. This is a natural fit for ethnomusicology courses. Benamou also notes that exploring how musics from different parts of the world relate to one another makes perfect sense on an increasingly international campus like Earlham's.
"I am hyperaware of generalizations, and I have stopped using the words 'we' and 'our' and 'their' in class because there is very likely someone in the class who doesn't belong to the 'we' that I do," says Benamou.
Marc Benamou, Associate Professor of Music
Ph.D., University of Michigan
Interests: Ethnomusicology, Javanese gamelan