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Histories, conversations, insights

Dr. Harris Berger renewed as Canada Research Chair in ethnomusicology

By Joshua Goudie

Part of an ongoing series of Gazette stories celebrating researchers who received support as part of a major investment by the federal government in arts and science on March 13.

Dr. Harris Berger has spent his lengthy career listening to and deciphering the stories and history held within songs.

The professor, who is cross-appointed between Memorial’s School of Music and the Department of Folklore, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, was recently renewed as a tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in ethnomusicology.

Broadly defined, ethnomusicology is the study of music’s creation, performance and cultural significance.

In his second term in the prestigious role, Dr. Berger says he will remain committed to understanding the cultural tapestries that are woven by melodies.

Significant progress

During his first term as Canada Research Chair, Dr. Berger’s research focused on developing a deeper understanding of the nature of local musical experiences.

One of the ways that he and his research team did this was by hosting meetings and conferences on key topics within the fields of ethnomusicology and folklore.

One meeting brought together leading scholars with specialization in the many subfields of ethnomusicology to identify the most important insights that the discipline had developed in the last 20 years,” said Dr. Berger. “Another conference gathered scholars from North America, Europe and Australia to use ideas from philosophy to forge new approaches to fieldwork in ethnomusicology and rethink the nature of music and culture.”

These events led to the publication of two books: Theory for Ethnomusicology: Histories, Conversations, Insights (Routledge Publishers) and The Oxford Handbook of the Phenomenology of Music Cultures (Oxford University Press).

He also facilitated the creation of the academic journal, Music Research Annual. It is the first peer-reviewed journal devoted to publishing review essays from the full range of academic disciplines that study music.

Music guide

Dr. Berger serves as director of the Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media, and Place (MMaP).

During his first term as Canada Research Chair, MMaP produced five CDs through its Back on Track Audio Publication Series and two online archives of traditional music and narratives.

A photo of Dr. Harris Berger, a white man in his early 50s, in a circle over a white background with colourful curved markings.
Dr. Harris Berger
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

The centre also developed a partnership with Singsong Inc., Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest traditional music record label, and singer Eleanor Dawson to produce the Good as a Concert performance series, which features accomplished singers performing hidden gems from the province’s traditional song repertoire.

MMaP has a long history of using technology to advance public discourse about the province’s culture.

Dr. Beverley Diamond, MMaP’s founder and also a former tier 1 Canada Research Chair, developed the Neighbours: St. John’s phone app, which uses GPS technology to present stories from the city’s diverse communities.

Under Dr. Berger’s directorship, the centre has continued work on the project, publishing a website with more stories and updating the app’s technology.

Future funding

During Dr. Berger’s second Canada Research Chair term, he plans to hold conferences on music, philosophy and social theory, produce more CDs of songs from the province’s traditional music repertoires and expand the Good as a Concert series with three day-long events.

Upcoming CD projects include a disc of Inuit music and another focusing on folk fiddlers from the province’s British Isle folk music traditions.

Dr. Harris Berger, a man in a black suit jacket and lilac coloured shirt, sits in front of a computer displaying musical recordings.
Dr. Harris Berger also serves as the director of the Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media, and Place (MMaP).
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

The renewal of Dr. Berger’s position is a crescendo in the realm of ethnomusicology and folklore studies within Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Without the CRC’s support, many of my projects would have been difficult or impossible to pursue. It also supports graduate students here at Memorial. It will allow the university to continue to recruit and retain the very best young minds in the discipline.”

CRC program

The Canada Research Chairs Program stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development.

The program is a tri-agency initiative of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. It is administered by the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat.


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