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By Jeff Green

Heavy metal and American popular music. Folklore studies. Ethnomusicology.

Those are the diverse, and interconnected, research areas of Memorial’s newest Tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC).

Dr. Harris Berger was formally appointed CRC in Ethnomusicology on Friday, Dec. 2. The announcement represents a total federal investment of $1.4 million for Memorial research.

Dr. Berger, who is cross-appointed between the School of Music and the Department of Folklore in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, is a leading scholar working in the fields of ethnomusicology, folklore studies and popular music studies. He began at Memorial this fall.

“Memorial is one of the few places in North America where ethnomusicologists and folklorists work closely together.” — Dr. Harris Berger

In addition to his academic appointment, Dr. Berger is also the new director of the Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media, and Place (MMaP), which was established under the leadership of Memorial’s first Canada Research Chair in Ethnomusicology, Dr. Beverley Diamond.

Musical background

“I grew up outside of Hartford, Conn., and played guitar in high school rock bands,” he told the Gazette in an interview. “At the time, I wanted to be a rock musician, but I also knew that I wanted a liberal arts education. In the 1980s, there were very few places where you could study rock music in an academic context.”

While attending Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., he studied jazz guitar, jazz composition and improvisation — but his heart was still in rock.

Dr. Harris Berger
Dr. Harris Berger
Photo: Chris Hammond

“Late in my undergraduate career, I took a music major seminar in ethnomusicology, where I discovered that you could study any music ethnographically, that is, by spending time with the people that make it and listen to it,” Dr. Berger explained.

“Popular music studies was only beginning at that time and few ethnomusicologists were studying rock, but I fell in love with the discipline of ethnomusicology and wanted to use its methods to study the music that I cared about. From there, I went to Indiana University for graduate school, where ethnomusicology and folklore studies were closely linked, and began to develop ways of thinking about the social life of popular music.”

He spent the last 20 years at Texas A&M University before moving to Memorial.

‘Strong reputation’

Dr. Berger says the province’s “invigorating” arts and music scene was a big draw for him.

“I was excited by the chance to work with first-rate ethnomusicologists like Drs. Kati Szego, Ellen Waterman, Holly Everett, Cory Thorne, Meghan Forsyth, and, of course, Beverley Diamond, who founded the Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media, and Place,” he pointed out.

“Having the chance to run the centre, which has such a strong reputation, is an amazing opportunity. And Memorial is one of the few places in North America where ethnomusicologists and folklorists work closely together.”

Recruiting and retaining the best

Tier 1 Chairs, tenable for seven years and renewable, are for outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields. As part of Dr. Berger’s appointment, Memorial will receive $200,000 annually for seven years.

“The Canada Research Chairs program allows Memorial to recruit and retain some of the world’s most innovative researchers and brightest minds to work here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Dr. Berger is one of those people,” said President Kachanoski.

“I am grateful to the federal government for its continued investment into Memorial-led research and I wish Dr. Berger all the best as he begins his career here at our university.”

Enhancing research expertise

Being named a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair is a significant honour for researchers.

“Memorial is internationally recognized for its leading research and exceptional scholarship in music and folklore,” said Dr. Ray Gosine, vice-president (research) pro tempore.

“Through Dr. Berger’s appointment, the Canada Research Chairs program will allow Memorial to further enhance its research expertise in ethnomusicology while attracting more undergraduate and graduate students to our university. I look forward to the outcomes of Dr. Berger’s research.”

Collaborative research

For his part, Dr. Berger says the Canada Research Chair provides him with a unique opportunity to collaborate with leading scholars from around the world.

“Inviting colleagues in for MMaP’s scholar-in-residence series, meetings and conferences will allow me to work in projects that wouldn’t be possible without the CRC’s generous support,” he said.

He says he’s looking forward to partnering with local academics and artists, and particularly to his work with the MMaP.

“Most of the events at the centre will be livestreamed from our website, with speakers answering questions from both the live audience at the centre and those watching over the Internet.” — Dr. Harris Berger

“In the past, the centre has published CDs and websites that make important archival and ethnographic recordings available to the general public,” he explained.

“I plan to continue that tradition by developing new audio publication projects, including CDs, websites and other formats as well. Most of the events at the centre will be livestreamed from our website, with speakers answering questions from both the live audience at the centre and those watching over the Internet. These events are permanently archived on our YouTube channel. And our scholar-in-residence program isn’t limited to the Memorial campus or the web. Every resident scholar gives at least one public talks to community groups off campus.”

Berger background

Dr. Berger has published five books, including Metal, Rock, and Jazz: Perception and the Phenomenology of Musical Experience and Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music Around the World. His work has also appeared in leading journals such as Ethnomusicology, Popular Music, the Journal of American Folklore, and the Journal of Folklore Research.

He has served as president of the U.S. branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music and, most recently, as president of the Society for Ethnomusicology. Dr. Berger holds a BA from Wesleyan University and MA and PhD from Indiana University.

Memorial is now home to a total of 11 CRCs with several nominations pending.

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