Indonesia, Etc.

In the World Music class I teach at South Dakota State University, my students are required to write a research paper. The topic they have to explore is the country of Indonesia, and they have to look beyond the musical traditions. It’s a good opportunity for them to learn about a country they usually have very little knowledge of and determine how the music fits into a broader cultural context. Because I’m always trying to increase my own knowledge of these World Music topics, I picked up this book:

Besides being a fantastically-interesting adventure story, it also highlighted the fact that Indonesia, while existing as one country, really comprises many different cultural practices and values. It is difficult, if not impossible, to talk about something as being “Indonesian” and applying to the entire country. After traveling for over a year and several thousand miles, hopping from island to island, Elizabeth Pisani takes the reader off the beaten track and gives what seems to be a good sense of both urban and rural Indonesia.

There are mentions of the music culture of Indonesia but not enough for me to assign the entire book to my World Music class, as we cover many other music cultures over the course of a short semester. However, it is available in our library and will be a good resource for them as they research Indonesia. There is also an excellent list of resources for further exploration at the end.

Spring Break Visit to the National Music Museum

Springtime in South Dakota!
Springtime in South Dakota!

Over Spring Break, I made a visit to the National Music Museum, which is on the campus of the University of South Dakota in the small town of Vermillion, population approximately 10,000. Despite it being “Spring” Break, it was quite a cold day. I didn’t have much trouble finding the museum. It appears to be in what was formerly a library building but it works well for this extensive collection.

When I first walked in, there was a reception desk, where I was given a very good overview of the building, including a map and a handheld computer that gave additional information about various instruments found in the galleries. There was a small gift shop across from the desk, and a small recital hall was also relatively close to the entrance.

The museum holds a huge number of instruments; according to their website, there are more than 14,500 of them. I took a look at everything displayed in their galleries that day. Of course, I took more notice of certain instruments than others based on my background and the type of work I’m doing at the moment.

Probably the most impressive sight in the museum is the gamelan, which is a set of instruments percussion from Indonesia. These are not commonly found in this area, so I am looking forward to bringing my World Music class here in the fall for a demonstration. The gamelan is housed in a gallery that includes many other non-Western instruments. The African talking drum, the middle-eastern ud, and the Indian sitar and veena were particularly interesting. The east Asian qin and flutes were also a treat to see. It’s amazing, honestly, that all of these instruments, which aren’t often found in Western music, are right here in this one collection.



Another gallery includes “musical innovations of the industrial revolution.” There is a flute that demonstrates the practice of having multiple middle joints, so that the player can most closely match the pitch in that particular area. There are other flutes included here, as well, including a few Louis Lots. There are also serpents on display in this area, and who doesn’t like to see those?

Quite impressively, this museum’s collection includes stringed instruments by Stradivari and Amati.

One of the last galleries I visited focused on American music and instrument manufacturing. Some of my favorites were guitars owned by Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, and Joe Carter. Other instruments in this gallery included Native American drums, flutes, and rattles as well as Civil War instruments.


Overall, I once again find myself saying, “Wait, they have this in South Dakota?” For a big state with not many people, there are many impressive resources to avail oneself of here. This museum is going to be a benefit to my World Music class and is worth a trip if you happen to find yourself in the Vermillion, SD area. Check out more of their holdings through a virtual tour of their website.


The New Gig

I would be remiss if I didn’t write a blog post about my new gig. This semester, I began as an Assistant Professor of Music at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota. If you told me a year ago (or even six months ago) that this is the direction my career would take me, I simply would not have believed you. Now that I’ve been at the job for long enough to feel settled in, I can give you a bit of an introduction.

My summer was hectic. After being offered and accepting the job, we immediately began making plans to move our belongings, our lives, and ourselves 1377.15 miles from where we were living at the time. The pressure was on, especially since my husband had his full-time job and there were friends to still enjoy (and say goodbye to). I was also preparing to present at the British Flute Society convention, which took place right before the beginning of the semester.

Once I got back on this side of the pond and got into the swing of things, life has settled down somewhat. My teaching load this semester includes applied flute students, woodwind pedagogy, and world music. I’ve taught these before, except for the woodwind pedagogy. My time working with a homeschool band group gives me a background in pedagogy of the OTHER woodwinds, and a very helpful colleague is also a great resource. (Shout out to the amazing Bret Pimentel at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi.) I’m also recruiting quite a bit. While I am not building a studio from the ground up, my predecessor here was part-time so there is an opportunity to expand the studio from its already-healthy size.

As a native Southerner, I was first introduced to the Midwestern work ethic as a graduate student at Indiana University. I can assure you that it is alive and well in South Dakota. With very few exceptions, the students here are extremely hard workers and are receptive to new ideas. It is making my job easier.

I’m also enjoying working on my other projects. I have the opportunity to write, perform in various locations, travel, meet new colleagues, collaborate on different projects, and continue to enjoy a varied career. I’m also really excited to learn about this part of the country, which I have never seen before and which is so different from what I am accustomed to. While my lack of knowledge about this state has required me to print out a map of South Dakota and tape it next to my desk, I think I will learn the area quickly enough.

Yes, it’s cold and very windy. Lately it feels like Christmastime in the South. I have unpacked most of my warmest clothes. I anticipate spending a good hunk of change upgrading my wardrobe this year. But I will figure it out, and if I don’t, please come dig me out of a snowdrift.

After paying my dues for what seemed like a very long time, I’m deeply appreciative of a job that I truly enjoy with colleagues who are a lot of fun to work with and students who are incredibly hard workers.

A view of campus from my office window.