Music Research Institute


We are the Earth
We are the Air
We are the Fire
We are the Water

The greatly honored and loved co-chair of the ICTM Music and Gender Study Group, Professor Marcia Herndon died at 4:05 a.m. at her home in Hyattsville, Maryland on May 19, 1997. She struggled to live and heal while grappling with lupus, breast and liver cancer, and deafness. In spite of these afflictions, her spirit remained so vibrant and alive. The fact is, one could not see her any other way simply because this is how she wanted to be.

Professor Herndon was an internationally well-known ethnomusicologist. Her book Music as Culture (1981), written together with Norma McLeod, is widely used as a university textbook to introduce ethnomusicological thinking to newcomers in the field. Her article "Analysis: The Herding of Sacred Cows?" (Ethnomusicology 18/2) belongs to the classics of the field.

Many colleagues and friends have written about her academic accomplishments which were numerous. She wore different hats as her curiosity, involvement, and responsibilities became intertwined. Her interests and writings were timely, challenging, crossed field and disciplinary boundaries and were intensely passionate often striking at the core of many issues of the day. In the field of ethnomusicology, she challenged the status quo and bushed the boundaries of our thinking in the areas of musical performance ("The Ethnography of Musical Performance", 1980, edited together with Norma McLeod), gender studies of music (Music, gender, and Culture, 1991), the special issue of "the world of music, 1993, both edited together with Susanne Ziegler), field methodology (Field Manual for Ethnomusicology, 1983) as well as native North American music (Native American Music, 1982) and Maltese music, but she also worked and published in the areas of ethnotheory, musical change, music and healing, ethnomusicology of western art music, cognitive ethnomusicology, and applied ethnomusicology.

In the field of gender studies and music, she was one of its pioneers. From 1987 until her death, she worked as co-chair (on behalf of the Americas) of the ICTM Study Group on Music and Gender. During that time, the study group met seven times and collected together the above-mentioned two publications.

She was born in Canton, North Carolina, not far from the community of her Cherokee maternal grandparents. In her undergraduate years at Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans she majored in German, and later continued with organ and voice studies in which she performed for a number of years. She pursued her Ph.D. in Anthropology and Ethnomusicology at Tulane University and held appointments in the departments of Anthropology, Native American Studies and Music at the University of Texas at Austin, University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Maryland at College Park. In 1984 she founded the Music Research Institute first located in Hercules, California and later to two locations in Richmond, California and Hyattsville, Maryland. Over the years the Institute has unobtrusively supported many scholars worldwide and she left a legacy and her imprint on innovative projects that will continue into the next century.

Fieldwork with which she was involved but may not be well known to her colleagues included case studies of the New Orleans and the Oakland symphony orchestras, survey and study of teenagers' perception of rock music, the EAR project to educate young people on the impact of loud music on hearing, jazz funerals, Mardi Gras Indians, Texas urban Indians, Tibetan refugees in Switzerland, and American aesthetics. Also not known to many colleagues was her work as Metropolitan Head bishop of the Ecumenical Catholic Church of America.

A central theme in Herndon's work - as well as in the work of many other "anthropologically-oriented" ethnomusicologists - was the insistency to study music on its own terms, as culture. In Marcia Herndon's activities and thinking, this approach connected closely with the opposing of any kind of racism and ethnocentrism.

As an individual she believed in the principle of racial equality, respect for sexual and gender differences, and religious freedom and tolerance, not because these were politically correct but because they were morally right; she preferred a work style that encouraged cooperation among individuals rather than competition; she felt we, as ethnomusicologist, should make the field better known to outsiders and that it is our own fault if the field sometimes appears inscrutable to others; she advocated music for studying issues having a global impact such as in the areas of health, censorship, ethics, war and other catastrophic events, and use and misuse of power and the dissemination of aggression; she possessed a wicked sense of humor and especially enjoyed puns. She could poke fun at herself but never at the expense of others. Even throughout the painful stages of cancer, she related incidents and events as if she were performing, punctuated by hilarious stories.

She had an ability to touch people's lives and souls on a deep level. Her personality combined broad scientific knowledge, religious thinking, a constant seeking of balance (probably grounded in Cherokee thinking) as well as a sense of drama (which she had adopted when she worked as an opera singer). She was personal and approachable, possessed no ego and no pretensions, and was brutally honest; she could speak to you in English, German, Cherokee ritual language, and some Spanish, French and Malagasy too; she listened and made you feel what you thought and did were important; and she shared in your sadness and joy.

We shall miss her sonorous and soothing voice, her hearty laughter and her wit, her compassion for others, her trust in us and her honesty about life - we will treasure.

Cynthia Tse Kimberlin and Pirkko Moisala

(Bulletin of the International Council for Traditional Music
1997, No. XCI: 20-21)


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