Dr. Mary Ingraham with the Moses and Frances Asch Collection of Folkways Records at the University of Alberta.

Dr. Mary Ingraham with the Moses and Frances Asch Collection of Folkways Records at the University of Alberta. (Photo Credit: CBC Edmonton)

Imagine Canada’s musical history: resonating across the provinces and territories, spanning traditions from traditional to popular, and channeled through the myriad of voices that make up our multicultural heritage. What do you hear?

Clearly, the Canadian musical landscape is better represented by a patchwork than a single brushstroke. From east coast fiddle jigs to the folk music of Ukrainian settlers, the symphonic works of Violet Archer to Inuit throat singing, and Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” to the genius of pianists Glenn Gould and Oscar Peterson, the sheer breadth of Canadian music is enough to keep a music researcher on her toes.

Such was the case for UAlberta musicologist Dr. Mary Ingraham. As a Professor of Music and Director of folkwaysAlive!, Dr. Ingraham noticed early on in her career that the challenges of studying Canadian music were several. In addition to being chronologically and geographically dispersed, Canada’s music history has often been viewed through a colonial lens that omitted the musical practices and contributions of many indigenous, popular, folk, and new Canadian cultures. This, to the detriment of non-European and non-mainstream traditions, and to Canadian cultural resources as a whole.

To address these issues, Dr. Ingraham spearheaded a unique research project, titled Resounding Culture: Recontextualizing resources for histories of music in Canada (with Dr. David Gramit). The project would not only provide inclusion for all of Canada’s musical cultures in a research context, but would also tackle the construction of an accessible digital database that would account for existing collections of Canadian cultural resources and enable new additions going forward.

In 2016, Dr. Ingraham was awarded a research grant from the Government of Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and began collaborating with a team of University of Alberta researchers, librarians, and digital humanists.

We asked Mary about her project, which she will present on November 4th, 2016 as part of UAlberta’s Open Minds: Celebration of Social Sciences and Humanities Research event.

fA!: You have been a music scholar for many years. Was the desire to undertake this project a response to cumulative issues you encountered as a researcher, or was there a tipping point that led to the conception of this project?

MI: My first research job out of my PhD was as a Program Assistant with CBC Radio doing what many would now call ‘public musicology’ – writing concert notes, offering pre-concert talks, organising festivals, and so on. The lack of access to Canadian cultural materials in print and on recordings and the near-absence of Canadian music in education remained the most challenging aspect of research around Canadian musical cultures until the early 2000s, when internet technologies improved our capacity for sharing widely and in a timely manner. The tipping point for me came with my involvement as researcher-creator with the Canadian Music Centre in developing their first online music education resources: sound adventures (a graphic presentation for elementary students), sound progressions (a listening project designed for secondary students), and then the infinitely more robust multimedia website Influences of Many Musics, which involved digitizing resources from amongst the vast print and audio archives of the CMC, bringing them together for audiences to experience more deeply the context of music creation in Canada. The technologies used for these web resources are now considered ‘old’, but the goals of increasing access and curating pedagogical approaches for learners of all ages remains within the CMC and in my own work.

fA!: This project spans a great variety of cultural and musical media. What are some of the challenges that you face while working on the Resounding Cultures project?

MI: The biggest challenge at this point is the shear volume of materials now available in digital collections, and thus in selecting an appropropriate cross-section of these to satisfy a desire to represent the diversity of cultural communities and styles of music and forms of music-making in Canada within the limited human and financial resources available. This project quickly becomes overwhelming, the more we explore opportunities for access to collections. Although this project is intended to be scalable as even more collections become discoverable to the public, we are beginning largely with the extensive UAlberta digital holdings, for which most of the legal permissions for access (an equally challenging aspect of this type of research) have been resolved.

fA!: Sometimes there are breakthroughs or synchronicities that surface during a long-term research project that either enhance a topic or take it in a new direction altogether. Did your team experience anything like this?

maryingrahamoct2013MI: We are fortunate at UAlberta to have not only highly-skilled digital librarians but also enthusiastic and research-focused colleagues in this area. The sometimes different perspectives on why and how we dissolve challenges is fascinating to me; thinking through the issues, learning together what solutions are possible is one of the joys of collaborative research. The biggest ‘breakthrough’ for me came in the planning stages for the project, as I began to realise the potential for our work to encourage new ways of thinking about cultures and histories in a Canadian context beyond the traditional linear narratives of (mostly) dominant voices. Re-sounding these voices within multicultural communities of music-making across time and place will reveal the richness of our cultural relationships and better reflect the realities of our experiences.

fA!: Let’s talk tech. What is it like working with digital humanists to imagine and create this multimedia resource of music in Canada? What stage have you arrived at with regard to the technological aspects of the project?

MI: Being able to work with a music librarian such as Sean Luyk has been a gift to this complex, interdisciplinary project. The questions digital librarians ask, their perspectives on why and how we might achieve our goals are challenging to scholars of teaching and learning such as myself. While I can imagine the potential uses and describe the types of resources a researcher or student might want to access through this project, the steps we need to take to produce these from among vast collections of data require much different skills than I have. We are now working through the user narratives – determining how different communities might use this resource – that will help us to design a suitable web interface and establish protocols for enhancing the cultural metadata connected to individual resources.

fA!: What’s the next step forward in this project, and for you as a music researcher?

MI: The nature of our funding for this project requires the team to work individually but concurrently in multiple areas. This means continuing to explore the multiple digital collections identified for inclusion, developing strategies for selecting and curating individual materials, and participating in ongoing discussions around developing a robust and flexible web source suitable for interdisciplinary research and education.

In addition to this project (although in many ways complementary to it), I am working with my colleague David Gramit on creating a textbook on music in Canada for Oxford University Press. The projects are similar in their underlying goal of encouraging the contextualization of music in Canada more broadly and interdisciplinarily. For print purposes, this will take the form of collections of source readings, photographs, and documents reflecting many aspects of music and music-making in Canada (with links to audio and online materials) that are organised within thematic areas rather than chronologically or stylistically.

Dr. Mary Ingraham will discuss her research project, Resounding Culture: Recontextualizing resources for histories of music in Canada”, on Tuesday November 4th, 2016 at 4PM, at Open Minds: Celebration of Social Sciences and Humanities Research at the University of Alberta’s Telus Centre. All are welcome to attend by RSVP-ing via Eventbrite.