Texas Tech University

Christopher Smith

2010 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar

Associate Professor and Chair of Musicology; Director of the Vernacular Music Center and TTU Celtic Ensemble;
College of Visual and Performing Arts

Christopher SmithOne of the really important discoveries in my life was the discovery that I got the highest rewards from music through the teaching of music. I really love to teach. I've taught for four decades in a lot of different kinds of circumstances. I've taught inside the university setting as a graduate student, as an assistant professor, as an associate professor, but I've also always taught in the community. I've always taught people to play music as a participatory community-building thing, and so for me still one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching music is providing people—of all ages, of all backgrounds, professional musicians, novice musicians, adults and kids, college students, people from the community— providing all of those people with the opportunity to transition from being a consumer of music to being a creator of music.
- Christopher Smith

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What is your research objective/interest(s)?

American and African-American Music, 20th Century Music, Irish traditional music and other folk musics and cultures, improvisation, music and politics, performance practice, historical performance.
Objectives: To do work as a research scholar, which enriches historical understanding, empowers communities, and overcomes cultural boundaries.

How do you feel your research impacts the globe?

In my research, I am a proponent of Patrick Geddes's dictum to "Think globally, but act locally." I believe scholars should recognize wider impact and responsibility for their work, not only within their own disciplines, but also as part of wider research communities and, indeed, as part of all communities worldwide. Because my own work is especially engaged with the histories of marginalized, colonized, ostracized, and working-class musics, it also engages issues of politics, race, class, and power, and I am particularly aware of my responsibilities in these areas.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I am inspired by my own teachers and predecessors, within and beyond the field of musicology, who have modeled for me the combination of rigor, curiosity, insight, sensitivity, and work ethic, which I strive to realize in my own work. My own teachers, J. Peter Burkholder, Austin Caswell, Thomas J. Mathiesen, Thomas Binkley, and Richard Bauman, were giant intellects and inspirations. Beyond musicology, I am inspired by the poetics of Gary Snyder and Peter Mathiessen, the spiritual insights of Dainin Katagiri Roshi and Thomas Merton, and the stunning beauty and emotional depth I have found in many different forms of traditional music. As Bob Dylan said, "Traditional music will teach you everything you need to know to live. If you let it."

What type(s) of service projects do you enjoy doing?

I am acutely aware of the unusual privilege I enjoy as a white, male, tenured, heterosexual college professor. That privilegethough hard-earned and many years in comingobligates me to work to help others. I donate my time writing, teaching, playing, and speaking as much as I possibly can. Possibly the most gratifying service projects of all are those in which, through teaching, I am privileged to help people become participants in the creation of their own artistic lives.

What are you currently working on?

My primary current research project is a large-scale scholarly monograph on the earliest roots of blackface minstrelsy, the early 19th century street idiom, which synthesized African-American and Anglo-Celtic styles to create the first great American popular music. I am also heavily involved in expanding the range and visibility of the work done by my own Vernacular Music Center, and the activities of the TTU Celtic Ensemble, a unique ensemble among North American music conservatory programs.

What advice do you have for new faculty members on balancing the components of an integrated scholar into their careers (academics, research, and service)?

Although I would certainly not think of myself as exemplifying effective integration of all these elements, I am acutely aware of my own limitations and inefficiencies. I have found the following dicta to be practical and useful:

  • Cultivate the ability to concentrate closely in short bursts of time. Available time for one's own research is never sufficiently great, and it is always prone to interruption; therefore, it is important to be able to muster concentration in shorter bursts.
  • Related to the above: identify those patterns in your calendar and schedule in which your concentration is best and most suited for certain types of activities, and protect those times for your own work. I get up at 4:30 a.m., six days a week, for this reason.
  • Develop a physical and a spiritual discipline. Do something outdoors and something physical every day. I bicycle, garden, do yoga, and do martial arts.
  • Invest effort not only in your own work, but also in communicating and collaborating with colleagues, making sure that they know what you are working on. Work a little bit harder and be a little bit friendlierthis pays large dividends.

Scholar Background

I hold a B.A. in music from the University of Massachusetts, and a master's degree in music (jazz studies) and Ph.D. in musicology, from Indiana University. I was born on the north shore of Massachusetts, in a small town called Marblehead (home of the painting The Spirit of '76), but have lived, worked, and played music in Cambridge, Manhattan, Chicago, and New Orleans, as well. My wife Angela Mariani (also professor of Musicology at Texas Tech) and I lived in southern Indiana for 12 years and in Lubbock since 2000, but my heart is still in the foothills and seashores of northern New England.


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