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Brown Bag Lecture series...

“The Sociology of Doing Black Music in American Culture: A Talk about Artistry, Education, and Meaning in Making Music”

Presented by Professor William “Bill” Banfield
Feb. 26, 2007

“How will your work connect with students?” asked William “Bill” Banfield, professor of Africana studies/music and society and director of black music programming at Berklee College of Music in Boston, of an audience of faculty and students interested in pedagogy. Banfield, a former director of the IU Soul Revue (1992-97), was on the Bloomington campus as an artist-in-residence through the African American Arts Institute for several days of activities.

As he began his presentation, the composer-musician-teacher playfully subtitled his talk “Cosmologies of a Career in ‘Black’,” in which “Black” meant “all colors.” Stating that there is not enough talk of mentorship in the academy, he described the connections between ideology and the workplace: “If you want more black students and faculty in academia, then you must make the effort to mentor.” He added that all up-and-comers, especially people of color, must be instilled with the core values and “inside” knowledge of the academy.

Banfield said that mentoring begins early and never stops. Undergraduates must be mentored toward graduate school, graduate students through the dissertation process and on toward gaining an academic position. Then junior faculty must be mentored toward achieving senior faculty status. Even senior faculty must be there for each other, as mentors and allies. He acknowledged IU’s Herman C. Hudson, founder of what is now the IU Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, for his practice of mentoring faculty. Banfield took his experience with Hudson to heart and has carried that philosophy throughout his own career.

Ways to help newcomers map out a career in the modern academy, said Banfield, include helping them figure out a trajectory from vision to accomplishment and encouraging them to go to conferences to present papers and hear ideas. Newcomers can also learn more about the academy by networking. Mentoring and sharing of information on many topics must happen, from dealing with the administration to pursuing research to “classroom pacing.” In areas where creative or intellectual output is published or performed, help may be needed in negotiating and getting the best deals.

Banfield’s advice to graduate students was to craft a career like making a business plan. He said graduate school was a time for discovering “what your passions are, who you are, what you want to do, and what you believe.” He added that it is important to take your skills one step beyond your own department by diversifying them and creating other connections. Finally, find mentors and be a mentor.

“Keep your plan organized and focused,” he urged. “Think about how you can have an impact. If you have no impact, your work is futile.” But, first, he said, “Be the most whole person you can be. Know why you’re there and what you want to do.”

In the academy, he said, faculty have their turn, retire, and then younger ones come in. It’s a classic cycle: new scholars, new visions. To remain vital and viable as a scholar, you must stay in the loop of what’s happening in academia. Banfield also said that, for himself, it was important to teach, lecture, and perform and to keep the social and political applications of his work in mind. “It’s a matter of being cross-disciplinary.”

Banfield is the author of Landscapes in Color: Conversations with Black American Composers (2002) and Black Notes: Essays of A Musician Writing in a Post-Album Age (2004). He has hosted several NPR/MPR shows, including his own show, “Essays of Note.” He serves as executive director of Videmus/Visionary records and as chair for black music culture with the American Association of Culture/Popular Association of Culture. He recently joined Scarecrow Press as its contributing editor for cultural studies and jazz publications and he also writes for Down Beat Magazine. A native Detroiter, Banfield received his bachelor of music at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, a master of theological studies at Boston University and a doctor of musical arts in composition at the University of Michigan.