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Vol 39  No 5
Nov. 2, 2006


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First master's awarded in ethnomusicology

by Leslie Vryenhoek

Kelly Best is the first to graduate from Memorial University with a master’s in ethnomusicology. (Photo by Submitted)

In October, Kelly Best became the first-ever graduate from Memorial's master's program in ethnomusicology, a joint program between the School of Music and the Faculty of Arts.

Her graduate research was the first to focus on the Newfoundland button accordion tradition, for which she looked at contemporary musicians.

In 2005 her supervisor, Dr. Beverley Diamond, suggested she attend the annual Beaches Accordion Festival in Eastport as an opportunity to conduct research. There, Ms. Best examined the public performances – the selection of instrument and tune, and the style in which they performed. Then she went backstage and interviewed players from across the province, getting a glimpse into their personal histories and choices.

"The majority of people were middle aged, and many had come back to the accordion sometimes 30 years after they’d put it down," she said, adding that the older players usually refreshed their skills by listening to recordings. "My research would suggest that continuity might not be absolutely necessary to maintaining a tradition."

That return to music after an absence is something Ms. Best knows all about. A musician in her youth, she decided to pursue a passion for science instead, graduating from Memorial with a B.Sc. (honours) in geology in 1998. But after several years working in multimedia and online technology, she realized she wanted to study music.

"I loved science, but I’d had a lifelong relationship with music and I wanted to come back to it." That choice led her back to her hometown of St. John's, and back to Memorial.

"Ethnographic research is so rewarding. You learn as much about yourself as you do others," Ms. Best said. "The process of doing my MA has changed how I look at the world. I don’t hear music the same way anymore – I’m less ready to make judgments about it, and more willing to engage in questions about why it’s played, who listens to it and how it has meaning.”

Ms. Best will continue her studies on the Newfoundland accordion during the pursuit of her PhD at Memorial.

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