Professor ITO, Nobuhiro 《Musicology and Theatre Studies》
Interviewers/Planners: Kaoru Wada (Junior, English and American Literature and English Linguistics Major), Kana Kobayashi (Sophomore, English and American Literature and English Linguistics Major)
Musicology as an Academic Field
Wada: What does your research focus on?
Ito: My primary research interest is in the music of a 20th-century Hungarian composer, Bartók. However, I also study Romanian pop music and a Bulgarian music genre called "Chalga," since I began to take an interest in the folk music of Eastern Europe after researching Bartók's music for a while.
Kobayashi: Why did you choose to study him?
Ito: I was studying the so-called "classics," like Haydn's symphonies, during my undergraduate years. However, when I started graduate school, I began to think about what would get me a proper job after graduation. Bartók, whom I had briefly learned about during the violin lessons I used to take, came to mind. He was said to be a very sensitive person, but he also composed wild and violent songs by banging on the piano. I like to know how he has two such extremes.
Kobayashi: Do most people who study musicology know how to play an instrument?
Ito: Yes, you are right. Some play one instrument like a pro, and others like to try different musical instruments.
Wada： Musicology at Osaka University is different from that of music colleges, isn't it?
Ito: Yeah, I agree. Many of the people who go to those music colleges have passed examinations based on their basic music skills. Moreover, they probably have professional players and composers around them, which can be both positive and negative. In our university, not many people think of becoming a professional musician, so they may be able to look at music from a distance. However, it is also important to remember that this could make it more difficult for us to understand how those who pursue music think and feel.
Kobayashi: So, do you mean you can major in musicology even if you do not know how to read a musical score?
Ito: Yes, it is not hard to learn how to read scores, and I think you could just study that when you first start attending a university. The same goes for foreign languages, don't you think? Even if you are a Turkish language major, you probably didn't know much Turkish when you just started out. Instead, you learn it throughout your four years, right? I think it is virtually the same thing.
Two Sides of Music
Wada: What do you think music is?
Ito: I believe music used to be much more terrifying, not like how we listen to it now for meditation or entertainment. Music was originally played during two extraordinary occasions. One was at ceremonies, where everyone drank, sang, danced, and made noises for days on end. The other was at church, or other places of worship. Both are irregular occasions, distinct from the routines of your everyday life. I can imagine that those people must have seen some spiritual world after a certain point, being stuck in the same place for hours with strange lights, sounds, and maybe even scents. So I believe that music used to be a tool to communicate with the spiritual world. However, nowadays we tame music in compact discs. It has become portable, and we can listen to it anywhere, even on the streets, if we plug in our earphones. Music has become such a useful commodity in recent years that people today only see it as leisure. This is also relevant to the idea of music as a means of meditation. However, it could be a very scary thing if we mistake the use of it. You never know, nation-states or religious leaders might manipulate music to agitate people. That is why music needs to be studied.
Kobayashi: So music itself is changing now?
Ito: I think the image that people have of music has changed. Music inherently has always had such a mystical power throughout all eras. For example, studying how the Nazis used music for power shows just how dominant it is. I always think the separation between “work” and “leisure” is oversimplified. Music would fall into the "leisure" category, right? Everyone thinks we have to study very hard subjects like Japanese, mathematics, science, social studies, and English, but they would probably consider music to be a time for a break. Work can be fun sometimes, and recreation can be tough. I believe it should not be that easy to turn your switch on and off. People seem to divide their life so simplistically between working hard during weekdays and going to Disneyland on the weekend. This basically leads to the idea of "leisure” as mere enjoyment, and it can turn "work" into a very meek routine of manual labor. Going back and forth between the two may be easy, but it sounds very boring, I suppose. I wish everyone understood that music is something that is not just fun to listen to, but that it has a serious and very daunting side, as I said.
Kobayashi: Do you have any music or CDs that you would recommend to students who are interested in pursuing musicology?
Ito: I suggest they take on something that makes them wonder, like "What is this? How come this sounds so weird?" or "What are they thinking when they are playing this music?” instead of something that makes them feel like, "Oh, I like this," after they hear it just for a second. This is how I got interested in Bartók, too. I want them to listen to something that will make sense to them after about 15 years or so. Lectures should be like this too, to be honest.
Kobayashi: Are you saying that you could only understand something about music after all those years?
Ito: Yes. I feel it is silly to ask students if the class was easy to understand in a class survey. There is a limit to what one can learn in just 90 minutes, don't you think? You probably have to change yourself to understand something. To genuinely understand something means to transform yourself by learning about something you did not know before. It is hard to do so in a 90-minute class. You could only learn to understand something that you somehow already knew in such a short amount of time. It is such an extraordinary experience to "obtain" something you never knew, since it can be only gained through facing some difficulties or accumulating various experiences.
Wada: Are there any future outlooks (regarding your research)?
Ito: I am currently preparing to hold an international conference to compare “pop folk” (pop music that sounds like folk music). It is enjoyed in places like Eastern Europe, Turkey, and countries in Asia. The other thing I am working on is to publish translations of music theories about Bartók and Ligeti. Ligeti is a composer who was active in the late 20th century. I think I will be working on those for several years onwards.
Wada: What would you expect from prospective students?
Ito: I want them to come aspiring to study something new, not something that they already know, whether it be musical instruments or languages. You can study so much in a university. I will be happy to welcome those who are eager to explore something new to them.