This past September, Vilde Aaslid, assistant professor of music history, was invited to speak at the Guelph Jazz Festival and Colloquium in Guelph, Canada.
She was asked to speak at the event because her work in music history over the years became well-known. This event is a jam-packed four-day-long celebration of jazz music. It is a mix between concerts and academics in order to merge both music and language together.
“The theme was about how music and language interact in improvisation in jazz,” Aaslid said.
The official name for the theme was, “Hovering at the Edge: Words, Music, Sound and Song.” This theme allowed the audience to see how music and language interact with each other to create a powerful message.
Aaslid said that the majority of people who took part in the academic side of the colloquium were English professors, so when she went up to speak, it was a new approach to how language and music are related. Aaslid really wanted to focus on the part of music that isn’t just about the notes and what is being played. She wanted to approach music in a different way to show her audience that music is a big influence on people in her lecture regarding a piece by Samora Pinderhughes and politics in music.
“I was talking about political jazz poetry combinations in the era of Black Lives Matter,” Aaslid said. “I was talking primarily about the work of a young composer and pianist named Samora Pinderhughes who has written this piece called ‘Transformations Suite’ and the work has musical components and it also has spoken word. I talked about how Pinderhughes uses emotional expression as a way of motivating his audience into political action.”
With this powerful piece broken down in her lecture, Aaslid wanted to connect with her audience in a way that they may have not experienced before. The piece, “Transformations Suite,” discusses the break down of how emotion in music should activate people to become involved in politics and other important matters. With this subject matter, Aaslid referred to the word sentimentality. Aaslid said how this word is always viewed as a feminine word because it relates to one’s emotions, but jazz is such a hypermasculine type of music. With this almost uncomfortable approach to music and politics, Aaslid found it really interesting to see the reactions of her audience and how they felt about this “feminine” word when it is related to jazz.
“I think making them uncomfortable in that way and sort of having to look at the idea of sentimentality and like why does this make me so uncomfortable, why do I not like that word so much? So confront some ideas that they wouldn’t have thought about,” Aaslid said.
According to Aaslid, this confrontation of particularly uncomfortable topics in music leads people to think of some ideas that are not familiar to them. Aaslid hopes that with these new ideas of politics, sentimentality and music, she activated them to act upon their feelings and address the craziness of politics today. She hopes that she showed her audience that music and emotion is a part of politics and masculine things such as jazz.
From learning the violin from a young age Aaslid got her start with music history. Her musical family supported her decision to take on the challenge of learning an instrument and this encouraged her through the years to fall in love with music. After attending a conservatory for violin, she saw that her passion was for the academic side of music and changed her study from performance to music history. As soon as she started heading in the direction of music history, she took it on full time.
Her passion for teaching music history started at an early age. When she was only 19 years old, she taught the history of Western music to children on weekends. From there, she traveled to different places in order to gain more experience, when it came to teaching in different areas of the country and experiencing different groups of people. After traveling, she landed here at the University of Rhode Island and received the job of being the only music historian in the music department.
“I am the only music historian in this department,” Aaslid said. “What that means is I get to teach everything. In the morning I will teach about music from the 12th century and then I teach about the radical politics of 1960s music and then in the afternoon I will teach about Mozart.”
With this job, Aaslid is allowed to teach everything and anything regarding music history. With this broad horizon, Aaslid dives into every decade of music and how that has shaped how music is viewed and played today.
“I get to teach all kinds of music as a music historian, it’s so fun,” Aaslid said.