Gold Medal winner changed the study of sound and music in Canada
Beverley Diamond, Canada Research Chair in Ethnomusicology at Memorial University of Newfoundland and SSHRC’s 2014 Gold Medal Winner, is a renowned feminist musicologist and rightly considered a guiding voice in contemporary ethnomusicology in Canada.
One of Canada’s top researchers, her influential scholarship examines music as a means of both defining and decolonizing intercultural relationships, and a medium for addressing rights and social change, notably through her work on indigenous musical cultures in Canada and Scandinavia.
Known for her collaborative spirit and mentorship, she is remarkable in her understanding of Canada's music scenes—honed through four decades of fieldwork in communities at home and abroad—as well as for her representation of expressive culture’s role in shaping people’s identities and ideologies, and her conviction that collaborative research can generate a wealth of creative energy for the project of building a more equitable nation.
A pioneering body of research
Diamond has long pursued a research program on an array of topics that cluster around issues of cultural diversity and indigenous modernity. Her work is characterized by innovative questions about the biases and values that frame different accounts of Canada’s cultural history and by new styles of interaction and collaboration.
Where music scholars have traditionally regarded music as an object or text, Diamond studies artistic creation, performance and reception as social processes. Her innovative research explores intersections of gender issues, colonialism, Canadian historiography, diverse views of cultural property, technological production and indigenous cultural resurgence in Canada. She is particularly well known for developing crosscultural perspectives on gendered and technologically mediated musical practices, as well as for her groundbreaking early ethnographies on indigenous music.
“How are individuals, communities and strangers redefined when musicians, technicians, producers, marketers and listeners produce recordings for global consumption, or when deep-rooted, community-based ‘traditional’ music is broadcast over transnational media networks?” Diamond asks. “What processes are used to select, arrange, record, produce and circulate local music? How does live performance relate to recorded performance? How do the social relations of the music studio vary for musicians of different ethnocultural traditions, genders or ages?”
Her work on indigenous music has ranged from studies of Inuit and First Nations song traditions and sound-producing instruments to Sámi joik (a traditional form of song from Lapland’s Sámi people), from indigenous audio recording to protocols for music access and ownership, and from soundscapes of colonial institutions such as Canada’s Indian residential schools to music as a mode of trauma recovery. Her many publications on various genres of indigenous music consistently emphasize that the meaning of sound is polyvalent, but creating and listening to sound is intrinsically about environmental, social and spiritual relationships. She argues that “alliance studies” are more important than identity studies in music since sound may either assert social divisions or transcend them. In her work the balance between the study of archival records and community sources of knowledge expands the social and intellectual perspectives from which indigenous music is studied.
Shaping a discipline
Throughout her career, Diamond has brought Aboriginal and other communities into closer touch with the academic sector by organizing symposia on subjects of common interest such as cultural property or gender and technology.
She played a central role in developing ethnomusicology as a socially and academically relevant research discipline in Canada, establishing undergraduate programs at Queen’s University and graduate programs at York University and Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her 2000 anthology Music and Gender is considered to be one of the most influential compilations in the field, often praised for how it engaged the anthology authors in a conversation about their own experiences and the processes of intellectual formation that underpinned their studies. Her monograph in the Global Music series of Oxford University Press again modelled multivocal writing.
I hope to enrich Canadian society and enhance respect for cultural diversity within and beyond our borders.
She established and directs Memorial’s Research Centre for the Study of Music, Media and Place. Acting as an intermediary among university researchers and communities, the centre facilitates discussion and collaboration among scholars, musicians and cultural activists. It houses both a state-of-the-art audio restoration facility and a multimedia studio.
A world-class scholar
Diamond's international reputation as a Canadian authority on key aspects of music in society is confirmed by many tributes from her colleagues, by her activity as a public intellectual in Canada and by her profound impact on the dozens of graduate students she has mentored over the last four decades. Peer recognition comes in many forms: elected a Fellow to the Royal Society of Canada in 2008, named a Fellow of the Trudeau Foundation in 2009 and a Member of the Order of Canada in 2013, she was the first recipient of the SOCAN Foundation / CUMS Award of Excellence for the Advancement of Research in Canadian Music.
Diamond plays a leadership role in major international organizations dealing with cultural expression, including the International Council for Traditional Music and the Society for Ethnomusicology (of which she is currently president), positioning her as a voice of, and for, Canada in the global quest for understanding cultures.
By linking indigeneity in Canada to global experiences, and by illuminating the role of digital media in indigenous creative initiatives, Diamond continues to reframe not only Canadian music studies, but academic research on indigenous music around the world.
“My presentations and publications on contemporary Indigenous music are motivated by my desire to see Settlers give more respectful attention to this remarkable realm of creative activity,” she says. “In this way, I hope to enrich Canadian society and enhance respect for cultural diversity within and beyond our borders.”