EOL video review

The JVC/Smithsonian Folkways
Video Anthology of

Music and Dance of the Americas
in six volumes


"Music and Dance of the Americas," like the newly-emerging Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, is an exciting and monumental publication of our times. Despite its inevitable faults, it offers expertise we can generally trust with precious video footage we can often use in our classrooms and our research.

Tony Seeger is the Senior Editor and one of the prime instigators of the project. I asked him to explain the philosophy and restrictions behind the selections. You can find many of his answers in his introduction to the first volume, "Canada & the United States." The other five volumes have only a brief summary of that introduction.

Seeger says Smithsonian Folkways (SF) first proposed to JVC to shoot original footage of selected genres. Nice, said JVC, but we can't sell enough product to recover such a large investment. JVC countered with a plan they considered less financially risky, to license existing video or film footage. SF agreed and the project was born. Further restrictions narrowed what could be licensed:

Technical quality. For example, VHS footage was eliminated from consideration because the low quality would not survive generations of copies in editing and production.

Licensing. Popular artists rightfully expect licensing fees in line with their popularity, often more than the JVC/SF budget could afford. Or an artist or publisher would not license footage for other reasons.

Lacunae. Researchers and experts could not find footage for some genres. Appalachian music and dance, say, is documented to a fare-thee-well, other genres are not. You can't use what's not there.

Native American. Since the first JVC collection had already explored Native American music and dance, this second edition steered its resources elsewhere.

In-context. Given a choice, SF preferred music and dance performed in its natural habitat: a wedding, a community center, a nightclub, or (yes) even a proscenium stage if that's where it lived.

In presenting the selections on tape, the editors generally preferred rural-to-urban progression.

Anthologizing is a fascinating topic in its own right. It addresses philosophical questions of relative merit of art, of private vs public vs commercial considerations, and living with what's practical. EOL will be happy to publish articles on this topic. Maybe Seeger will write one.

Karl Signell

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