Michael Bakan Q&A
Our author of the week, Dr. Michael Bakan, has kindly taken the time to answer a few questions for us before we get to meet him on Saturday! Dr. Bakan is the author of SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES, a book that gives people with Autism a voice in describing how music has played a role in their lives. In Bakan’s own life, music is quite prominent as well, as a musician, composer, and FSU’s professor of Ethnomusicology. So without further ado, let’s get to the question-asking!
What exactly is Ethnomusicology?
Ethnomusicology has traditionally been defined as the study of music in culture, or as the study of music as culture. My own definition, however, first published in 2014, is as follows: "Ethnomusicology is the study of how people make and experience music, and of why it matters to them that they do."
How old were you when you first started intentionally interacting with music?
Probably in the womb actually, and even as a baby and toddler I was inclined to pull out pots and pans and beat on them. At age three, I got my first drum: an old Ludwig Pioneer snare that my parents found at the local Junior League thrift shop. They bought it for me, partly because they thought I'd like it and partly to save the pots and pans! I also got a plastic toy guitar and a portable record player around that same time, and for the next several years spent endless hours down in the basement playing along with Beatles records. I eventually was given a Sgt. Pepper's suit as well. I was convinced that I was the fifth Beatle!
Do you have a favorite genre of music?
Wow, that's tough. Not really, but I do have some favorite musicians and bands: Coltrane, Monk, and Mingus in the jazz realm; the Brazilian singer Pericles. I love anything by Brahms, especially some of his chamber music and the first and fourth symphonies; the Bach cello suites and unaccompanied partitas and sonatas for violin are just divine; and the Beatles, still and always -- "In My Life" and "Eight Days a Week" are maybe the two songs that touch me most deeply because they entered my own life so early and so powerfully.
Which was your favorite book to write? Why?
Without a doubt, this latest one: Speaking for Ourselves. It was such an incredible experience to co-write it with my ten brilliant collaborators, and I'm honored and humbled by the opportunity to help bring their poignant words and insights on life, music, and autism to light for the broad and diverse audience we're reaching. It's time to change the narrative on autism and autistic people, to radically change it. I feel like we're contributing to making that kind of change happen with this book, and it means a lot to be part of all that.
What drew you to study aspects of Autism?
Initially, a deep musical experience shared with a three year-old child on the autism spectrum back in 2003 (which is recounted in the book's Prologue). That spurred an abiding interest in making music with autistic people--both children and adults--that's carried forward until the present day, which in turn compelled me to pass through the gateway of music toward deeper understandings of autistic being, living, and musicking across many different contexts. The provisional endpoint of all of that is the new book, though in another sense it's really just the beginning.
Such thorough answers we got, weren’t they? If you found yourself wanting to know more, as I did, don’t forget to come to his signing at the Bookshelf this Saturday 9/29 from 2-4pm!