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Historian Wins National Book Prize

Professor Lynn M. Sargeant to Receive ASCAP Honor

Oct. 29, 2012

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The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers will bestow its Béla Bartók Award for Outstanding Ethnomusicological Book on Cal State Fullerton’s Lynn M. Sargeant, professor of history.

Author of “Harmony and Discord: Music and the Transformation of Russian Cultural Life,” Sargeant, a La Habra resident, will accept the award Nov. 14 in New York. Her 2011 book centers on the complex changes in Russian musical life during the 19th and early 20th centuries and the role of the Russian Musical Society, which contributed to Russia’s infrastructure for music and music education.

As an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, Sargeant was a music major, where the courses she took in music history led to her interest in the role of music and musicians in society. She earned her bachelor's degree in music education, then later, another bachelor's degree, in Russian and East European studies at the University of Washington.

“When I went to graduate school, I decided to combine my two interests in Russian history and music into my dissertation project,” said Sargeant, who also holds a master’s degree and doctorate in history from Indiana University.

“The study of Russian musical life emphasizes for us the importance of the arts and culture in the development of modern society,” she explains. “Even more importantly, it shows us what a small group of committed individuals can accomplish. The Russian Musical Society — the organization I focus my research on — started as a small voluntary association, much like local arts and educational nonprofits today. Within 50 years, they had built an entire network of musical institutions across the Russian Empire and helped to create modern Russian cultural life.”

Sargeant said her research informs the classes she teaches, whether on Russian history or world civilizations.

“I take culture seriously,” she said. “I introduce my students to music, art and literature as the key to understanding other societies. This is especially important in my Russian history classes, as many students come in with rather unflattering stereotypes of Russia and Russians. Exploring the richness of Russian music and art helps them understand the depth and complexity of Russian society in the past and in the present.”

Sargeant joined Cal State Fullerton’s faculty in 2004. She won the History Department’s Gordon Morris Bakken Outstanding Faculty Award in 2008 and the Woodward Award for Faculty Scholarship in 2012. “Harmony and Discord” is her first book, and last year, it won the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ “Dean’s First Book Award.”

Bakken called Sargeant and “outstanding professor” whose teaching skills regularly are acknowledged by her students.

“Lynn Sergeant is clearly an outstanding historian,” Bakken added. “Her awards speak of recognition on campus and internationally.”

Praise for “Harmony and Discord” includes this review from Richard Taruskin, professor of musicology at UC Berkeley: “The story of Russia’s late 19th-century emergence as a vibrant participant on the European musical scene has been told many times, but until now only as a heroic tale of musical giants performing creative miracles. Now, with Lynn Sargeant’s meticulous chronicle of the Russian Musical Society, we have the back story as well: an account of the far-reaching social and institutional transformations that made the work of the heroes possible and a compelling case study in the mutually implicated histories of culture and society.”

The following is an excerpt from Chapter Five of “Harmony and Discord”:

Because rapid urbanization created a need for new institutions to supply the cultural goods demanded by a larger educated population, the Russian Musical Society expanded in parallel with the growth of provincial cities. Unsurprisingly, most of of the Society’s branches, like most of the empire’s population, were located west of the Ural Mountains, with the branches in Siberia and the Far East seemingly isolated and vulnerable in the vastness of the region. ... By the early twentieth century even these branches, and more broadly, these communities, were increasingly linked to the centers of Russian culture by the railroad. In European Russia and the Ukraine, conversely, larger populations and more dynamic local economies spurred the development of cultural life in second-rank towns; the branches of the Russian Musical Society established after 1900, in particular, were a key part of an ever-denser web of cultural institutions that reflected the growing demand for education, entertainment, and ideas in the provinces. If the earliest branches of the Society were, as they liked to consider themselves, oases in a cultural desert, by the outbreak of World War I, the Society’s branches formed an archipelago of culture, linked by the railroad, the post, and the periodical press, that stretched from the Western Borderlands to the Sea of Japan. ...

The Russian Musical Society responded to the increasing demand for music education more effectively than its counterparts in other nations. Although critics complained that the state's failure to assume responsibility for specialized music education hampered the development of Russian musical culture, its unwillingness to incorporate music institutions into the state-supported educational network actually facilitated the creation of an effective system of specialized music education. Most European states boasted one or two state conservatories, or at most a scattering of city-supported conservatories, supplemented by a wide variety of private music schools. Through the efforts of the Russian Musical Society, Russia acquired a network of cultural institutions increasingly conscious of their shared responsibility for the rational and systematic development of musical life. Nevertheless, in assessing the importance of the Russian Musical Society, one must weigh rhetoric against real achievements. The Society promoted itself as a seedbed for civilization, disseminating not only music but also European culture to the far reaches of the empire. The achievements of the Society in the provinces were truly impressive, although they never quite reached the grandiose proportions sometimes claimed. The Society did not create Russian musical culture, even in the provinces, out of a void but built upon a well-established foundation of domestic music instruction and music making. The Russian Musical Society, however, successfully relocated music from the private sphere of the home to the public sphere of the educational institution and the public concert. In many provincial cities, the Russian Musical Society served as the focal point for local concert culture. Its branches supplied provincial society with chamber music and symphony concerts, as well as numerous student recitals and performances. The Society, unsurprisingly, sometimes failed to live up to its promise. Too often, provincial branches were founded without adequate social support or financial backing. Both the St. Petersburg Conservatory, one of the finest in Europe, and the Omsk music classes were sheltered under the institutional umbrella of the Russian Musical Society. Nevertheless, the institutional strength and organizational flexibility of the Society allowed it to make a lasting contribution to the development of Russian culture.

Excerpted from “Harmony and Discord: Music and the Transformation of Russian Cultural Life” (January, 2011), by Lynn M. Sargeant with permission from Oxford University Press © 2011 Oxford University Press.

By: Mimi Ko Cruz, 657-278-7586

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