Diane Oliva, assistant professor of music, has published a new research article in the Journal of the American Musicological Society. Titled “Sonic Decency: Music in the Aftermath of Guatemala’s 1773 Santa Marta Earthquake,” the article expands the relationship between music and nature, placing colonial musical practices in dialogue with the sociopolitical impacts of disaster, weaving together a history of music that intersects with environmental history.
The abstract states:
For several decades, the topic of natural disaster has featured significantly across the humanities; in musicology, however, the severity of such events has been marked primarily in the footnotes to our histories. Often leaving a substantial and insurmountable lacuna in the historical record, natural disasters are rarely considered for their generative potential. This article demonstrates the value of a disaster-studies approach to musicology, showing how natural events can have long-term impacts on the development and evolution of musical practices. It centers on the Santa Marta earthquake of 1773 and its effects on music and musicians in the colonial capital of Santiago de Guatemala. Colonial disasters, in particular, generated a flurry of written documentation, requiring correspondence at the local, regional, and imperial level to negotiate the process of restoring order to urban centers. I argue that it is precisely the disruptive nature of disaster that allows us to observe new details of both the extraordinary and ordinary musical practices of a colonial city. Embedded in an extensive archival record is evidence of the ways ecclesiastical notions of decencia (decency) in the post-disaster landscape were enacted through musical performance, which contributed to the political process of reinstating colonial power over a destroyed Guatemala.
Oliva’s article, “Sonic Decency: Music in the Aftermath of Guatemala’s 1773 Santa Marta Earthquake” is available online through institutional access.