21 December 2018

Research pick: A wandering minstrel, I - "Deciphering movement and stasis: touring musicians and their ambivalent imaginings of home and belonging"

Throughout human history, certain professions have been commonly peripatetic – the wandering minstrel perhaps a case in point. Musical entertainers who travelled the lands performing for the peasants in return for food and drink and a bed for the night. The modern “minstrel”, more frequently known as a pop star might still travel the world, although the remunerative rewards are often grander than a couple of pints and a bunk-up…but not always.

Researchers in Germany have investigated the ambivalent imaginings that perpetually touring musicians have when contemplating their home and their sense of belong. Writing in the International Journal of Tourism Anthropology, Anna Lisa Ramella of the University of Siegen has looked at touring musicians who spend much of their time “on the road”. She has determined that the conventional notions of immobility and mobility are not to be framed as home and away for such people. Instead, they can be more realistically conceptualised as familiar and alien, depending on the individual and their particular circumstances. “The very blurring of the boundaries of movement and stasis enables a shifting of perspectives in which ‘home’ and ‘tour’ may be experienced as either a source of stability or transience,” she says.

The findings may well be obvious to the musicians themselves, particularly when one considers the 20th-century songbook and the folk, blues, and rock traditions that tell tales of life on the endless road and finding no place like home. Musicians have always been travellers that “need to do the road” and from ancient times to today, that urge to travel has been driven by culture and economic necessity.

Of course, throughout the latter years of the 20th Century, the notion of musicians touring to promote their recorded offerings became commonplace. Now in the age of streaming, digital downloads, and file sharing, the money to be made from recordings has dwindled for many musicians and touring and merchandise has become the revenue-generating vehicle rather than the marketing manoeuvres.

Ramella, A.L. (2018) ‘Deciphering movement and stasis: touring musicians and their ambivalent imaginings of home and belonging‘, Int. J. Tourism Anthropology, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp.323-339.

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