When Migration Ends, When Music Ceases


  • Philip Vilas Bohlman University of Chicago


The different processes and sites of intersection between music and mobility are crucial to the ways in which the potential for music to form what the following article calls "aesthetic agency". Music's aesthetic agency has a long history, which the article examines in larger historiographic and ethnographic sections. The forms of action central to the individual case studies that follow have formed complex histories of multiculturalism and are central to the social formations of world music in both the past and the present.

In the opening section of the article I establish the dimensions of "aesthetic agency" as the site of intersection between music and mobility. The mobility of music endows it with multiple political meanings, which range from the articulation of identity in national anthems to the mobilization of resistance. Two sets of discourse provide the basis for historiographic sections, the first arguing that music's mobility has always shaped models of music in the world, the second examining a set of keywords that are common to "discourses of mobility" that shape the models of migration and immigration in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Specific case studies illustrate this long history, among them Abraham Zvi Idelsohn's deployment of diverse practices of Jewish music to map the Jewish diaspora.

Two larger case studies establish the ethnographic comparison in a section devoted to the city as a place of mobility. Recent popular music in Berlin offers one of these sites, and the sacred musical practices of Hispanic immigrants in Chicago provides a contrastive example. A close analysis of the immensely popular song by Peter Fox, "Schwarz zu Blau", contrasts with the ways in which songs about the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe become anthems that mobilize immigration marches in the United States.

Three attempts to restrict migration and re-route immigration close the article. Drawn from American border politics, French destruction of Roma settlements, and the economic debates about German multiculturalism, the three examples seemingly contradict the discourse histories and ethnographic moments in the earlier sections, and they offer a conclusion that serves as a critical cautionary tale.

Author Biography

Philip Vilas Bohlman, University of Chicago

Philip V. Bohlman, FBA, is the Mary Werkman Distinguished Service Professor of the Humanities and of Music at the University of Chicago, and Honorarprofessor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hannover, Germany.