Thursday, November 13, 2008

Jane Fonda's a Musicologist?

Musicology has always had a strange reputation in popular culture. Most people on first hearing the word think it is made up ("The study of music? Really?") and then take a few minutes processing what it is we do ("You talk and write about music? Isn't that like dancing about architecture?"). That doesn't mean musicologists have been absent from the pop culture scene - every so often on the listserv for the American Musicological Society there is a back and forth about musicologists in the movies and the discussion always comes down to Peter Bogdanovich's 1972 screw-ball comedy What's Up Doc? That movie starred Ryan O'Neal as Dr. Howard Bannister, professor of musicology at the Ames Conservatory of Music in Ames, Iowa. Bannister go to San Fransisco with his fiancé to compete for a musicology research grant, when he runs into none other than Barbra Streisand as Judy Maxwell, a directionless but brilliant young woman who falls for Dr. Bannister. Hilarity ensues through a case of mistaken luggage, a jewel theft, and some government spies, with all ending well.

Add to that triumph of musicology PR Jane Fonda's triumphant return to Broadway after forty years as, yes, a musicologist. She's starring in 33 Variations, described in the press release as "the story of Beethoven's fascination with a trivial waltz, and the modern-day musicologist Katherine Brandt (Jane Fonda) who sets out to discover the root of his obsession. As Beethoven's indisputable genius and delightful humanity come to life on the sheet music in front of her, Katherine not only reveals the true nature of his gift, but also comes to embrace the beauty and legacy of her own life." Ah, a musicologist finds herself in her fulfilling work.

Who knows whether or not the play will be any good, but this kind of publicity is miles better than the last time musicologists were in the news: when a musicologist went on the show Beauty and the Geek and you can guess what side of the equation she was on. My favorite quote about her participation came from the article which boldly stated, "Nicole is a musicologist from San Francisco, which probably tells you a lot about her — she doesn't wear makeup, has issues with personal space, and wears a shirt that says "I Love Nerds." That about sums us up.

Ready for your debut as a member of this crowd Ms. Fonda?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This play had its final workshop at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the spring of 2007 before premiering in Washington DC later that year. It also won the American Theater Critics Association best new play award.