Glocal Imaginaries and Musical Displacements in the Work of Richard Powers

Hazel Anne Smith


In Richard Powers' novel The Time of our Singing (2003), the relationship between the global and the local is located in the tension between two musical diasporas: European classical music and African-American jazz and hip-hop. The novel focuses on two biracial (African American and Jewish) brothers – Jonah a singer and Joseph a pianist – mobilizing biracial identity as a metaphor for cultural conflict between European and African American traditions. The novel persistently queries — particularly with regard to the United States post-1945 — whether black musicians working within the western classical tradition are displaced and subordinated within it, and whether they can successfully appropriate and revise that tradition in ways relevant to African American identity. The Time of Our Singing narrativizes, through representations of music and musical performance, ideas about racial identity and the degree to which it can be regarded as performative. I suggest that the novel, both thematically and structurally, points to musical mixing as a way of resolving cultural tension. The paper utilizes three concepts with musical connotations: contrary motion, musical miscegenation and musicologist Ronald Radano's concept of resonances (repetition with difference). It also draws on theories and accounts of biraciality (Zack, Root, Piper, Fundaberg, Romano), discourses about the relationship between the African American and Jewish communities in the USA (Goffman and Gilroy), and Paul Gilroy's work on music as a site where essentialist and non-essentialist concepts of race can meld.


African American music; European classical music; jazz; biraciality; musical performativity;resonances; musical miscegenation

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