Mandy Smith drum beats her way to winning graduate prize in popular music

News Release: March 6, 2015

Mandy Smith, a fourth-year doctoral student in musicology at Case Western Reserve University, kept the beat all the way to winning the 2015 David Sanjek Memorial Graduate Student Prize at the US branch national meeting for the International Association of the Study of Popular Music in Louisville, Ky.

Smith delivered the talk, “Drumming is my Madness: The Primitive in Late 1960s Rock Drumming” at the February conference. (She drew her title from the Beatle’s Ringo Starr solo music with the same title.)

Along with two acquaintances who also presented papers on drum music, Smith brought her drum set to illustrate her theme in songs like the Troggs’ Wild Thing and other pieces.

She performed and demonstrated how different pieces of the drum kit have accumulated signifying power. For example, the tom-tom drums have come to be associated with primitive culture, and snare drums with western military dominance.

If local audiences would like to hear a similar talk, based on Smith’s research for her dissertation, “We Got the Beat: The Primitive and the Virtuosic in Rock Drumming,” she has been chosen to give one of three Arts and Sciences Doctoral Showcase Lectures by fellows of the 2014 Arts and Sciences Dissertation Seminar.

Smith will present the free and public talk, “The Drum Kit: A Hodgepodge of Cultural Signification,” on Tuesday, April 14, in 206 Clark Hall, 11130 Bellflower Rd. at 4:30 p.m. Smith will play the drums and refreshments will be available before her presentation at 4 p.m.

The graduate student, who has played the drums in various bands over the past 20 years, plans to finish writing her doctoral dissertation in the next year. Once completed, the work will contribute research on a subject rarely written about in-depth by music scholars, as Smith learned during her first semester on campus in Professor Robert Walser’s “Introduction to Popular Music” course.

Reading a short article from a collection of essays about Starr’s drumming on The Beatles album Revolver left her wanting more information.

“I asked what else can I read,” she said, learning from Walser that there wasn’t other musicology writing on the rock drum kit.

Smith has since found a few other papers on the subject, but the field is basically open for new information, which prompted the subject for her dissertation.

“By neglecting the drums, we are overlooking the main reason why people move, groove, dance and head bang at concerts,” Smith said.

“I hope to make a big contribution to the canon of popular music,” she said. “Rock music is at its center, with the Beatles as its Beethoven.”

Smith’s interest in rock music dates to her undergraduate years at Indiana University, where she designed her own bachelor’s degree program in rock history. After graduating from IU, she earned a master’s degree in musicology from California State University, Long Beach.

Posted by: Susan Griffith, March 6, 2015 08:34 PM | News Topics: Official Release