Mapping Texas Music Traditions: Presenting the Texas Folklife Music Map
When I first moved to Austin in 2017 to start graduate school at the University of Texas, I knew next to nothing about Texas music. I could list off a few big names from Texas music history-Scott Joplin, Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin-and I had a vague idea of what genres like Texas country and mariachi music sounded like, but my knowledge ended there. Even after being in Texas for several years, my graduate school research focused on music traditions in South America, which kept me looking outwards and engaging in only a limited way with the music right in front of me.
Therefore, I was extremely excited for the opportunity to be part of the Texas Folklife Music Mapping Project. This project aims to showcase Texas music traditions throughout the state through the perspectives of the contemporary musicians who practice them. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Mid-America Arts Alliance (MAAA), the project began in spring 2021 as a collaboration between Texas Folklife and two sets of graduate students enrolled in ethnomusicology courses at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Texas. Students (including me) carried out ethnographic research on Texas music, conducted in-depth interviews with musicians and other tradition bearers, and compiled region-specific reports analyzing how Texas artists related to their local landscapes and histories. Following this first stage of the project, I worked with other Texas Folklife staff to compile and analyze the information we had collected and to conduct additional interviews and research. Ultimately, I created an interactive digital map utilizing the ArcGIS StoryMaps platform, featuring profiles of 31 Texas musicians and organizations as well as a map of Texas music regions.
This project came with many challenges. Defining region and genre boundaries is always complex, as these boundaries are porous and constantly shifting as musicians incorporate new influences and circulate their music outside of local communities. Many musicians in this project reflected on this porousness as they discussed blending diverse music traditions together in creative ways, traveling through the state and country to perform, and using social media to network with audiences and other artists. The musicians in this project also talked in depth about the impact of local landscapes, the role of family traditions, the influence of race, gender, and class, the tensions of the US/Mexico border, and the importance of creating music that serves local communities, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the words of El Paso son jarocho musician Yahvi Pichardo: “The constant is the community of people that use this tradition, use this music to put out a message. We make it applicable to our community. I guess we're just actualizing the music. We're using it the way it was meant to be.”
I am really excited to share this project and I hope that it will serve as a useful resource for musicians, cultural arts programs and organizations, and interested people in Texas and beyond. This map is just a starting point offering a snapshot of a small number of musicians and music traditions throughout the state. Ultimately, we hope to grow the map into a more comprehensive database of Texas music. I hope that you enjoy learning about some of the many incredible music traditions that Texas has to offer as much as I have!
-Erin N Wheeler
Erin N Wheeler is a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her dissertation research focuses on Indigenous music and language revitalization in Argentina’s Patagonia region. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.