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The Glimpse Series: Musicologist Aaron Allen Is Expanding the Academy Table and His Field of Study

June 15, 2012
The Stadium in Aphrodisias, Turkey - a stop on the Fellows' spring trip, 2012 (Photo: Aaron Allen).
Aaron Allen culling apricots in the RSFP orchard of the Bass Garden, spring 2012 (Photo: David Rubin).
The McKim, Mead and White Building in one of two unusual snows in Rome, 2012, as seen from the Casa Rustica (Photo: Aaron Allen).
Aaron Allen as Pope Gregory the Great and Kailan Rubinoff as the Holy Dove teaching him chant at the AAR Halloween Party, 2011 (Photo: Takae Ohnishi).
Aaron Allen playing pool with the AAR Trustees, 2012; he made the shot but lost the game, although the Fellows’ team won 3-1 (Photo: Claire Brazeau).
Panorama of Rome on a clear December day, 2011, as seen from the Passeggiata del Gianicolo (Photo: Aaron Allen).
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The “Glimpse Series” offers a closer view of the AAR community’s current Rome Prize winners by delving further into their studios or studies, their daily routines or work in progress. The scholarly and artistic work being pursued continues to be as varied as the fellowship recipients themselves. The following “Glimpse” focuses on Aaron S. Allen, Assistant Professor of Musicology in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the Paul Mellon Post-Doctoral Rome Prize Fellow in Modern Italian Studies.

How have you managed the balance between your work and engagement with Rome and Italy? This balance is never the same for any two Fellows.

I’ve spent most of my time in the studio; in fact, I’ve spent most of my time in the Academy compound. When family or friends visit, when there’s something special going on in town, or when there’s an Academy-sponsored walk, then it’s time to go out and explore. My philosophy has been: take advantage of this year at the Academy to have a comfortable place to get a lot of work done. But I’ve had a lot of fun too: on the AAR trip to Turkey, culling apricots in the RSFP garden, exploring Rome covered in a rare snowfall, and beating the AAR Trustees at the pool table! I’ve been to Rome many times before, and I’m sure I’ll be back. But I won’t have such an extended time with such great people in such a pleasant place that is so conducive to my own work.

To what extent, if any, has your proposed project changed since your arrival?

My project has changed tremendously for the better, but I’ve also gotten less and simultaneously more done than I ever imagined. Let me explain that seemingly contradictory situation: I’ve continued research and writing for my project, a book on the unusual nineteenth-century Italian reception of Beethoven and his only opera, Fidelio. I’ve had many opportunities to discuss it while at the Academy, I’ve written an article related to it, and I gave a presentation on it at La Sapienza, Università di Roma. As a result, I’ve revamped the design of the project: more than ever before, I emphasize the place of Rome and the first Roman production of Fidelio. I’m continuing to work on the book I originally thought I’d complete while here, but I have a new conception of it, and I think it’s going to be much better.

At the same time, I’ve had the time and opportunities to work in an entirely different area: ecomusicology. Being at the Academy, and thus on sabbatical, has allowed me the time to take on a number of interesting new projects: I wrote four ecomusicological articles, did three reviews of ecomusicology works, and proposed (successfully) to a publisher a collaborative book on musical instruments and sustainability — none of which I could’ve taken on if I’d been busy with teaching and administrative obligations, and all of which were improved through wonderful conversations at the Academy. I was also able to participate in three ecomusicology events in Europe that I couldn’t have afforded to attend from the U.S. (my participation in one of them led to the collaborative book project). Moreover, I’ve had time to pursue new research, organize an ecomusicology conference for the fall, and still continue my Beethoven reception work — all the while with time to think, reflect, and relax.

What's your favorite dish in the RSFP kitchen?

Any dish that I either helped make or helped grow in the garden! The food at the Academy is phenomenal: tasty, healthy, diverse, interesting, and, most important for me, ethical. The goals of the RSFP — conviviality (at the table and along the entire cycle from farmer to fork) and sustainability (environmentally, economically, socially, aesthetically) — have always been our own goals at home, even if my partner Kailan and I have not always been able to achieve them entirely. Benefitting from the work of the RSFP (i.e., eating!) has certainly been enjoyable, but we’ve also appreciated the opportunity to learn from the RSFP staff in both the kitchen and the garden. I found it really cathartic to take a weekly break from my desk and computer in order to get dirt under my fingernails; doing so has definitely contributed to my scholarly productivity. And then enjoying the tasty results of our collective labors at the table with wonderful, stimulating, and interesting people has really been the proverbial icing on the cake! 

Describe a particularly inspiring moment or location you've experienced in Rome thus far.

One lovely day in late December I was coming back to the Academy from the area of Piazza della Rovere. I was walking along the Passeggiata del Gianicolo and saw, for what felt like the first time, snow-covered mountains. Granted, I’ve lived in the flat and warm U.S. south for most of my life, but I was born and still have family in West Virginia, and I’ve traveled in the Appalachians, Rockies, Alps and Apennines, so I’ve seen my share of mountains. But what was so amazing that clear December day was seeing beneath me an expanse of Rome — from Villa Medici to the Pantheon, dotted with spires of iconic churches — together with the white-topped Apennines in the distance. I’ve been coming to Rome for over ten years, but usually during the summer; the smog has always hid the expanse of mountains that surround the city. I knew they were there, but I never knew just how close or how breathtaking they were. I’m now much more aware of the interesting, historically resonant, and beautiful topography in and around Rome.