Research opportunities for international musicologists

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For Dr Keivan Aghamohseni, there is no real difference between his research and his free time, nor does he regard them as mutually exclusive. A musicologist, he likes to go to football matches at the weekend – in Hanover for example, where he is currently living. Cheering on the local team, Hannover 96, he listens closely to discover which songs the fans start singing when. Then he is in his element – musicology. “However, this research into football songs is purely for my own amusement”, Keivan explains with a grin.

Gramophone records – a reflection of society

The ethnomusicologist Dr Keivan Aghamohseni

The focus of his serious research work is on Iranian music and its storage on gramophone records in the period 1906 to 1960. Born in 1981 in the Iranian capital Tehran, Keivan studied more than 4,000 of these records for his PhD at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media (HMTMH). He spent five years – from 2010 to 2015 – travelling repeatedly to Tehran to visit the Music Museum of Iran (MMI), which is home to Iran’s largest collection of gramophone records. “I wanted to find out what role these records played for society and musical life in Iran”, says Keivan, going on to mention one of his key findings: “It was long the case that the gramophone record was one of the few audio media – and between 1925 and 1941 indeed the only one – that existed in Iran. The records reflect the social situation that prevailed at any given time in Iran.” Furthermore, it was thanks to the gramophone record that many musicians were able to establish a financial basis for themselves in the first place, he adds.

Niche degree course took him to Germany

What particularly interests Keivan in his musicological research are cultural and sociological questions. “Ethnomusicology” is the technical term for this sub-discipline. This was also why Keivan decided in 2006 to embark on a master’s degree course in Hanover after graduating with a bachelor’s in musicology from the University of Tehran. “At the time, it was not possible to study ethnomusicology in Iran. In a library I read about the exciting research work being done in this field in Hanover – and knew immediately that I wanted to do my master’s at the HMTMH.” He started attending German classes while still in Iran, and now has an almost perfect command of the language. He paid for his studies in Hanover by working as a research assistant at the Institute for Musicology there.

The start of a huge research project

Back then, Keivan would never have dreamt that his PhD would one day lead to a huge research project. Through his visits to the MMI, he got to know more and more Iranian musicologists and told them about other research projects at the HMTMH, which cooperates closely with the Center for World Music (CWM, only in German) in Hildesheim. Many of the projects are concerned with the digitisation of audio media. “Our Iranian partners found this very exciting. Because my university in Hanover and the CWM were also interested in collaborating, we then developed a joint project.” 15,000 audio media containing Iranian music are being digitised during the course of the project, which was funded by the Federal Foreign Office between 2012 and 2015. What is more, the researchers are compiling a database so as to make the recordings accessible to researchers and teachers worldwide. “Once the database is finished, it will be the first public archive in Iran. That is sensational”, says Keivan with pride.

Research for society

This is exactly what the ethnomusicologist so appreciates about the way research is carried out in Germany: “In many cases projects are designed to be long term, and they often entail considerable benefits for the field in question and for society. Many people profit as a result: young researchers receive training, new contacts are forged and infrastructure is established.” Young researchers can also find good conditions for studying musicology at many other German universities. In all, there are 140 different degree courses in musicology in Germany. An overview can be found in the Higher Education Compass.

It took Keivan a little while to get used to the flat hierarchies at German universities. “People here are on an equal footing, which is something I had not experienced in this form before.” He is currently working as a research associate at the HMTMH, as well as doing some teaching in Iran. “I enjoy commuting back and forth between the two countries.” Consequently, he also sees his research as helping to build a cultural bridge between Germany and Iran.