Conjunto clash : competition and sustainability in 21st-century cultural heritage management
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Scholar Dan Margolies has noted the growing presence of music initiatives in the Texas-Mexican conjunto community that conform to the framework of “cultural sustainability,” as defined by ethnomusicologist Jeff Todd Titon (Margolies 2011: 30). Titon’s model “decenters the top-down discourse by cultural heritage experts, and instead … repositions cultural workers collaboratively” (Titon 2009: 703). One program identified by Margolies as culturally sustainable is the Big Squeeze statewide youth accordion contest (Margolies 2015). The Big Squeeze attempts to promote the many accordion traditions of Texas by showcasing talented young performers. In practice, the event conforms to a co-operative mode of cultural heritage management in that it stages auditions throughout the state, often in underserved or rural areas, and collaborates extensively with local musicians, teachers, cultural workers, and business owners. The Big Squeeze has also created professional opportunities for its winners. On the other hand, many issues emerge as a result of the event’s sustainable structure. In the case of conjunto, the element of competition is at constant odds with the music’s resonance as a symbol of working-class solidarity among Mexican-Americans. More broadly, competition can have the effect of discouraging young participants from playing. Other problems arise when attempting to address the needs of multiple music communities through one framework. Ultimately, the lessons from the Big Squeeze build upon Titon’s scholarship by identifying and attempting to create solutions for unforeseen issues presented by culturally sustainable heritage efforts.