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Vol. 12 No. 1 (2023): Music Making and Music Research in the Asia-Pacific Region in Times of COVID-19

Music and Sound in Toyama City Up-close and from Afar: A Close Reading of Online Materials Informed by In-person Experience

  • William Donnie Scally


The COVID-19 pandemic demands a re-examination of the ethics and practicality of research that relies on in-person interaction. After eight months of a planned year of on-site dissertation fieldwork researching the musical life of Toyama City, Japan, I returned to the US at the end of March 2020 due to the pandemic. I continued to correspond with local contacts, but even within a single city, not all are evenly connected online. I began carefully analyzing online materials to supplement my prior in-person experience and ongoing correspondence. Interpreting such media, representing different groups, demands careful attention to its varying production and engagement contexts. Furthermore, recordings and other online materials differ from the events they represent. In spite of these limitations, researchers already familiar with the events depicted may be able to tease out subtle clues indicating local sentiment, even from afar. In this article, I conduct a close reading of two videos posted on YouTube in 2021 as the pandemic continued to impact public music making in Toyama City: (1) a message and musical performance from chindon-ya performers scheduled to appear at the cancelled 2020 and 2021 National Chindon Competition in Toyama City and (2) a video of a lion dance performed as part of the 2021 Yatsuo Hikiyama Festival, which resumed in 2021 following its cancellation in 2020. This analysis demonstrates the potentials and limitations of ethnographically informed close reading and explores how prior in-person experiences with musical communities might inform subsequent close readings of online media depicting those communities.