to the FAQ
“Why did you leave...?”
On this page I try to provide some simple, personal answers to some personal questions.
leave the UK in 1966? • Why leave
Sweden in 1991?
• Why leave the UK in 2002? • Why leave Québec in 2010?
After three years at the often severely conventional Music Department at the ancient University of Cambridge which, from 1962 to 1965 was a sort of late-renaissance Disneyland, I attended the University of Manchester’s Department of Education and had the good fortune to stumble into an intellectual, musical and social reality out of bounds to those of us ‘privileged’ enough to be cooped up in academic world-heritage theme parks of the 1960s Oxbridge ilk. It was at Manchester that I first realised the potential of popular music in education (Tagg 1966). On completing my Certificate in Education, I looked for a job and discovered that, as a school music teacher, responsible for organising recorder groups and Orff instrument recitals on Parents’ Day, I would be paid the handsome annual sum of £800. Alternative employment seemed like a good idea and I jumped at the opportunity of a job in Sweden, a nation whose social policies and (for me at that time) exotic Germanic language had interested me since I started voluntary work with the Cambridge University Social Services Organisation (CUSSO). If I went to Sweden, at least I would not have to battle with recorder groups or Orff instruments.
I arrived in Sweden in 1966, taught English as a foreign language for two years, attended the University of Göteborg to become qualified as a language teacher only to be offered a job, in 1971, as a music teacher, when I also got married. In 1974 my daughter was born. There was nothing obvious about teaching popular music in those days: we had no materials and very little systematised information to go on. There was virtually nothing about the analysis of popular music. That was what prompted the research which resulted in producing the Kojak PhD thesis (1979). I was lucky enough to get a research grant in 1986 which, for 5 years, allowed me to produce what later became the EPMOW bibliography and to start on the research that eventually resulted in the publication of Ten Little Title Tunes.
Although I spoke and wrote Swedish without difficulty, and although I had some really good friends and a permanent job, I started to feel increasingly foreign and out-of-place in Sweden, especially after my daughter was born (1974) because I (not she!) sometimes felt quite alienated by the kind of socialisation processes to which she was exposed (see, for example, section about lagom in Tagg, 2000:122-123). As a separated single parent of a child whose mother is Swedish, I did not consider leaving the country until much later. In 1990, however, when I went about negotiating my return to the full-time teaching post from which I had been seconded to do research, I was told in no uncertain terms that, even if the School of Music was by law obliged to reinstate me, I would not be welcome back on a full-time basis. After having conducted research provoked by pragmatic needs in the same institution, I was in a position to help the School develop its curriculum. I did not so much feel insulted by being made so unwelcome as concerned about my future in an institution whose administrators could apparently see no further than the tips of their managerial noses. It did not seem like a good idea to go back to that post! That’s why I actively looked for alternative employment. After almost landing in Milan Göteborg (an interesting story for another occasion), I was offered a two-year contract as editor of the Encylopaedia of Popular Music of the World (EPMOW), which started to appear in book form in 2002. That job would have to be done in the UK and I jumped at the opportunity to return to a culture where I would not feel so much like a foreigner.
I have to admit to a sense of satisfaction and vindication about moving from Sweden, because the courses I ran in Liverpool, which recruited well and contributed significantly to the revitalisation of a withering Music Department, were very much underpinned by the research I had carried out while teaching between 1986 and 2001. That research has also been central in establishing new courses here at the Universit de Montréal. Yes, I admit to still sometimes thinking ‘ya boo sucks’ to the Göteborg School of Music’s administrators back in 1990!
I was happy to be back in the UK in 1991 after being a foreigner for so long. I enjoyed living in Liverpool, where I had good friends, and where I felt it was OK to be ‘a bit of a nutter’. I had a nice little flat and I was happy that my daughter moved from Sweden to Liverpool in 1995. As usual, I enjoyed teaching and I had some good students. I also managed to negotiate a secure and reasonably paid job situation, and it was great to be able to escape to Wales once in a while. ‘Why leave all of that?’, you may well ask. Without any doubt, the main reason was work.
The UK university system became increasingly bureaucratic during the 1990s and had, by the turn of the millenium, reached such a point of Kafkaesque absurdity that it was virtually impossible to complete, let alone initiate, the kind of long-term, basic and innovative research that is essential to popular music studies (see Audititis and Conscientious Objections to Audit). It was also disheartening to see so many colleagues demoralised by the UK university system, so many who had become cynical about their job, so many counting down their years, semesters or months until early retirement. It was also frustrating to have worked a decade, in the same institution, for the integration of musical with other types of knowledge and to see those efforts bear such meagre fruit. Moreover, although in my late fifties, I often felt treated as if I were a trouble-maker just because I held a different opinion about how music studies should develop and because I sometimes tried to steer things in that direction. I have to add that it was sad to witness the sometimes unquestioned acceptance of dubious canons in popular music studies in terms of both repertoire and approach (see Ten Little Title Tunes, Chapter 2, pp. 57-92) and to see the pursuit of curriculum priorities against which I held some serious reservations. I also felt quite let down on three occasions between 1998 and 2002 when I had to stick my neck out in order to secure a viable future for the place where I worked and for the development of programmes useful to our students, only to be met with decisions leading in quite different directions. There is no reason to go into any detail about these rather sad occasions, but they did provide the ‘last straws’ prompting me to look for employment elsewhere. The point is that I had less than a decade of full-time university teaching to go and, having worked seriously with popular music since 1966, I was not prepared to just shut up and tread water (nor to feed the UK university ‘management’ monster) for my last ten years in the ‘business’.
Another work-related reason was that it was very difficult to find time to do research. For example, Ten Little Title Tunes, which should have appeared after a couple of years in Liverpool, would not appear until a year after moving to Montreal.
In July 2002 I was offered the post of Professeur de musicologie at the Universit de Montréal. I did not want to leave Liverpool and it was very hard to leave my daughter. It was also extremely traumatic (and expensive) to move everything across the Atlantic, to find somewhere to live, to furnish the place, to teach in a language I had never used before on a professional basis, to experience the long and cold winters of Québec, etc., etc. However, for the first couple of years in Montréal I felt that I was treated as an asset rather than as a liability, an impression which, frankly, made my life much easier. In Montréal I had the privilege of teaching the best graduate students I'd ever met and I felt very much at home in the area where I lived (Côte-des-Neiges, 4 km NW of Montreal city centre) because almost all its inhabitants were just as much and as little of a foreigner or of a Montrealer as I was. You just had to go down to the food court in the local shopping centre (Plaza Côte-des-Neiges) and listen to the old Armenian guys talking behind you, while a Haitian family trooped out of Dollarama, as Lebanese kids ran across the court shouting in a mixture of Arabic, French and English. Nobody coming down the escalator looked the same and nobody seemed to care what colour you were or what accent you had in French or English. And in Côte-des-Neiges you weren't a linguistic freak if you were fluent in several languages because most people there spoke at least three. To me, Côte-des-Neiges was in that way much more like home than the land of my birth which had been trashed by over a generation of capitalist short-termism under Thatcher, Major and Blair. It was sad to have to leave, at the age of 58, an ethically and intellectually ailing England.
Another advantage (among several) of moving to Montreal was, at least initially, that I had more time to do research. Despite having to move across the Atlantic and take the first steps to settle in, I was able, in the summer of 2003, to finish writing up Ten Little Tunes.
There are three main reasons.