Published: Jan. 24, 2023 By

Ben in Pueblo Above: Dr. Susan Thomas and graduate student Ben Cefkin interview Danny Rodriguez for the "Soundscapes of the People" project.

It was a busy fall for the American Music Research Center!

One of the many projects happening in the AMRC is the Pueblo "Soundscapes of the People" project. Two CU Boulder PhD students, Lydia Wagenknecht and Ben Cefkin, have gotten the chance to work on this project alongside AMRC Director Dr. Susan Thomas, Dr. Austin Okigbo and Dr. Xóchitl Chávez from the University of California, Riverside. Both of these students are studying ethnomusicology and have been working on the project since summer 2021. 

The Soundscapes project explores the historical significance of Pueblo, Colorado and the culture of the community there, particularly highlighting local music. This research initiative is funded by the National Endowment for Humanities and CU Boulder’s Office of Research and Innovation and Office of Outreach and Community Engagement. The team spends time in Pueblo interviewing people and traveling to culturally significant places. For the graduate students, the project requires fieldwork in Pueblo and work combing through the completed interviews and preparing them for archival in the CU Boulder library.

“This work entails taking the video and audio from the interviews and editing them, making them more or less usable for the archive, and then we index them, so we add keywords so that once they go into the archive they’re easily searchable and people can use them for research,” Wagenknecht says. 

Through the experience, they’ve enjoyed bonding with community members and learning how to make connections in a new place.  Wagenknecht, shown here with Thomas and Chávez, says, “This has been a really good chance to be somewhere long term and see how Susan and Xóchitl build relationships- not just extract information from people but also ask how can we help you?”

Cefkin added that he has learned a lot about how interviews are structured and the variety of questions asked. “We’ve gotten the opportunity to sit in on interviews that Susan Thomas or Xochtil Chávez have given, and it’s really interesting for me to see how much of the material that is asked by interviewers doesn’t have to do with music,” he says. “There’s so much of regular life, culture, family history, local folklore. There’s so much other background that is important in the interview process to establish cultural information, and it’s really interesting to see how that fits in.”

Wagenknecht with Thomas and Chavez

Another highlight of the project? The food! Pueblo is known for a specific variety of chile that makes an appearance in many of the local cuisines.
“The Pueblo chile is a defining aspect of the identity down there. It’s incorporated primarily into Mexican influenced food and native and Spanish mixture. But it’s also been incorporated into food from other communities,” Cefkin says. “One of my favorite places down in Pueblo is a little Italian grocery and they have a bunch of ready made filled breads and stuff like that. It has mozzarella, salami, sausage meat and Pueblo chiles- Which is not at all traditional to that style of Italian food, but the Italian communities in Pueblo are incorporating it in.”

Spending so much time in Pueblo has allowed Wagenknecht and Cefkin to understand the culture and history of the area. Pueblo was a mining town, a trading post, and even sat on the international US/Mexico border until 1848.
“[Soundscapes] really is showcasing Pueblo as this very rich cultural center in the state, and that has not been the narrative statewide,” Cefkin says. “I think just being able to change how Pueblo is viewed by other Coloradoans is one very important aspect of this.”

After this project, Wagenknecht said she feels more confident in her ability to take on ethnomusicology alone. She’s headed to her dissertation fieldwork in Southern Chile in the Spring, and said she understands more how to build a network in a new place.

“I think that the Pueblo experience has been really nice to see it from the beginning and see how to reach out to people and use connections in the community to reach out to other communities- that kind of snowballing idea, where you talk to one person and ask who they know who would be a good fit for the project,” she says.

Participating in the Soundscapes project has given Cefkin and Wagenknecht a chance to observe professionals in their field and practice getting to know a community. They will both walk away with practical experience and a deep appreciation for the local culture in Pueblo.