Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

Una colección de patrimonio musical español

Paciendo el rebaño

The Fons de Música Tradicional at the Institució Milà i Fontanals (CSIC-IMF) in Barcelona has more than 20.000 melodies, copied on paper, collected between 1944 and 1960 throughout Spain; most of them were compiled through the 65 folkloric missions and 62 notebooks presented to competitions organized by the Folklore Section of the former Instituto Español de Musicología of the CSIC, in which 47 researchers participated.

Launched in 2015, Una colección de patrimonio musical español/Una col·lecció de patrimoni musical/A Spanish collection of traditional music heritage is an open-acces database comprising digitized materials of the music collected in the competitions and missions of Andalusia, Balearic Islands, Castile-La Mancha, the Castile and León region, Catalunya, Galicia, the Murcia region, and the Valencian community; more materials from these and other Spanish regions will be incorporated later.

The site can be navigated in Spanish, Catalan, or English; searches may be organized by source, location, researcher, informant, genre, or title. Audio files of the melodies will eventually be added.

Above, notation for the instrumental tune Paciendo el rebaño; the full record, which includes other visual materials, is here.

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Alan Lomax and multiculturalism

lomax radio 1940

When Alan Lomax accepted a position as the Assistant in Charge of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in 1936 he became a gatekeeper to the largest repository of recorded traditional music in the country.

He subsequently worked to infuse traditional music into mainstream culture and, in so doing, to publicize his interpretation of American culture and society—an interpretation that placed the American people, a category that included racial and ethnic minorities as well as the economically dispossessed and politically disenfranchised, at the center of the nation’s identity.

During the 1930s and 1940s he pursued this goal by developing radio programs that highlighted the music of American traditional communities. These included shows designed for children, including Folk Music of America, which aired weekly on CBS radio’s American School of the Air.

Lomax used this program as a forum to teach children about American cultural and political democracy by highlighting the music of socially, economically, and racially marginalized communities, often including guests from these groups to sing and explain musical traditions on the air.

An examination of the principles that motivated Folk Music of America, along with the artists, songs, and commentary that Lomax included, reveals a strong connection between the ideas of cultural pluralism that emerged during the World War I era and popular constructs of Americanism that developed during the later decades of the 20th century. Ultimately, Lomax’s radio work helped to lay the foundation for the multicultural movement that developed during the early 1970s.

This according to “Broadcasting diversity: Alan Lomax and multiculturalism” by Rachel C. Donaldson (Journal of popular culture XLVI/1 [February 2013] pp. 59–78).

Today would have been Lomax’s 100th birthday! Below, an example of his move to PBS in 1990.

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Ewan MacColl and the BBC

Ewan MacColl

Many aficionados of Scottish traditional music regard Ewan MacColl as one of the foremost singers of his generation; fewer know of his pioneering radio work.

The ballad of John Axon was recorded and broadcast by the BBC in 1958 as the first of a group of programs known collectively as  Radio Ballads. It tells the story of a railway accident in which the driver John Axon died heroically while attempting to avert disaster.

In the program, four actual ballads carry the narrative, supplemented by several self-contained songs that illustrate the story rather than tell it, sections of recitative that provide insight into the minds of Axton and his fellow railwaymen, and the recorded speech of Axon’s widow and workmates. Although MacColl and Charles Parker are often credited jointly with the authorship of the program, strong evidence suggests that MacColl wrote it in response to an idea suggested by Parker, who served as the producer.

This according to “John Axon: Ewan MacColl’s tragic hero?” by Mick Verrier (English dance and song LXI/3 [fall 1999] pp. 2–4).

MacColl would have been 100 today! Below, one of the songs from the show, with Peggy Seeger on the banjo.

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Kulning and cows

kulning 1

In Sweden the herding of livestock is women’s work. Herding music functions chiefly as a means of communication between the women and the animals; it is also used for communication between herders.

The song style known as kulning has an instrumental timbre, a sharp attack, and a piercing, almost vibrato-free sound, often very loud and at an unusually high pitch. A study of the physiological and acoustical characteristics of kulning, including phonation and articulation, shows an unconventional use of the voice that contradicts what is recommended in traditional Western voice training.

This according to “Voice physiology and ethnomusicology: Physiological and acoustical studies of the Swedish herding song” by Anna Johnson (Yearbook for traditional music XVI [1984] pp. 42–66). Below, Maria Misgeld demonstrates.

Related articles:

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Macy’s does the parade

thanksgiving-day-parade

While the public thinks of Macy’s as the main sponsor of NYC’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, not everyone realizes that the company’s own Department of Annual and Special Events is responsible for almost all aspects of the planning and execution of this annual tradition.

Employing over 50 people, this department is also charged with mounting flower shows, fireworks displays, and other events, but the parade accounts for most of its yearlong activities; these include designing, building, and organizing the handlers for the balloons and floats; managing celebrity appearances; and interviewing, reviewing, auditioning, and coordinating the high-school bands that travel to the city to participate.

This according to “In the wind…: Size matters. II” by John Bishop (The diapason XCVIII/6:1171 [June 2001] pp. 14–16). Above, Mickey and friends in 2013; below, Mickey and friends in 1935.

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Afghan perceptions of birdsong

afghan dove

The importance of birds and bird song in Afghan culture is embedded in Afghanistan’s two official languages—Dari and Pashto—in which the nightingale, a central poetic symbol, occurs in texts sung by urban and rural singers.

The songs of particular birds are associated with calls to prayer, and mullahs confirm that birdsong is regarded within Sufism as a form of religious singing; birds are welcomed at Sufi shrines, where feeding them is considered an act of piety.

Sometimes caged birds are brought to musical performances in Herāt, and when they are stirred to sing by hearing music their sounds are heard as an integral and treasured part of the performance.

This according to “Afghan perceptions of birdsong” by John Baily (The world of music XXXIX/2 [1997] pp. 51–59).

Above, an Afghan dove with a friend; below, feeding the doves in Mazār-i-Sharīf.

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N. Ramani, maestro of many jubilees

ramani

Natesan Ramani performed his debut seven decades ago. He has spent six decades as a soloist, five decades as a globetrotting star, four decades as a top-ranked performer and teacher, three decades as an academic, and two decades as an elder of the Karnatak music community.

This according to “N. Ramani: A front-rank flutist” by Manna Srinivasan (Sruti 223 [April 2003] pp. 21–29)—except that we have added one decade to each category in honor of his 80th birthday!

Below, Ramani performs Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar’s Mahā Gaṇapati, a song in praise of the elephant-headed god also known as Ganesh.

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Happy birthday to Hornbostel– Sachs!

hornbostel-sachs3

Systematik der Musikinstrumente: Ein Versuch is 100 years old this year! This system of musical instrument classification, devised by Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, is still the most widely used by ethnomusicologists and organologists. It was issued in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie XLVI/4–5 [1914] pp. 553–590; the first pages of the system are shown above (click to enlarge).

The system is based on one devised in the late 19th century by Victor-Charles Mahillon, the curator of musical instruments at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles/Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussel. Mahillon divided instruments into four broad categories according to the sound-producing material—air column, string, membrane, or the instrument’s body. For the most part, Mahillon’s system was limited to instruments used in Western classical music; Hornbostel and Sachs expanded Mahillon’s system to make it applicable to any instrument from any culture.

The Hornbostel– Sachs system is formally modeled on the Dewey Decimal Classification for libraries. It has five top-level classifications, with several levels below those, adding up to over 300 basic categories; it was updated in 2011 as part of the work of the MIMO Project – Musical Instrument Museums Online.

Below, perhaps the grooviest time you’ve ever had with instrument classification.

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Patuas’ paintings repurposed

bengali scroll painting

In West Bengali tradition, a person known as a patua travels around the countryside to entertain with sung narratives illustrated with painted scrolls. The patua’s audiences are usually poor and illiterate, lacking access to televisions and films as well as to written entertainments.

Increasingly, however, patuas are finding that their scrolls are viewed as valuable folk art, and that their storytelling skills are in demand among the urban intellectual elite as a means of selling these illustrations, which thereby take on a new, passive function.

This according to “From oral tradition to folk art: Reevaluating Bengali scroll paintings” by Beatrix Hauser (Asian ethnology LXI/1 [2002] pp. 105–122). Below, a patua demonstrates her art.

BONUS: A more modern example of the patua’s skills used to raise ecological awareness, with English subtitles.

Related article: Bhāgavata purāṇa as performance

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Visual art

Publications of the ICTM Study Group on Music Archaeology

music-ritual

In 2013 Ēkhō Verlag launched the series Publications of the ICTM Study Group on Music Archaeology (ISSN 2198-039X) with Music & ritual: Bridging material & living cultures, edited by Raquel Jiménez Pasalodos and Rupert Till.

The volumes in this series are anthologies of peer-reviewed articles focused on a specific topic. Reflecting the broad scope of music-archaeological research worldwide, they draw in perspectives from a range of disciplines, including newly emerging fields such as archaeoacoustics, but particularly encouraging both music-archaeological and ethnomusicological perspectives.

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