Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

Ben Stonehill, zamler

 

Born in 1906 in Poland, Ben Stonehill (Steinberg) immigrated with his large family to Rochester, New York, while still a young child; in 1929 he moved to New York City, where he eventually became proprietor of a small floor-servicing business.

A fluent Yiddish speaker who cherished his cultural heritage, Stonehill was also a devoted zamler, a collector of folklore. In 1948 he learned of a major gathering point for new refugees: the Hotel Marseilles in upper Manhattan.

Lacking recording equipment but determined to pursue his mission, Stonehill took a sales job at a local wire-recorder dealership and emerged from the showroom with a salesman’s demonstration model. Nearly every weekend that summer he hauled this machine by subway from his home in Queens to the Hotel Marseilles to record songs and stories from the hundreds of survivors he encountered in the hotel lobby.

Stonehill documented an unparalleled cross-section of music then current among Jewish displaced persons (DPs), from traditional Hasidic nigunim to prewar folk and popular songs in Polish, Yiddish, and Russian; from Soviet propagandist ballads to Zionist pioneer anthems; from songs recalled from ghettos and camps to lyrics relating the experiences of recent DPs. His inventory eventually listed 1054 separate titles.

In 1964 Stonehill realized a long-held dream by delivering a lecture on folksong at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. The following year, terminally ill, he abandoned his book-in-progress and bequeathed his recordings (by then copied to magnetic tape) to YIVO, the Library of Congress, and other collecting institutions. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum acquired a set from the Library of Congress in 2005.

This according to Ben Stonehill (2008), part of the Holocaust Museum’s series Music of the Holocaust.

Above, Stonehill around the time he began his recording project. One of his recordings can be heard here; a Library of Congress presentation about his life and work is here.

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Ilmari Krohn and Finnish ethnomusicology

Ilmari Krohn was the founder of the Finnish school of ethnomusicology, and he was one of the first to develop lexicographical methods for the classification and study of traditional music.

Krohn derived support and inspiration from the Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, which pioneered the collection of Finnish folklore and the publication of Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. He was also influenced by the historic-geographic method in folklore, originated by his father Julius and his older brother Kaarle.

The main focus of Krohn’s approach was on the collection, classification, and publication of traditional songs, not ethnography or the musicians themselves. The principles Krohn laid were later adopted by Bartók and Kodály, and then spread to a number of European countries.

This according to “History, geography, and diffusion: Ilmari Krohn’s early influence on the study of European folk music” by Erkki Pekkilä (Ethnomusicology L/2 [spring–summer 2006] pp. 353–59).

Today is Krohn’s 150th birthday! Below, a 1977 recording of his Rukous (Prayer).

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Europe

Defining folk music

Founded in the aftermath of World War II, the International Folk Music Council (now the International Council for Traditional Music) was a diverse group of scholars, musicians, and enthusiasts united toward an urgent goal: the preservation and revival of the world’s rapidly disappearing musical traditions. But beyond this general common cause, its members differed widely on many topics—not least, on the very definition of folk music.

Beginning with the IFMC’s first conference in 1948, where the German musicologist Walter Wiora discussed the distinction between Kategorie (category) and Wertidee (inspiring ideal), several of the Council’s members—most notably the English folklorist Maud Karpeles—debated the meanings of such terms as folk and the all-important qualifier authentic. The questions that were raised illuminate the beginnings of ethnomusicology and resonate with some of the current issues in the field.

This according to “Kategorie or Wertidee? The early years of the International Folk Music Council” by James R. Cowdery, an essay included in RILM’s own Music’s intellectual history.

Above, members of the IFMC at their meeting in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1950. Front and center: the Bengali poet and folklorist Jasīmauddīna, the U.S. ethnomusicologist George Herzog, and Dr. Karpeles.

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The Old-Time Herald turns 30

October 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of The old-time herald!

Since the fall of 1987, when Alice Gerrard created, laid out, and hand-mailed the first issue, the magazine’s articles and interviews, news and reviews, festival guides, and discussions have become part of the glue that holds the old-time music community together.

Above, a cover from 1990; below, Ms. Gerrard performs in 2014.

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Drunken dotard refrain

Tablatures of ancient Chinese vocal music usually provide very little concrete information on rhythm, and few ancient Chinese writings on rhythms and time values in musical performance survive. One fortunate exception is the perceptive scholarly work of the 11th-century Buddhist monk Master Yihai, who was the only known person from early China ever to explain musical rhythm using a concrete example from guqin music.

Yihai analyzed a famous musical setting of Su Dongpo’s poem Zui weng yin (醉翁吟, Drunken dotard refrain). The earliest surviving musical notation of Zui weng yin dates from several centuries later; whether a tablature of 1539 actually preserves the music discussed by Yihai cannot be determined with full certainty, but there is indirect evidence to support an early date for the music.

This according to “The Drunken dotard refrain” by Marnix Wells (CHIME: Journal of the European Foundation for Chinese Music Research XX [2016] pp. 85–105). Above, an 18th-century manuscript; below, a 21st-century performance.

#dotard

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Middle Ages, Theory

Square dance and cultural politics

In 1988 the U.S. Congress convened four panels of witnesses for and against proposed legislation that would designate square dance as the National American Folk Dance.

Leaders of the nationwide network of recreational clubs that perform what is generally referred to as modem Western square dance campaigned for the bill’s passage, presenting numerous petitions with thousands of signatures gathered from their membership; opponents included recognized African American, Hispanic American, and Native American dance performers, as well as professional folklorists and one square dance caller not affiliated with the sponsoring organizations.

Proponents of the legislation cited the historical depth of square dance in the U.S.—“This form of dance alone can claim a development from the earliest days of our nation, through expansion of our population across the land”—and cited the genre’s association with “old-fashioned values” rooted in the “melting-pot of the dances which our ancestors brought with them when they settled in this nation.”

Witnesses for the opposition noted the absence of people of color from this picture, and generally argued against the whole idea of designating a national dance—“I can’t see how any one dance could be singled out as our National Folk Dance when we are a pluralistic society, a land of geographic, racial, cultural, and religious differences,” testified a representative of the Makah people. “I believe choosing one, any one, would give birth to feelings of resentment and animosity.”

Although the bill was defeated, similar debates continue to this day.

This according to “Reflections on the hearing to designate the square dance as the American folk dance of the United States: Cultural politics and an American vernacular dance form” by Colin Quigley (Yearbook for traditional music XXXIII [2001] pp. 145–57). Below, Bob Dalsemer, the one square dance caller who testified for the opposition.

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Filed under Dance, North America, Politics

The international journal of traditional arts

Launched in 2017, The international journal of traditional arts is an international, peer-reviewed gold open access journal that promotes a broad-ranging understanding of the relevance of traditional arts in contemporary social life.

The journal publishes leading and robust scholarship on traditional arts from around the world with a focus on the contemporary policy and practice of traditional music, dance, drama, oral narrative, and crafts. Its scope includes ethnomusicology, cultural sociology, anthropology, ethnology, ethnochoreology, cultural policy, folklore, musicology, cultural studies, cultural economics, heritage, and tourism studies.

Above and below, Quartett Laseyer, a group that figures in one of the articles in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under Ethnochoreology, Ethnomusicology, New periodicals

The Dancing Queens of Mumbai

For many Indian hijras—a casteless and classless queer minority—badhais (ritualistic music and dance) are the only available means of revenue aside from sex work and bar dance; this has been the practical reality for hijras for nearly two centuries of legal persecution.

While the current reality does not bode well for the continuation of hijra badhais as we once knew them, newly emerging transgender ensembles like Mumbai’s Dancing Queens are introducing new possibilities for hijra performativity and empowerment.

Established within a reconstituted urban Indian context, new adaptive strategies are predicated on the exchange of devalued ways of encoding hijra difference for updated, modern ones based upon the distinctly LGBTIQ discourse of pehchān (acknowledgement of the self, or identity). The Dancing Queens’s staging of pehchān empowers hijras through a global transgender lexicon while simultaneously renewing particular preexisting performance repertoires of homo-sociality.

This according to “The Dancing Queens: Negotiating hijra pehchān from India’s streets onto the global stage” by Jeff Roy (Ethnomusicology review XX [2015] pp. 69–91). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, the Dancing Queens in action.

BONUS: Ready for more? Here’s a full performance.

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Puls: Musik- och dansetnologisk tidskrift

In 2016 Svenskt Visarkiv launched Puls: Musik- och dansetnologisk tidskrift/Journal for ethnomusicology and ethnochoreology, an open-access, peer-reviewed online journal (EISSN 2002-2972).

While the main focus of the journal is ethnomusicology and ethnochoreology, it also embraces adjacent disciplines, such as other aspects of musicology and choreology, folklore, literature, and related studies of traditional and popular culture. The journal focuses on discussion of the expressions, roles, and functions of music and dancing in society. Articles are published in Scandinavian languages or in English.

Below, Frode Fjellheim’s Eatnemen vuelie as heard in Disney’s Frozen, the subject of a discussion in the inaugural issue.

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Frances Densmore’s legacy

In Frances Densmore’s broad sweep through Native American communities, practicing what is now considered salvage anthropology, she worked with more Native American cultures than any anthropologist of her time.

After Densmore’s passing in 1957, others found it difficult to assess the results of her decades of work or to fit them into histories of various types. She had participated actively in communities of musicologists, anthropologists, and other professional women, as well as with Native communities as she pursued her social science. These communities were historically imbricated.

Densmore saw her work as the single focus of a lifetime. That work, over time, became but one part of a larger cultural context within which musicologists and anthropologists as a whole, as well as women anthropologists in particular and Native American writers, examined her work.

This according to “Gone but not quite forgotten” by Joan M. Jensen, an essay included in Travels with Frances Densmore: Her life, work, and legacy in Native American studies (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015, pp. 242–83).

Today is Densmore’s 150th birthday! Above, with Susan Windgrow (Maka Waste’ Win/Good Earth Woman), ca. 1930; below, Sitting Bull’s favorite song, recorded by Densmore from a man who had learned it by hearing it sung repeatedly by Sitting Bull himself.

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