Monday, 6 December 2010

Keynote address by Bruno Nettl (Beijing, 2010)


 Bruno Nettl


I am very honored to have been invited to speak to you, members of this distinguished and powerful society of educators. As you know, music education in the most specific sense is not my field, but I have been involved with ISME for some twenty years. I was invited at that time chair a committee whose task it was to "do something" about world music --  a concept perhaps newly discovered by this organization.  I learned much from lengthy deliberations with the members of this committee, and we didn't accomplish very much but we did craft a statement of a policy which the ISME board subsequently adopted. I included the recommendation that each system of music education ought to include three components -- the study of Western classical music, the study of local music traditions, and something of the music of the rest of the world.  This was accepted, although I think a number of Board members would have wished to privilege the Western art music tradition, which had always been the cornerstone of music education in the modern world. Just fifteen years later, I was approached by your then president Professor Gary McPherson, who said, "why did you include the requirement that Western art music be taught everywhere?" Clearly it as no longer the concept of world music that needed defending, but the old Western tradition. I told Gary, "we didn't think your board would every accept he inclusion of world music if we didn't  make clear our loyalty to the old canon." Today, that canon has become simply an option.-- I think.


So perhaps we can claim that ethnomusicology has finally "arrived," as a source of musical materials and of ideas about music and of ways of looking at the world's music.  But actually,  ideas that characterize ethnomusicology  have played important roles in music education for a long time. It's a history with an interesting narrative, but that's not my job here. Still, let me remind us -- restricting myself to the European and North American perspective from which I come, with the full realization that you, coming from all of the world's continents, could provide many parallels.


I would like to trace, and maybe to meditate upon, relationships between music education in the broad sense, and ethnomusicology.  In my abstract, I promised to look at several questions, and I ask your indulgence for revising them, but only slightly. I'd like to say a few words about questions of aesthetics as an impulse to both of our fields; the nature of the musical world; the importance of authenticity; the importance of music for understanding culture; what kind of people are we, and are we doing anyone any good?




I am not sure what music educators of the world have in common, but I would guess that one thing is this. They wish to impart to their students their belief that music is in some sense of the word beautiful. I won't get into the definition of beauty, but in some ways, musicking is -- along with everything else -- an aesthetic experience. Music is, in American terminology, fun, enjoyable, something to like, to love.  When I began studying ethnomusicology, my first experience was hearing music like this:




And the last thing I would have said about this is that I considered this music beautiful. That might have come later, and surely in various ways the people whose music this is consider it an aesthetic experience.  I'm not talking about intrinsic beauty. The point is that to ethnomusicologists, surely at that time, what was important about this music was that it represented a Native American culture, was important to its people, accomplished certain things for them, told us things about their world.   If my fellow-students, involved in Bach and Stravinsky, asked me whether I "liked" this music, I told them that this was the wrong question.  So if I undertook to play some of these recordings for school children, say, it was not to be able to say to them, "see how pretty this song is."  Ethnomusicologists had the task of showing that music was a serious business, that to most peoples in the world it went much farther than being simply something to enjoy.  Many music educators, at least in North America, tried to help their students enjoy the music of other cultures by making it more like their own -- adding harmony or piano accompaniment, simplifying rhythm, and so on.


I'm not sure what date to give you for the beginnings of ethnomusicology in Europe, to say nothing of how you would describe the ancestry of the world's various ethnomusicologies. But one of our culture heroes, Erich M. von Hornbostel, undertook to introduce the field in a published lecture in 1905, and said that its principal problems were the understanding of the origins and evolution of music,  and the understanding of the nature of musical beauty. I have often wondered how it was that most ethnomusicologists didn't seem to follow up on the "beauty" component. I think because they came to see aesthetic issues as culture-specific.




They would say, if you -- American or European -- don't like this piece of Australian aboriginal music, that's irrelevant. You don't understand their musical language. And if you do like it, that's also irrelevant -- you probably like it for the wrong reasons.


So it would seem that music educators and ethnomusicologists approached music from opposite perspectives. Well, my job here is to bring up when I can see the harmonious relationship of music education and ethnomusicology. Here's a point. In the last few decades, many ethnomusicologists have come to look at their music more as something they love than as something that informs them intellectually.  One of my colleagues, a man very involved with the anthropology of music, told me this when I asked him what it was that determined his area of interest. "It's always the music first; you have to be turned on by the music, then the other interests begin to accrue."  And indeed, the fact that increasingly, ethnomusicologists have turned to participation, to the study of performance, in their fieldwork leads them to feel about this music as their conservatory colleagues would feel about Chopin and Mozart.


But at the same time, I think that educators have come to realize that music can teach you a lot beyond nice sounds and how to appreciate them and how to make them.  Increasingly, they find that they learn about people through their music, that many of the world's peoples express the important things about their lives and their culture through music.  And so while ethnomusicologists have perhaps increasingly become humanists in their hearts, music educators have at least part of the time become anthropologists of music.




We -- music educators in the broad sense -- have come a long way. We no longer think that the ideal world would do away with all of the world's folk and popular musics, and live entirely on the great European classics. If I understand it correctly, ISME doesn't want EVERYBODY to know Bach and Beethoven.  I have a feeling that this is a fairly recent development. Let me tell you about my first experience with ISME.  In 1991 I had the honor of giving an address in Seoul, at a meeting at which Korean music -- indeed, a festival of Korean traditional, mostly classical music would be featured. My talk was titled "Ethnomusicology and the teaching of world music," an my point -- and much of the conversation at the meeting -- concerned the preservation and presentation of Authentic non-Western music to music students everywhere. The nature of the musical world at that meeting was a world consisting of a large number of discrete musics. The emphasis: Music may be universal to humankind, but contrary to the poet Longfellow, music is not THE universal LANGUAGE of mankind, but rather, a group of discrete languages, or perhaps better stated, systems of communication, each integrated and unified, and each of them must be learned.  And also, the general attitude was: There are these non-Western musics, but Western classical music is distinct and different.  I remember playing a tape cassette with 20 15-second examples to illustrate the world's musical diversity, and I was surprised to find some controversy, and finding a number of colleagues uncomfortable, when I put Bulgarian folk music, a Chinese work for San-shien, singing by the South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Persian music on the santour next to a Chopin etude. Let me recall some of these sounds for you.




That - the world of music as a distinct set of discrete musics --was a progressive view of world music at the time. I still think that in some ways it's helpful. But it actually isn't realistic, because the nature of the musical world now, certainly -- and maybe twenty years ago too -- is different.  I'm not sure just how one would quantify this kind of a statement, but it's my firm belief that the boundaries between musics are far more indistinct and fluid, and the integrity of each of the world's musics much less firm, than we believed.  I suspect it has always been so, but it's certainly a lot more that way now. I don't know if I can persuade you.  But: Is this music truly Native American, or Western, or a bit African-influenced?




Or, is this concerto, by Mozart, nicknamed the Turkish, simply Western music, or could it conceivably be considered, from a Turkish perspective, a work showing the reach of Turkish culture before 1800?




There's lots to be argued here; you may not agree with my implied interpretations. But the point I'm trying to make is that maybe today -- and actually probably for some time -- the world's NORMAL music is a cultural mix of some kind. All music bears influences from other cultures.


If you agree, what might this suggest to us as teachers of music at all levels? I shouldn't tell you what to do, but I have the feeling that much of the energy of music teaching (and I realize that this is an incredible generalization) has been devoted to the presentation of music as a major factor in ethnic, cultural, and national identity. In the United States, certainly, we have lately spent a lot of energy proving to ourselves that there is a distinct American music, a distinct American voice in music. My experience is limited, but I have a feeling that this has been the attitude of much music teaching elsewhere. Maybe we should emphasize the opposite perspective, that music is one of the domains of culture that established and expresses cultural relationships -- not because music is "the universal language" which everyone can understand, but because music expresses and interprets relationships among cultures and societies.   Am I talking here about HARMONY, the principal theme of this conference?


Curiously it is relatively recently that ethnomusicologists began to study, in the field, the ways different peoples teach and learn their musics. Today, it seems to me, that understanding the way a culture transmits itself, if I can put it that way, is really central to an understanding of the music. What is transmitted -- tunes, rhythms, the need to be consistent, or the need to always vary, the way pieces are broken up for teaching if they are, special exercises -- these are part of the essence of a music it seems to me.  Until the 1970s, most ethnomusicologists were satisfied with saying that people learned their music simply by rote.  Well, here's an area in which music educators, music education researchers. in their detailed study of how people in their own culture learn and teach, were, it seems to me, thoroughly ahead. Here's a bit of an exercise called Alankara, used by South Indian classical musicians for learning the discipline of music.




Well, in speaking like this, you may think that I have given up on concepts such as tradition and authenticity.  But I must tell you that what has turned me on to the study of ethnomusicology, which I began sixty years ago, has always been NOT the unity of world music and its universals, but rather the enormous diversity of musics of the world, their diverse sounds, and the diversity of ideas about the world. And so I have always toggled between a sense of science and objectivity, and a feeling that each society interprets the world in its own way. In American anthropology this used to be called the etic and emic interpretations. 


And so I see the nature of the musical world as dominated by the combination of cultures, as I've just said, but I also accept that each society may have its own conception of the musical world. Let me return to my first area of study, the music of Native American peoples.  To some peoples, such as the Havasupai of the Grand Canyon, the musical universe is vast. Music existed before there were humans; pre-human spirits san to each other but didn't speak. But it was also limited. All songs already existed in the cosmos, waiting to be discovered by human composers. The Blackfoot people, with whom I worked, saw music as something coming from supernatural sources, but without limit. Men ha visions in which spirits, usually animals, taught them new songs. Theoretically, a man might have unlimited numbers of visions, learn an unlimited number of songs. New songs could always be created; it's a view somewhat similar to the Western view of composition. But the Blackfoot people today see music as bifurcated -- Indian music and white music, the first mainly spiritual, and the second, mainly technical or even technological, difficult.


In modern American culture, as a further example, the musical universe is infinite. Any sound -- animal sounds, industrial noises, may be considered music if it appears in a musical social context such as a concert or on a recording labeled as music. On the other hand, in my time living in Iran, 35 years ago, I found that the question was complicated, as certain kinds of expression that sounded musical to me were not accepted as belonging to the term music but considered instead to belong to a concept, khandan, that means reading, reciting, and explicitly singing.


The point I'm trying to make is that each culture has its own conception of the musical universe. I've always found this wonderful, supporting my notion of the musical world as infinitely variable.  I am not sure whether music teachers in schools believe that this is a point worth making. I think it is not only significant that the world's musics sound different, but also that the world's societies have sometimes radically different ideas about music.  But of course we come upon a conflict of ideas here. Should we as educators emphasize the differences between musics, should we say that while we wish the world's peoples to live in harmony, in music, harmoniousness should mean the understanding of differences?  Or should we stick to the old notion of music, the universal language of humankind, and emphasize what they have in common? I mean educators in the conventional sense, and ethnomusicologists as educators. You can see that our two fields face similar issues.



                But there's also the issue of authenticity and tradition. When I was a student -- excuse me for referring always to those old times -- my teacher, George Herzog, a Hungarian very much influenced by Béla Bartók and Zoltón Kodály,  he wanted to be sure that his students of non-Western and folk musics understood the importance of authenticity. In studying African music, for example, he didn't want us to take much interest in popular music because it combined older African traditions with Western instruments; and because African rhythms were being simplified to be more compatible with Western rhythmic practices. He told us that Bartók was interested making sure that people -- in Hungary and elsewhere -- didn't think that the music of Hungarian Roma was the "true" Hungarian folk music, and that the music in the categories he called "old" and "new" style were the truly authentic. Here's an example of the "Old" style




Partly, this notion of authenticity takes us back to the consideration of the world of music as a group of discrete musics. But it wasn't only ethnomusicologists who cared so much about authenticity, about collecting and preserving music that was truly THE music of a particular society.  For example others interested in folk music -- organizers of festivals, urban folk musicians - felt they had a major stake in this process. Indeed, when I was a student I had the opportunity of taking courses in the discipline of folklore, then only getting started in USA, and one of the issues being constantly debated was this authenticity. Is a particular piece of folklore truly authentic? How can one tell? Must it be in oral tradition? How old does it have to be at a minimum? Can people in modern society create authentic folklore?


By now we consider it an insoluble question, a moot issue. Folklore and folk music are not intrinsically different from other literature or music. The fact that it usually exists in oral tradition makes it simply like the vast majority of the world's music. And that brings me to another area related to this issue of authenticity: the intrinsic difference between notated music and music in oral tradition.  Maybe this is an issue in which ethnomusicologists and music educators are not quite so comfortable with each other. (You'll have to tell me.)


Here's my point: I hope I have my facts right. Music educators in Europe, in the Western hemisphere, and I think everywhere else, consider it quite important for their students to learn European musical notation. I think they pay far less attention to the ability to learn music by hearing it, by oral tradition.  But if, as I've just said, an important finding of ethnomusicology is that the normal way to learn music in the world is by hearing it, then shouldn't we who are trying to teach music as a universal value be most concerned with this?  Ah, but you will say, very correctly: Western notation works very well, so why shouldn't everyone have access to this marvelous technology? (That's what it is, after all.) But an intrinsic quality of European and American folk music is its fluidity, its variability, derive from its aural existence, that's something important that may go away when we depend entirely on written scores. And another example: If Native Americans of the Plains believe that one learns a song in one hearing, shouldn't we try to get our students to do this, or at least to appreciate it, if this music enters a classroom? I'm sure you all can think of parallel examples in any of the world's cultures.


What I come to is that in expanding the musical horizon of students -- and I don't mean only young children -- we ought to go beyond finding efficient ways of imparting and internalizing the sound of the music, the notes, if you will, and include an understanding of concepts intrinsic to it -- concepts such as oral transmission, or of the existence of a song in many variants.  The most obvious thing that comes to mind is variants of European folk songs. So instead, let me give you the beginning of variants of a South Indian song by the great composer Tyagaraja, "Sarasasamadana," performed by my teacher S. Ramanathan on vina, by the singer M. S. Mani, an then by the vina player S Balachander.


13-15) SARASASAMADANA - S. Ramanathan, M. S. Mani, S. Balachander.


The fact that everyone has his own version is part of the authenticity of the song.  But of course, while in my student days, there was a lot of emphasis on authenticity, today ethnomusicologists pay far less attention to it, often seeing it as a useless obsolete idea. To a large extent, I have to agree. I've already pointed out that the world of music today consists to a large extent of music that has multicultural sources. The idea that there is a pure Czech folk music, a pure Navajo Indian music, a pure Carnatic music in Southern India, those notions are imaginary. So does the concept of authenticity still have relevance?


Let me suggest two ways both perhaps coming from the fourth question in my outline: the uses of music for understanding culture.



The first goes back to a prominent 29th-century definition of culture, by the English scholar Edward B. Tylor. Culture is "that complex whole, including knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other habits or capacities acquired by man as a member of society." Let me restate it in a slightly more modern way: Culture is the ways in which they learn the ways of interpreting the world, and the rules for behavior, from people in whose company they are raised and live. Note please, Tylor included art, and I see it as one way in which people interpret their world. Quite specifically, the concept of culture is tied to that of society. Each society has its own culture, its own arts, its own music.  People in a society have definite conceptions of what rules govern your behavior towards your relatives and what songs, and what musical styles, belong to them, and they can identify others that they also know but do not claim. Even in large, complex societies, these kinds of boundaries exist.  But in the modern world, you learn not only your own culture, but also others, and music is an important way of defining your own culture, and also of apprehending the culture of another society. An by society I don't mean only nations or groups of people defined by a language, but also groups of people defined by social class, occupation, religion, and quite importantly, age. If you wish to comprehend the culture of your teenage children, you may perhaps do it best by understanding the music in their lives.


That's rather obvious to music teachers, I think. Ethnomusicologists have only recently come to appreciate the importance of culture groups -- societies -- that live next to each other in urban societies: minorities of all sorts, the people of diasporas, artistic elites, youth, old age, you get my drift.


But who is entitled to define what actually belongs to the culture of a people? To the music of a people?  I've got to tell you an experience that I had had to remember for decades. I was in Iran, studying Persian classical music by taking lessons and getting also theoretical instruction from a great , master, Dr. Nour-Ai Boroumand.  Music like this next short example.




At one point he said to me, "You know, Dr. Nettl, you will never understand this music."  I thought he was hiding me for not practicing enough, but he said, I'll summarize, "You may be able to analyze it and tell us about motifs and developments and structures, but there are things that every workman washing the windows of this building understands that will always elude you."  He was outlining for me my limitations as an outsider.


Ethnomusicologists traditionally have been the students of music from the outsider's perspective.  I think they have usually been responsible people, intellectually and politically, but one did sometimes get into curious discussions, as when a Native singer sang -- perhaps recorded - a song in good faith to find himself or herself corrected by the fieldworker, "that's not a proper song of your people."  I have to confess, Western ethnomusicologists have sometimes acted out the political aspirations of their governments, considering that the investigation of non-Western and rural societies was their proper study.  Gradually, the musicians of their host societies began to say things like, why don't we undertake these studies ourselves, after all, this is the music that belongs to us; and we understand it better than you ever will.  Well, to be sure, the nations of the world have begun to produce ethnomusicologists who mainly study the local music. Actually, the idea of emphasizing one's own nation is a widespread established custom. A little over 20 years ago, at a conference of scholars from the USA and the former Soviet Union, we noted the contrast: All of the Americans had done fieldwork in Africa, Latin America, Asia. All of the Soviet scholars had worked in their own republics.  But probably as outsiders as I remember at another time, hearing Professor Oskar Elschek, a Slovak scholar who had spent his life collecting folk songs in Slovakia, telling us: "Yes, it's my own country, but in those villagers, I am always an outsider, a cultural outsider from the big city.


So is it best for us to stick to our own backyards? Well, we ought certainly to encourage the scholars in all nations, and no matter here we are from, we ought to share whatever knowledge and techniques we have. And speaking now as an educator, we ought to encourage the performance and development and understanding of the indigenous music of all nations.  But we had better not give up reaching across borders.


The discipline now called ethnomusicology was at one time named "comparative musicology." Not because we spent our time making comparisons to determine who had the best music, or for that matter comparison at all. "Comparative" was a code word for inter-cultural, or multi-cultural, or "from a universal perspective." The term was abandoned, partly for political reasons, and partly because gradually the study of music in culture, the ideas about music and the uses and functions of music in each society, began to predominate over the interest in transcription and analysis of the music.


But I think it would be a mistake to give up studying the music of the "other." As scholars, a balance of the insider's and outsider's perspectives gives us the most balanced picture of the world's musics. As citizens of the world, we know that musical experiences, musical exchanges, have often been n the vanguard of intercultural understanding.  Here in China I don't have to give you examples. At a level of smaller populations, many Native American tribes, originally quite disparate cultures, have been drawn into a united American Indian movement in part by the development of intertribal secular ceremonies known as powwows.



                My abstract promised that I would now comment on the issue of musical change, and the role of music as an expression of society and individual, but I've touched on these matters and to close, should say a word about us as ethnomusicologists, because I continue to think that part of my job here is to say something to you about how the minds of ethnomusicologists work. I have to ask, what kind of people are we? And are we doing anyone any good?  It's probably a question that music educators also ask themselves from time to time.


Conversations I've had with people in other walks of life often begin, "what are you trying to learn?" and end with "are you doing anyone any good?" I've touched on some of the things we're trying to learn. But what good are we -- ethnomusicologists -- doing?  I could make a list of activities and accomplishments. We now have something recognized as applied ethnomusicology, which tries to use the findings of our field to help issues of poverty, conflict, medical; issues, and much else. Ethnomusicologists have helped musicians in many cultures to improve their lot, creating concert, tours, teaching institutions. In all of this, to be sure, they have had to violate a basic tenet of field research: Do everything you can to avoid disturbing the life of your hosts; don't impose yourself on musical and social life. Of course, that's impossible in the end. My late colleague Alan Merriam, in revisiting the village in Rwanda in which he had studied fourteen years earlier, to learn about the recent history of those people's music. It turned out that to those villagers, the most important event in their music history had been Merriam's visit.


On the question, "are you doing anyone any good,?" Well, I guess the production of knowledge is itself a good thing, people can do with it what they wish. Hopefully, music educators have been able to use what ethnomusicologists have learned in developing their own field. In my opinion, ethnomusicologists have also developed a beneficial political attitude. It is well stated by Helen Myers in her compendium, "Ethnomusicology; an Introduction", who defines ethnomusicologists as the Great egalitarians of musicology. She says, "On the one hand, each scholar is eager to defend the music of his or her own people -- the people he or she has studied -- as special and unique; on the other hand, no ethnomusicologist will rank the music of his culture over that of his colleague's." And so while the music with which I identify myself most -- European classical music of the 18th and 19th centuries, especially Czech music -- and while I've come enormously to admire the songs of Native Americans, and the classical music of Iran and South India, I cannot claim that they intrinsically, or aesthetically, or morally superior to the art and folk musics of the many nations of Asia and Africa.


Some music educators -- I'm particularly acquainted with the work of Patricia Campbell , Barbara Lundquist, and Huib Schippers -- have looked at their own activities through an ethnomusicological lens.  I think that of the various disciplines in the musical academy, music education and ethnomusicology have had a special relationship. Joint committees, joint sessions, common approaches such as the "hands on" way of imparting musical knowledge, and lots more. We have learned a lot from each other; and we have a lot more to learn.

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