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Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Dharmonia's Extra Questions
So I'm taking this course in performance practice from Prof. Dharmonia, and we got one of our assignments back. Can I just say I love it when professors actually give you useful comments/things to think about? Anyway, the article was about authenticity in early music, but since said professor knows that I'm obsessed with traditional music as well she posed two questions that I thought I'd share and respond to.

Food for thought: I was particularly struck by Taruskin's statement that "we seem to have paid a heavy price indeed for he literacy that sets Western musical culture so much apart and makes its past available in the first place." Do you think that this statement can be applied to traditional music as well? Since we have a literate culture that has been "collecting" traditional tunes for a couple of centuries now, issues of "purism" come up in that world as well. Do you think that taruskin's call for a reconciliation between "the authenticity of the object performed and the authenticity of the subject performing" could also be brought to bear on the world of traditional music as well as early music?

Paid a high price for our literacy: Definitely applied to traditional music. I think people have serious issues about getting into the tradition, even skilled musicians who have been playing for years, because in western society we train the eye and the fingers before we train the ears. I was like that. I grew up in a household full of folk music/musicians. My parents could and did make music based on what they heard. I was fortunate to get any type of musical training I wanted (and nothing I didn't want), but it was all classical music centric. I would hear all of this great music, and it never occurred to me that all I had to do to make those sounds was sit down and play. What a revelation when I finally got into traditional music! If I had been trained to get away from the notes on the page a little earlier, I might be further in the tradition right now. In the same breath I think too many websites/books/learning aides offer instant gratification in the form of notation of tunes. Admittedly, it's how I learned my first tunes, but not my best tunes. I used to study a martial art called Soo Bahk Do, and I studied with a great man by the name of Master Steve Diaz. Sa Bom (name for a master teacher) always used to remark about how there were certain standards that made you grow as a martial artist/person. He used to tell a story about how certain studios wanted to make Dan testings easier by changing the break required. The alternative was so insanely easy that Sa Bom said, "Why not just have them bake a cake?" We all laughed, because we'd seen the products of such tests. My home studio was not always the model for Soo Bahk Do, but because we'd been grounded in the history, techniques, discipline, and tradition of our art we were competent practitioners who knew what the art was about. Notation seems to me, to have taken a great deal of the struggle that is inherent in the tradition. A struggle that grounds us in the past and trains our ears and memories to be vessels for something far more important than our individual gratification.

In Regards to Purism: The above might make me seem like a purist, but I'd amend that to a traditionalist. Purism is a tricky subject. The traditional music that I've played isn't necessarily a concert music, yet this Saturday I'm giving a full recital of traditional Irish music. The context has changed, and so the music has adapted. I'm not for going back to pre Dance-Halls act playing styles. For one thing people's instruments and technique have gotten better and I like that. But in a tradition you need to know your past and respect it. As to the idea of the object performed, I think the most important thing for traditional musicians to realize is that there is no object. There is a sonic event that have been passed from one person to the next for generations, which with recording technology we've objectified into vinyl, CD's, mp3's, and all types of video. We owe it to the preservation of that sonic event to stay in the ballpark. But I think the cool thing about an aural tradition is that we all put our handprints on the tunes that come into our care. One of the poems I wrote in high school had a line that said something like, "Add our line to this play that we call life." I sort of think of traditional music like that. Because it's got a little bit of us it's going to adapt and change and that's okay. The point is not to make ourselves the focal point. The music is more important than us, we're just stewards.

More food for thought: Taruskin's contention that virtually all artistic movements since Romanticism (including authenticity) have shared in a "contempt for the public as arbiter of taste" is quite a condemnation. Do you think that fact has contributed to the widening gap between "art" music and popular/traditional music in the last 150 years?

Definitely. My friend in Wisonsin and I have had conversations about this particular fact. She's a comparative lit grad student, and one of her personal crusades is against the hordes of academics who think the public has no taste. I think this bias on our end is the reason there's such a dichotomy between pop music and "classical" music. I have a sincere bias against most pop musicians (Britney Spears, the boy band obsession, etc.) because they aren't good musicians. They're great marketers and sometimes business people (more often than not they just have great managers), but they just don't have the chops. More and more however, you're seeing a brand of musician that lies somewhere in between. They appeal to a certain part of the public, but they have the musicianship to back it up (Melissa Etheridge, Francis Ferdinand, Daryl Worley, Nickel Creek, David Wilcox). And you're also seeing a return to some of the greats who have endured (Ramones, the Who, the Kinks). I think we've alienated the public so much that they go in wanting to hate us. We're aristocrats who do something completely irrelevant to their lives. We pay homage to dead white guys who wore wigs and tights. And worse than that, our sub-society reeks with the idea that we have to educate/save the poor uncultured masses. If classical music is to survive, if we want the chorales and symphonies to stay a normal and productive part of society, then we need to adapt. We need to play music that's entertaining not just for us, but for the audience. We can play the greats, but if the only reason to programme a piece is to "educate" the audience, throw it out. We have to be innovative and remember that a musician is a performer, and just like every other type of performer musicians must entertain. That doesn't mean we can't play complicated music like Stravinsky or Cage or Webern. It doesn't mean we have to play only the pieces people recognize. It might mean we have to change the rituals associated with classical music performance (haven't you ever wanted to play Rite of Spring in jeans and a t-shirt?). It means that shroud that separates performer and audience needs to be ripped away. Music is about connection and classical musicians are famous for distancing themselves from their audience. It also means we need to advocate arts education more. Kids need to go to the symphony and the opera and the ballet like they go to the movies. It needs to be fun and available, and not dumbed down for them. Kids are young, they aren't stupid (obviously some topics are innappropriate for kids, I don't think I'd take an eight year old to see Don Giovani and want to explain all of sexual situations, on the other had my class had it's first field trip to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet in 5th grade, by middle of sixth grade we had made our way through A Midsummer Night's Dream).

In in other news, I've narrowed down my thesis topics to three choices: role of women in Sufi mystic music, fife and drum culture in New England, and blues fife and drum in Northern Mississippi/Tennessee. If I had a million years to do this thesis I'd probably go for the role of women in Sufi music because it's relevant and incredibly cool. I don't have a million years, so maybe it might be better to save that topic for a possible PhD dissertation topic. In the meantime I'll get the skills I need to do such a study (first of all learn the language). Other than that, it's midterm week(s). Insanity ensues. List of stuff to do:
Study for Ethnomusicology Midterm
Finish Bibliography Project for Performance Project
Do more fieldwork
Give Traditional Irish Flute Recital
Gig on Sunday with the Celtic Ensemble
Practice for Classical flute Technique Midterm
Memorize first movement of my concerto for the Concerto Competition
Grade the Midterms of my Flute Methods Class/get their grades dealt with to give to them
Clean my Apartment because my Dad is coming into town

Anyway, I'm off to finish the top two before tomorrow.

Peace, Love, and Tunes,
posted by Mac Tíre at 10:09 PM ¤ Permalink ¤