Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History
Smith, Gordon E., Canadian University Music Review
Stephen Blum, Philip V. Bohlman, and Daniel M. Nueman, eds. Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. 322pp. ISBN 0-252-01738-2.
This volume of fifteen essays is dedicated to the American ethnomusicologist, Bruno Nettl, on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. Nettl's international prominence as a music scholar is well-known and recognized. He is a prolific author whose writings include numerous books and articles on a range of research areas: the music of the Middle East (Iran), North American native music, European and American folk music, and more general interests such as acculturation and modernization in traditional music. Nettl's influence as a teacher is equally important; he has instructed, inspired, and guided an impressive number of students who have subsequently distinguished themselves by significant contributions to the discipline of ethnomusicology. Many of the authors represented in Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History are former students of Nettl, and, as Stephen Blum comments at the end of the prologue, all present their work as appreciation of Nettl's pioneering scholarship and friendly counsel.
Most notable about the collection is that it represents vital new emphases in ethnomusicology, particularly the critical value of history and historical consciousness as viewed through specific musical events, and the continuing emergence of reflexive enquiry as a critical process and a broadening force in the discipline. The essays are grouped into four parts: Music and the Experience of History, Authority and Interpretation, Brokers and Mediators, and Musical Reproduction and Renewal. In the prologue, Blum examines the global notion of "modern music history" as a subject of scholarly enquiry. By extending the enquiry beyond European worldviews including those represented in the first "general histories of music" from the mid-eighteenth century, Blum articulates a stance which takes into account not simply "non-Western" areas, but the following notion: "According to the conceptions that inhabitants of each region have formed of their own histories, modern music history extends over different periods of time in various parts of the world" (p. 4).
The first four essays in the collection present different contexts within which their authors consider ways music intersects with the experience of history. As Anthony seeger observes in the opening essay, the Suyá Indians of central Brazil construct and reproduce history in song. The appropriation of "foreign" songs through encounters with many peoples is a basefor Suyá history and a source of restructuring of Suyá myth. The essays by David Copland and Christopher Waterman are studies of two modern African genres - Sotho "lifela" and Yoruba "jùjú." The authors show how performers of both genres reproduce and, indeed, create mythic structures as they interpret historic events. Waterman, for example, challenges the "core concept" of tradition to ethnology, folklore, and ethnomusicology, and suggests that there is a contradiction which "revolves around the necessarily social and historical origins of tradition, in opposition to its status in both native and scholarly discourse as something immutable, a structure of historical culture fundamentally immune to history" (p. 36). Within the specific context of the 1932 Congress of Arab music held in Cairo, Ali Jihad Racy outlines two incompatible attitudes toward history and the misinterpretation of specific terms such as "Occidental" for "new" and "Oriental" for "old." This article is a penetrating account of racial misrepresentation triggered by Western bias.
In the second part of the book, Charles Capwell examines controversies surrounding certain North Indian "gharanas" or lineages (disciples and students) of musicians. (This subject is also discussed in Stephen Slawek's essay on Ravi Shankar later in the book.) Capwell highlights the importance of stories in the transmission of musical knowledge in North Indian music culture; he also recounts the origin myth of the Visnupur gharana, arguing that stories which describe the transfer of specialized knowledge from the Aryan heartland to Bengal legitimize such a Bengali institution as the Visnupur gharana. …