Exoticism in Multicultural Choral Repertoire: A Comparison of Lydia Adams' Mi'kmaq Honour Song and Stephen Hatfield's Nukapianguaq

By Brisson, Jeremie | The Canadian Music Educator, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Exoticism in Multicultural Choral Repertoire: A Comparison of Lydia Adams' Mi'kmaq Honour Song and Stephen Hatfield's Nukapianguaq


Brisson, Jeremie, The Canadian Music Educator


Introduction

Since the emergence of the multicultural music education movement in the mid-20th century, multicultural choral repertoire has risen in popularity, figuring prominently in the concert programs of choral ensembles throughout North America. While multicultural choral music has the potential to introduce students to a wide variety of music outside of the western classical tradition, much of the repertoire is, to varying degrees, arranged and adapted to fit more easily into a western choral context. This calls into question the extent to which composers - or in many cases, arrangers - of multicultural choral music are faithful in their representations of non-western musical traditions, as well as the value of multicultural choral music in fostering an appreciation of non-western cultures in students.

I examine these issues as they apply to two multicultural choral pieces, Lydia Adams' Mi'kmaq Honour Song, which is based on a Mi'kmaq song known as "I'ko," and Stephen Hatfield's Nukapianguaq, based on a series of Inuit chants. My analysis of these pieces focuses on the various ways Adams and Hatfield approach the use of non-western musical material in their works. Whereas Adams' Mi'kmaq Honour Song is quite heavily arranged, with the addition of atmospheric, mood-enhancing effects, the chants in Hatfield's Nukapianguaq undergo relatively minimal changes. I argue that these differences carry significant implications for the value of each piece to nurture intercultural awareness in students.

Theories of Multicultural Music Education

Before proceeding to a more detailed discussion of Mi'kmaq Honour Song and Nukapianguaq, I want to first provide a brief overview of certain theories and viewpoints on multicultural music education that inform my analysis, specifically Deborah Bradley's theory of multicultural human subjectivity, and Elizabeth Mackinlay's work on embodied learning. In her article "Oh, That Magic Feeling! Multicultural Human Subjectivity, Community, and Fascism's Footprints" (2009), Bradley argues that learning world music may hold the potential to build communities that are more open to and accepting of cultural differences by giving performers the opportunity to interact with and mediate those differences through musical performance. Her argument is partly based on Ulrich Beck's concept of "cosmopolitanization," the idea that processes of globalization have made global issues relevant at both the community and individual levels, having significant effects on people's understandings of themselves and the world around them. According to Bradley, these effects have the potential to be either positive or negative. As local communities become increasingly globalized and "cosmopolitan," people living within those communities "can adopt either open, encompassing attitudes, or closed, defensive postures along a continuum" (Bradley, 2009, p. 58). The adoption of more open, accepting attitudes points to the development of what Bradley calls "multicultural human subjectivity," a mode of self-understanding that moves beyond closed, "us and them" views of race, ethnicity, and culture towards a more fluid and dynamic sense of self. As she explains:

By using the abstraction multicultural human subjectivity, I seek to disrupt hard categories of race, ethnicity, and nationality, to acknowledge difference as the only condition of possibility for community, where community is understood as an imagined state of being derived from shared attitudes, interests, or goals that exist concomitantly with human differences (Bradley, 2009, 60).

For Bradley, there is potential in musical performance to provide a commonality of experience that transcends socially constructed boundaries of race, gender, religion, etc..., resulting in a sense of community built on a deep appreciation and understanding of difference.

Importantly, Bradley states that the potential to develop multicultural human subjectivity in students depends on teaching world music within the perspective of anti-racism pedagogy, defined by education scholar George Dei as "an action-oriented political and educational strategy for institutional and systemic change that addresses the issues of racism and the interlocking systems of social oppression (sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism)" (quoted in Bradley, 2009, p. …

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