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Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI December 8, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, bagpipes, book review, books, Bulgaria, ethnomusicology, Europe, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, music, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Terry E. Miller, world music.
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V

Europe: Greece, Spain, Russia, Scotland, Ireland, Hungary, Bulgaria

General Comments: This, of course, is one of two areas on this musical tour that I consider my own culture. The selections here are from folk traditions, so this allows me to look at these musical traditions at their roots, unaltered by cultural melding. I was struck by how many of these selections involve drone tones. I know this is a small cross-section (a really tiny cross-section) of European music. The drones serve to anchor us in tonal centers. This is a great musical tool to keep listeners engaged and oriented when the mode is exotic and unfamiliar period. Drone tones may be a part of the universal human musical experience. Even the Tibetan music with its drone followed by a drop of a major 7th, put a drone idea in their unique musical scheme. Otherwise, this small slice of folk/Europe gave me a chance for some assessments of my own cultural roots and generated some food for thought.

CD 2, Track 12 from World Music: A Global Journey
Greece: Greek Orthodox (Byzantine) Chant
This is a modal chant with a drone; an all-male vocal chorus sings the piece. My ears settled on the drone tone as the tonal center. That gives us a scale of 1, flat 2, 3, 4, 5, flat 6 (and I’m not sure the 7 was played) mode again. But it cadences on the 4! And that is how I heard it—not as a cadence on 1, but as a last-minute, sudden, unexpected move to 4. I have to admit, the drone sneaks in the 4 tone, but not prominently. If 4 is intended as the tonality, then this is a harmonic minor mode in the minor 4 key. But my ears don’t hear it that way. I like it in that original mode with a sneaky move to 4 at the end, like a Picardy third cadence. This music feels deeply spiritual, an attempt to blend with the Divine from yet another area of the world, offering more indications of confirmation that music functions as a bridge for humans from the physical to the metaphysical.

CD 2, Track 13 from World Music: A Global Journey
Spain: Flamenco
Guitar, energetic singing and emoting, and lots of rhythmic clapping, dominate the selection. We can almost see the dancing in our minds. As stand-alone music, it lacks a clear shape, as it is accompaniment for dancing. The guitar plays I-V7, with an occasional move to IV. At the end, we slipped in the harmonic minor, with a i-V7 harmonic structure. Flurries of notes punctuate the tight, rhythmic strumming.

CD 2, Track 14 from World Music: A Global Journey
Russia: Balalaika Ensemble
This is an ensemble of balalaikas, separate instruments pitched differently to create a sort of balalaika orchestra. The selection is played by a Russian ethnic ensemble in Ohio. They play an obviously structured, composed tune, simple but catchy, with that distinctive twangy balalaika sound. The harmonies are straightforward “Western”: I-V, I-IV-V. Then for fun, the piece modulates to the V and plays I- V7-I in the new key (V- II7-V in the old key). Tambourines come in to accentuate the rhythm, but this ensemble sets that rhythm nicely without it.

CD 2, Track 15 from World Music: A Global Journey
Scotland: Highland Pipes
This is one of my favorite selections from this musical tour. We have the well-known drone with the melody over the top. A snare drum wraps out the rhythm. The meter is 4/4 with triplets or 12/8 if you want to notate the triplet notes as 12/8 figures instead of 4/4 triplets. The drone is on the 5, not the 1. This took me a few listenings to understand. The 1 is heavily implied, but not played as the drone tone. The melodic line clearly sets the tonality. During the first half of the piece, every cadence is 3-1-1 on beats 1-2-3 of the 4/4 measure. There is no mistaking the tonality with that move. The mode—major key. The lines slip into circling around other tones, but always migrate back to that 1 at the end. I can easily hear a synthesizer or electric guitar playing a line like this over a synthesizer/electric guitar drone as a compelling musical blend, and on modes other than a major key.

CD 2, Track 16 from World Music: A Global Journey
Ireland: Uilleann Bagpipes
These are thinner bagpipes (not as familiar to me—not as much to my taste, not as commanding or rich as those Scottish bagpipes). The mode is a major scale, but the melodic line slips into the flat 7 when moving to the IV chord. That is my favorite musical moment in this particular selection.

CD 2, Track 17 from World Music: A Global Journey
Hungary: Tekerölant (Hurdy Gurdy)
The instrument involved here is a box that drones like bagpipes. The really exotic thing about this is the move back and forth between the major and minor third. (With a flat 7, we’re talking about a Mixolydian to Dorian move, though this is primarily Mixolydian with a flat 3 in the scale played most often at the end of cadences). There is one tonal center here, but with that changed third scale degree, we have some ambiguity in the music, giving it an exotic feel.  Yes, in the American Blues, the third of the scale is played bending the pitch between minor and major. But this is different because there are no chords here, and the lines are so clearly stepwise that the ear does not hear the adventurous leaps, turns and harmonies we get from the Blues. The third when it is played is unambiguously either major or minor; there is no in- between or bending when the pitches are played.

CD 2, Track 18 from World Music: A Global Journey
Bulgaria: Women’s Chorus
OK.  I didn’t get it.  Even the drone pitch doesn’t sound consistent. There is yipping, hinting at yodeling, that zips off, but to no discernible pitch. The authors of World Music: A Global Journey say this is some of the most popular “World Music” today. Not with me. This simply does not fit into my musical vision. If someone reading this would care to comment and stick up for this music, I welcome your contribution.

Personal Compositional Note: Drone tones as elements of my musical vision present many possibilities. I can even see shifting drone tones—just because folk traditions stay with one tonality for an extended period does not mean I have to. The Greek Orthodox chant featured that mode again, that mode I have seen in a few traditions: 1, flat 2, (natural) 3, 4, 5, flat 6, (natural) 7, 1/8(octave). Again, I wondered, particularly with the final cadence to 4, if I wasn’t really hearing the top half of a harmonic minor scale. But that doesn’t explain the flat 2. And my ears want to hear this within a “Western” tonal context. The people playing this music, including the Greeks, most likely do not experience the music that way. I know that I enjoy messing with that mode as-is, and I will! Maybe a Scottish bagpipe ditty on that mode! Maybe even a look at that Hungarian mode that alternates major and minor thirds.

The next post will move to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl