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Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV December 4, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, book review, books, ethnomusicology, India, music, Pakistan, raga, South Asia, 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

South Asia: India, Pakistan

General Comments: This music is largely built on scales/modes, not chord progressions. Artists appear to be expert at working over the scales, exploring all sorts of possibilities through improvisation, building lines from the characteristics of the scales. Rhythms follow motives and melodic lines. There were a few indications of standard “Western” rhythms following the melodic line whether sung or played. The Sufi devotional song broke into a clear 2/4 triplet (or 6/8) rhythm, a catchy rhythm with the accent on the second beat of the three, giving it a fun, syncopated feel.

CD 1, Track 5 from World Music: A Global Journey
India: Hindustani (Instrumental) Raga
This piece is based on an exotic mode played by plucked lute over droning strings. The scale is basically a major scale, but with a flat 6th. There is a pulse to the music, but there is not an immediately evident conventional “Western” time-signature. The notes of the scale of the passage are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, flat 6, 7, 1/8(octave). The flat 6th gives the mode an exotic flavor and when the music hovers around the flat 6th and perfect 5th, with the augmented second coming up from the flat 6th to the 7th, the music feels like it is revolving around a minor key. But when the improvisations slip back to the lower five tones of the scale, a major key feel is evident.

CD 1, Track 6 from World Music: A Global Journey
India: Carnatic Classical (Vocal) Kriti
This vocal piece has a clear tonal center set by an instrumental drone. It is in a simple major pentatonic mode. There is no chord progression. The singer moves up and down the pentatonic scale with precision, with florid, expert turns, totally accurate within the scale.

CD 1, Track 7 from World Music: A Global Journey
India: Hindu Bhajan Devotional Song
In this piece, we have a soloist followed by a chorus singing. Again, we have simple melodic moves in a pentatonic major scale. Melodic lines start at the fifth and the tonic, and cadence at the fifth and the tonic. At the end of the piece, it sounds like the singer left the pentatonic scale, though it wasn’t clear whether this was a vocal error, or a real deviation from the scale.  There’s a clear rhythm set by the phrases of a vocal line, but no consistently fixed time-signature.

CD 1, Track 8 from World Music: A Global Journey
Pakistan: Qawwali (Sufi Devotional Song)
A harmonium drone sets the tonality and also follows the vocal line in this piece, playing every note of the standard major scale. There are clear tonal centers, but they appear to shift during the piece. The scale for the melody is largely pentatonic, though it is not a strict pentatonic scale. The music goes back and forth from a free rhythm to a clear rhythm. There is a fun rhythmic section in a 2/4 triplet (or 6/8) rhythm, a driving rhythm with the accent on the second beat of the triplet.

Personal Compositional Note: “Western” scales are not the only scales available.  I personally enjoy playing with exotic skips in a scale, dwelling on them, exploring their melodic and harmonic possibilities inside/out, upside/down, backwards/forwards. I’ll definitely be playing with the mode mentioned above as well as other modes derived from similar changes in standard scales or modes. Also, a three rhythm does not have to be a “Western” waltz. That three rhythm in the Sufi devotional song may well show up in future music of my own.

The next post will move to the Middle East.

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