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Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part X December 19, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in American Indian, Andrew Shahriari, blues, book review, books, Canada, ethnomusicology, jazz, music, United States, 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.)

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
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VIII
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IX

Canada and the United States

General Comments: This is the music of my home. I enjoy very much the focus on folk traditions, not on current pop or even concert/classical music which I can experience from other sources. And I found some surprises here. A few of the selections focused on what were obviously Celtic traditions that came to the United States and Canada with the Scottish, Irish and English. In this music, we find the some of the same elements from other traditions, like pentatonic scales—yes, the same pentatonic scales we find in many varied cultures. We also hear some good examples of African-influenced music, and two examples of American Indian music. All of this serves to remind me of the huge stew of musical influences already simmering together, and that my desire to do some more melding is in the tradition of my own home culture. Also, elements of this music help the study of music, physics and metaphysics, and the idea of what might be universal in how humans experience music, and what might be culture-specific.

CD 3, Track 17 from World Music: A Global Journey
Canada: CapeBreton Fiddling
This is a basic Scottish/Irish sounding violin ditty. It features a quick triplet rhythm in a minor key, going from i to VII with no hints of the raised 7 found in the conventional harmonic minor scale. The melody cruises along in seconds and thirds, cadencing on a triplet followed by a quarter note, 3-1-1 – 1.

CD 3, Track 18 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States of America: Ballad-Singing
A solo female voice sings a single line melody in a minor key. It migrates up to III, then winds back to cadence on i. The scale/mode is quite similar to the mode used in the little ditty of the previous selection. Even the singer’s accent feels Scottish/Irish. The end cadence is 4-3-1, also a similar move to the 3-1-1 cadence in the previous selection.

CD 3, Track 19 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Old Regular Baptist Lined Hymn
This is a choral piece in a major mode, but with a pentatonic feel. There is a soloist and a solo-response feel like some of the African vocal music. There is no real structured rhythm—the lead vocalist sets whatever rhythm there is based on his rendering of the words. The chorus seems to follow, echoing the soloist.

CD 3, Track 20 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Singing School Shape-Note Music
A chorus sings in a natural minor mode, with a flat 7, no hint of a raised 7 at any point. This music has a very specific rhythm and imitative style, with eighth note figures articulating the rhythm. There is a raw, unrefined quality to the voices that makes this music feel very basic.

CD 3, Track 21 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Bluegrass
This music features a driving 4/4 rhythm with a basic I-IV-I-V progression, laid out by a plucked banjo, mandolin, fiddle/violin and bass. High voices harmonize in tight third/fourths (fit to the chord) rendering the song’s melody. Between the vocal sections, different instruments pop out with solos over the chords. There is no percussion in this ensemble. The bass and mandolin lay out the rhythm most of the time. I was really surprised to learn that this music comes from the mid Twentieth Century, after jazz, blues, and not long before rock.

CD 3, Track 22 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: African-American Spiritual
This is vocal music in a pentatonic scale, but with a muddy, blues third. There is a soloist, but this isn’t really call-and-response music. There is a trudging feel to this music. This song is in a slow three. There is a clear move to 2 (which implies V) just before the ending cadence on 1. There’s also a move to 4 at the outset. So we have a basic I-IV-I-V-I feel.

CD 3, Track 23 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: African-American Gospel Choir
Here we have a peppy rhythm offered by an organ, with the bass from the organ driving the rhythm at key points. Handclaps join in from the chorus about midway through. This song is in a major key, but the chords are varied with a II7 chord and some other minor chords supplementing the major key primary chords. These chords often move in rapid succession. The melody line is simple so the melody can be sung by many untrained voices together. The harmonic underpinnings are more complex and challenging than the melody line.

CD 3, Track 24 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Country Blues
This song gives us the familiar twelve-bar blues, with just a guitar and voice, the way the songs were originally sung. We get a melody phrase twice followed by a third phrase. There is also a point where a variation on the melody adds more lyrics.

CD 3, Track 25 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States/“Nuyorican” (New York City): Salsa
This music sounds Caribbean or South American. We have the recognizable rhythm of the downbeat on one and a pickup from off of two. There are lots of percussion instruments driving the pulse of the music. The bass anchors it. Complex arrangements of brass and woodwinds with prominent flute lines move around the melody. Harmony/chord progressions are adventurous, with the melody sometimes outside the chord. At the beginning, after brass sounding like a train whistle, there is an intro section that goes I to ii to iii then in to flat chords in a circle of fifths to get back to I. Another distinctive feature is the individual piano line in rhythm, arpeggiating the chord structures, as if staking out a middle ground between percussion and pitched instruments.

CD 3, Track 26 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Cajun Music
This music features pounding straight rhythms with a fiddle/violin and accordion. There are strong downbeats with eighths and sixteenths also pushing the pace. There is little syncopation in this music. A whiny, high-pitched vocalist sings the melody, which is then restated by the fiddle and accordion-type instrument. The chord structure is very simple, I to V to I. But there is something captivating about the pure emotion reflected in this music. And despite the accordion, this music does not sound solely European. Unlike the tango example from the previous post on South America and Mexico, there is something distinctively American about this music. This is probably due to the fiddle sound, and the Southern twang of the voice, with a hint of a French accent, but clearly not French.

CD 3, Track 27 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Plains Indian Dance Song
A drum beat drives the rhythm of this simple song, almost like a heartbeat with a quarter followed by eighth/three feel. The chant is very simple, in a major pentatonic scale. It starts up high and descends to a final resting place at 1. In fact, the initial note starts at an octave higher than the final cadence note. There are occasional lingerings at other scale levels, but the end of the vocal phrase always gravitates down to 1.

CD 3, Track 28 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Native American Flute
A beautiful flute sound plays a major key pentatonic mode in this piece. The sound is like a recorder, but does not sound quite as delicate. The line also seems to float down to a cadence at 1, similar to the previous selection, but with more excursions than the vocal music. In fact, the passage starts with an octave leap on the 5. And this excerpt ends on 5 (though it clearly is an excerpt).

Personal Compositional Note: I am not sure why, but I loved the thumping basic drive of the Cajun music and will look for way to bring it in to my own work. I’m clearly already influenced by blues and jazz that are native to my country. This Cajun music seems every bit as basic as the blues with the same soul/deep-level feelings. It couldn’t be much more different from the blues, which makes it even more fun that it is also part of my culture. I’m thinking there is a way to incorporate those characteristics into some music of mine in the future. The Native American flute sound would also make a nice melody line instrument. The use of the piano as a combination percussion and pitched rhythm instrument by having it arpeggiate a chord in rhythm, like the salsa music, is also an idea to bring in to other music contexts. Of course, I am already familiar with many of these styles of music, and know they are already part of my own musical vocabulary. But it was nice to arrive “home” again after these stops all over the planet and find some fresh musical angles.

This is the final post of this series within a series. The next post will be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question. I believe my thoughts on his ideas about music will be more insightful now that I have completed this musical journey, courtesy of Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari.

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