Dr. Elisa Macedo Dekaney
R&S Chair for Ethnic and Multicultural Perspectives
In an ideal world, music from world cultures and from our own folk tradition should be an integral part of a rich and diverse choral repertoire. Historically, our repertoire choices have been focused on Western European traditional music. This may have narrowed our vision about what should be considered quality music. What could our choristers and students in choral settings in the United States gain from experiencing the diverse musical traditions of our globe? Let’s think musically.
There are music theory systems in other parts of the world as sophisticated as our Western European music system. Take for instance North Indian or Hindustani classical music, with its hundreds of ragas (melodic organization) and talas (rhythmic organization), a music theory system so complex it would take us many semesters of music theory classes to fully understand it. How about heterophony, rarely encountered in Western music? Not homophony, polyphony, or monophony, but the less familiar texture that brings yet another perspective in music performance because singers can contribute to the overall piece by adding spontaneous ornamentation to a melodic line. Let us not forget the ability to sing microtones in Chinese Opera or with overtones in Aboriginal music and Tuvan throat singing. There is also the purposeful tuning of instruments in pairs in Indonesia to allow the presence of beats (not really something desired in our western ideal of intonation) and the intricate layers of rhythmic patterns present in multiple examples of African music, to name a few.
So, why should we incorporate music from various world traditions (in addition to our beautifully crafted Western European tradition)? Simply stated, because we are traditionally exposed to the elements that are common in our music traditions, but there are multiple important music elements still foreign to us. Performing and learning about these elements will only enhance our understanding of what music is and what it represents to millions of humans around the world.