Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Spring 2016

Music in Different Cultures

When we consider world music and its universality or lack thereof, we often think about how different cultures produce different music with different components or methods. In other words, to separate music by culture, it is often easiest to think about the difference in ontology between cultures. However, Lortat-Jacob mentions in Sardinian Chronicles his experience with a serenade in Sardinia. The serenade took place at three in the morning, was performed by a group of the serenaded man’s friends, and culminated in a discussion about “everything, except marriage and women” (67). It’s interesting to see that even in the context of a serenade, a concept we’re familiar with in western society, the execution and function of the performance was so wildly different from what we’re accustomed to. The experience gives us an idea of how epistemology can also show separation between cultures. Serenades as we think of them are intended to be romantic, and to win the affection of the recipient; this serenade was meant to chastise the recipient and pressure him into considering marriage before he grew too old.

This difference in epistemology between cultures poses some questions as to how universal music can be. For western individuals, it is difficult to hear the term “serenade” and understand it to mean what it means to the Sardinians, and vise versa. Is the problem merely that we lack language with which to properly describe music and distinguish between its varying forms? That doesn’t really seem to be the case; the Sardinians clearly serenaded their friend, they just have a very different idea of what a serenade is and what it ought to accomplish. But the fact that people from outside Sardinia wouldn’t necessarily interpret the act in the same way seems to cast some doubt over the idea that music is a universal language or universal means of communication. It can convey different things to different people, or even convey nothing at all, and in that respect it seems to lack universality.

Works Cited
Lortat-Jacob, Bernard. Sardinian Chronicles. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1995. Print.

1 Comment

  1. annabel schulz

    February 6, 2016 at 18:59

    I think noting the differences in events surrounding music is very interesting. Like you mentioned, the notion of the serenade differs greatly in Sardinia from what we are used to in a more western culture. However, does the fact that this event has two different meanings always mean that music is not universal? Can the universality of music be applied in different ways? I think one idea of universality is the notion that the feelings and moods related to music can be shared cross-culturally.

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