Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Spring 2016

Final WRI 101 Comment – Bidding adieu to World Music… for now

For the final post on the blog of the course I wanted to reflect a little on the course as a whole and how is may shape the future.

I didn’t quite know what to expect of the course when I signed up. All I knew was that I had to complete the WRI 101 requirement and that I was a musician… so why not complete the requirement in World Music. If I am honest, I didn’t exactly understand the spectrum of World Music before the course even though I like to think of myself as a good well-rounded and knowledgeable musician. I didn’t really know what an ethnomusicologist does or how/what he or she studies. But the course has definitely opened my eyes in that regard. I learned much about the principles of how to study non-Western music and obviously how to write about it.

But what struck me the most was how many types of music there is that nobody will ever learn about unless they are literally aiming to study it. There is no way I would have been exposed to the Peruvian musical culture in Conima or find out about the extreme nature of riaz. To learn about these cultures you have to want to learn about them because it is very unlikely that you will be exposed to that type of music and practices on your “discover weekly” on Spotify. It is kind of sad to conclude this statement and I was thinking about ways to change the nature of world music. However, I wouldn’t exactly know how the different musical cultures would get greater exposure, especially because many are based in small-communities with very diverse practices.

Furthermore, there is another element that I noticed that I do not approve of: I don’t like the absence of female ethnomusicologists. I believe there were one or two chapters written by women but it was generally very male dominated. The only conclusion that I could reach to explain the absence of women is that in many cultures, that are not Westernized, women are not regarded equal to men, which is why women researchers may not be allowed to follow the different musical cultures. I remember that riaz is only male dominated and women aren’t even allowed to participate. Or perhaps women are not taken seriously when they want to learn about the different musical cultures, which is reflected in the way they may interact with them.

So, now that the course is almost over I have to say goodbye to world music for a while. I did not realize how unrelated world music was from my understanding of music. But this doesn’t mean that I haven’t been exposed to the different nature of music but simply that I never understood the concept. For example, a couple of years back I went to Namibia and Botswana and listened to the music produced by the Bushmen that would constitute part of the world music. Now that the course is over, I hope that in future I will draw those connections to world music and ethnomusicology much sooner and discover the field that I only just learned about.




  1. This is a great description of your experience in the course. Personally, I feel similarly about a lot of different items that you spoke of. I also did not exactly know what to expect when I signed up for the course. I knew that there was a requirement for Writing 101, and I liked a lot of the different offerings to fulfill it. However, I had a particular interest in taking the World Music offering, because I’ve always had a very straightforward view of music. I listen to a lot of different music, but I’d never really taken the time to analyze anything about the music which I cherished so dearly. In this course, I had the opportunity to study and discuss so many types of music that I never would have found, as you say, on my “Discover Weekly.” This type of exposure was awesome, because although I don’t plan on listening to dangdut while I study, it did change the way I think about the genres of music I listen to. Additionally, the course made me realize the abundance of music around the world, and how this music fits into the different cultures. Finally, I also find it disappointing that there is a noticeable lack of female ethnomusicologists. However, I’m optimistic that as our generation grows older, there will be an increase in gender diversity in the field of ethnomusicology.

  2. Hey Leonie! I really enjoyed reading your post and was able to relate to a lot of the things you mentioned in it.

    Like you, I had no idea what to expect about this course coming into it. To be quite honest, I was somewhat forced to take it because it was the only class to fit my schedule. However, I am very glad that this was the one that fit because I have learned a lot about how to approach musics from different cultures and have really enjoyed getting learn about a topic that I basically had zero prior knowledge on. Before taking this course, I always enjoyed listening music in all kinds of settings, but never really considered studying it, but now, due to all the work we have done over the semester, I can’t help but to try analyzing the musics I hear in their contexts and begin to form hypotheses.

    Also like you said, I too think it is really cool how without taking this class we may have never been exposed some of these different musics from different cultures around the world. It’s amazing too to think how there’s probably so many cultures out there whose music we will never hear because of how small their population is or how where they live. This will always serve as a challenge faced by those aiming to claim some kind of universality in music.

    Overall, this course taught me a lot about music from different cultures and how to view it from their perspectives and it also equipped me with some valuable tools to use when writing papers in the future. I know that I have definitely gained some valuable knowledge to take away from this class that I will not forget. Thanks Dr. Weinstein!

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