Writing about World Music

Section F, Fall 2016

Author: wihunt

The End?

Well, the end is near. I can honestly say that before this class, English and Music had never been a favorite class of mine, but this class definitely was the exception to that. It made both of these subjects much more interesting, and allowed me to study different sides of the subjects that I never really knew existed.  I enjoyed every minute of our class discussions and will definitely miss them. Before this class, I never really noticed the meaning behind music. To me, music had always been some kind of background noise that played in the car, restaurants, etc. However, it is much more than that. Each song has a certain culture, or in some cases a fake one like Adiemus, and I never realized how we sometimes cut that from a song. This class allowed me to delve deeper into subjects that I never really knew existed in the first place. I never thought, nor knew, about ethnomusicology, or schizophonia, yet throughout my study of them, I have found them to be really interesting topics. They touch on many different subjects besides music and English, like politics, history, etc. Without this class, I never would have known how much music was tied to other subjects. This is partly why I chose to observe the different cultures and interactions that are on display throughout Live Thursday Events.

 

Finally, I would like to say thank you to everyone that made this class so enjoyable to me, and especially Dr. Weinstein, for making these subjects interesting and fun to study. I truly have not had an English class that, as a whole, was so devoted to the topics, books, etc. that we studied before this one. Throughout this class, I feel like I learned more than just English, but history, politics, music, ethnomusicology, and in some cases geography.  So, now as I study for finals while my headphones play music into my ears, I’ll no longer just think of it as a white noise, but something much more. Even though for some of us this may be the end of studying ethnomusicology and schizophonia, we will never forget what we learned in this class. So, maybe this is not the end after all.

Reinventing Musical Instruments

When I went to the Live Thursday Event last night I was intrigued by this “new” instrument that I watched someone use to perform. It was an electronic violin. It was capable of recording the notes that the musician had just played, but also allow the musician to continue to play new notes. It automatically sampled itself. The musician was building up his own work as he continued playing. He would constantly add layers to the prior section, leading to a full fledge song.

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I have never seen anything like this. I was truly amazed by how much technology cam imitate a real violin. Sure, I have seen things like Garage Band, where we can manipulate specific notes that sound like a violin. However, I have never seen an object that is able to record and play music at the same time.

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I think this really speaks to how music itself is evolving with our technology. Before, this piece would have been played by at least six different people. Each person would have had to play a specific part at a specific time, in order to get the same effect. Now, however, one person is able to play all six parts at the same time. Sure it is a recording, but the fact that this recording is able to be played exactly when the musician wants it, in tune, on tempo, and sometimes immediately after they just played it themselves, is pretty incredible. I guess for me, I have never heard or seen these kinds of musical inventions, and I was truly surprised that something like this existed. I never would have thought that anyone would be able to mimic the violin in a way that sounds like a violin, is played like a violin, but requires an amp and can play recorded music instantly.

The Fluidity of Music

Last week, I commented on Madeleine’s post about how I also could not study and listen to music at the same time. Ironically, however, I am able to memorize things better when I make them into a song. Throughout my education, I constantly had to listen to or create songs that would help me memorize facts.  One of the most memorable was one I was taught in the second grade. It was about the fifty states and their capitals. Throughout the song, the singers would imitate accents from each state. Two still stand out too me today: the “nasally” Boston accent and the long drawn out Texas accents. I can still hear that southern woman singing  about how Austin, Texas is the capital of Texas.

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I find it weird how I am able to remember these things through song, and yet cannot focus while a song is playing. Whenever I study and listen to music, I focus on the song, not the work I need to get done. Maybe that is part of the reason I am able to remember things in song format. Song lyrics have always been easier for me, and most likely anyone, to memorize than something like the periodic table. In part, I think that might be because of the different tones that I hear within them. When you memorize a sheet of paper, it gets dull fast. Nothing on the paper changes. It is an object without any fluidity. However, songs offer contrast. There is difference from one stanza to the next. Listeners to music may have heard the same song a thousands times, however, they may still be able to notice certain arrangements for the first time. I think that it is easier for us to memorize things from songs because songs are simply more interesting than paper. When information is put into song format, it is able to keep us interested, but still allow us to retain information.  Paper does not change, however, songs can change every second. This might explain why it is so hard for me to focus on work while I listen to music. The reason might be just as simple as songs are much more interesting.

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From this, I have learned that music is not just a form of entertainment, or for some background noise for studying. It can be used as a study tool all by itself. I had forgotten this until writing last week. I had spent so much time trying to separate music from study, when in fact it may have been better to try to intertwine them more. I may have memorized that Periodic Table better if I had made it into a song. Really, what I am trying to get at, however, is that music should not just be looked at as simply a form of entertainment. It can be used for many things: worship, study, entertainment, etc. Music is fluid enough in that it can morph into anything, and still fit in with just about any context.

An Innovative Device

One thing I could not stop thinking about after class on Thursday were the different types of mbira that we played with. At first, I thought that these were very simple instruments, yet after thinking more over the weekend, I realized just how innovative they actually are.

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For instance, there was one that seemed to be made out a squash. The fact that anyone was capable of actually creating a musical instrument out a fruit is pretty amazing. When most look at food, they would easily just eat it, and then toss it. However, whoever created the mbira had much more imagination than most. They were able to turn what to many would be trash, into a much more spiritual, meaningful instrument that could be used for years as a way to connect with their god.

One of the things that truly makes these instruments so amazing is that they can be made out of multiple materials. They are not restricted to metal and wood. Their keys can be made out of wire, wood, or whatever else is able to make a similar sound. Some are industrialized in the shape of trapezoid; while others are much more natural, and made out of the shells of fruits and vegetables. Also they are all not constructed the same. They all have resonating chambers, yet some chambers have more than one hole in which the sound resonates.

The mbiras are truly works of art. They come in all different shapes and sizes, yet all are categorized under one instrument. That was another thing that perplexed as, yes there are different categories of mbira, yet they are all a part of one big mbira family. I have wondered why this was the case, because it seems so strange to me that one is able to classify two instruments that are engineered similarly, yet differently, as the same instrument. This is not the case in Western culture, as we see the violin is similar yet different to a viola. Maybe the word mbira is used in the same way as stringed instruments and percussion instruments.

Nevertheless, the ingenuity of the mbira makers is truly amazing. They are able to take such simple items, and use them to construct much more complex musical instruments. They are truly beautiful works of art.

The Universal Language

Many may say that math is the one true universal language, however, I feel people forget about one other language. Music is universally understood. Meaning, anyone from any culture can most likely feel the same feelings from one song, regardless if one can understand the language it is being sung in. Music is able to tell its listeners a story, just by the very notes that make up the piece.

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Notes within a song exude emotions through different types of chords. From the instant one plays a major chord, one can feel the lightheartedness in the song. The same can be said for minor chords, however the opposite emotion is felt. Words seem to not matter in songs when one wants to give off an emotion. Now, words can help a songwriter express their emotions, yet chords of a song secretly control the listener’s emotions.

There are many examples where singers in the United States are from abroad, sing in a different language, and are still successful recording artist. This is seen with Andre Bocelli, Celine Dion, etc. The notes that they sing are better at emitting an emotional response from an audience than some songs with the most poetic of verses. Much of this has to do with the tone of voice they use in their songs.

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Tone is not only a major player in music, but it is just as big in speech as. Once again, it does not really matter what a person says when they are speaking, as we can all tell if they are happy, upset, sad, etc., just by the tone of their voice. For instance, when someone is angry with you, the tone in their voice rises.  When someone is sad, the tone in their voice tends to deepen. We know when someone should be comforted just by the inflections in their voice.

This is further proven by the vast majority of remakes of songs. When we compare Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know”, with Sam Smith’s version, one can tell that the meaning of the two songs is completely different. Houston’s version is much more upbeat, and an overall “happier,” song; whereas Sam Smith’s version seems to give off a much darker meaning to the same song. This further proves that words are not important in setting the emotions a song gives off.

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To me, this proves that we, as humans, are really not all that different. If I can feel as much emotion as someone fluent in French when Celine Dion sings, it shows that tones are the voice for music. That we all, regardless of where we are from, can understand the meaning of a song without knowing what the words of it mean.

Music, like math is a universal language. We are all able to understand the meaning of a song just by listening to the main chords, notes, and tones. No one needs lyrics to a song to convey an emotion, the melody of a song is able to do that all on its own.

Havana Nights

Our bus was clear in sight. I quickly hurried onto it, as I was unsure of my surroundings. Doom and gloom hit me, as I saw the faded grandeur of the city. It was time to hop off. I walked through the decrepit, musty streets, and a pulse began to reverberate off of the colonial era buildings. Locals broke out into song, and began to liven the atmosphere. Focus was put on the music and having a good time, rather than being overtaken by a cell phone. Havana Nights are still very real and authentic.

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My first time out of the country deepened my love of music. Ever since I was little I watched as my cousins performed in front of hundreds at Busch Gardens. I was fascinated by the crowd’s reaction to my cousins’ voices. Yeah, they always sang well, but to me it was  just another cover of a pop song.  After going to Havana, however, I gained a new appreciation for music. Havana offers so many different pure styles: rap, pop, reggae, etc. After being cut off from the rest of the world, Havana’s music was able to foster its own identity, and not be corrupted by the current fads the rest of the world take part in.

Music pumped out of every car, every window, and every mouth. Music is the true escape for Cubans. Havana opened me up, and pushed me to explore other unique music from different cultures. This lead me to joining my high school’s choir. We sang music from all around the world: South African Prayers, Gregorian Chants, and much more. Havana taught me to appreciate the rhythms and beats of songs like these, as they are more than just another cash grab; they are outlets of expression.

Music is able to trigger endorphins within our bodies which can change our emotions. Music, for example, can make a gloomy street into the most vibrant piece of land on the planet within a matter of seconds. Music can take a bad day, and wrap it up into one of the happiest moments of our lives. I am excited to learn how this occurrence can be a byproduct of culture by studying ethnography.

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I am also excited about furthering my knowledge of music. From listening to all of my cousins sing on the stage at Busch Gardens, playing the piano myself, and to singing in my high school’s choir, music has always been a huge part of my life. I may not have always appreciated music to the fullest extent, but now I am ready to fully delve into it. I am open to experiencing new types of music, as it can broaden my horizons, and help me to find a different culture that I never knew existed.

Havana opened my eyes to the rest of the musical world. It made me realize that music is much more than just a catchy tune. Music instead should be treated as emotional expression. Music is a way humans emit their feelings. Havana Nights took me from the Billboard Hot 100, to the homegrown music that generations have passed down.