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British Forum for Ethnomusicology

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Robert C. Provine
Reviewed work(s):
The rgas of Early Indian Music: Modes, Melodies, and Musical Notations from the Gupta
Period to c.1250 by Richard Widdess
Source: British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol. 6 (1997), pp. 211-212
Published by: British Forum for Ethnomusicology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3060842
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British Journal
of Ethnomusicology,
vol. 6
(1997)
British Journal
of Ethnomusicology,
vol. 6
(1997)
and
Europe
was a
clearly complex one, play-
ing
out the racism of American society."
Later
she notes the
great irony
that "while the
Castles
might
have been able to
discipline,
refine and sanitize dance movement and
attendant behaviour, ultimately they
could not
discipline
or erase the black male bodies that
made their music" (147).
A successful collection of
papers then, not
particularly
aided and abetted by
the intro-
ductory
and concluding chapters.
The other
chapters
are well written, well informed and
revealing.
One final
point.
John
Blacking's
name is not even mentioned in the book. This
is a serious and
glaring
omission in a work that
claims to be
setting
standards in
exploring
the
connections between body, gender, music,
dance and
politics; Blacking
was a
passionate
advocator of the
study
of the
interrelationships
between them, and of how each is
contingent
in
performance.
He made
pioneering
studies in
these areas from the 1950s onwards,
and
many
of these
early
works contain ideas
pertinent
and relevant to current studies (see,
for
example, Blacking
1964 and
1967).
References
Blacking,
John (1964)
Black
background:
the
childhood
of
a South
African girl.
London/New York: Abelard Schuman.
(1967)Venda
children's songs.
Witswatersrand Univ. Press.
Repr. 1996,
Univ. of
Chicago
Press.
Cowan, Jane (1990)
Dance and the
body
politic
in northern Greece. Princeton Univ.
Press.
Gilmore,
David (1990)
Manhood in the
making:
cultural
concepts of masculinity.
Yale Univ. Press.
Holst, Gail (1977)
The road to rembetika:
music
of
a Greek sub-culture.
Songs of love,
sorrow and hashisch. Athens:
Anglo-
Hellenic
Publishing.
Manuel, Peter
(1998) Popular
musics
of
the
non-Western world: an
introductory survey.
Oxford Univ. Press.
Slobin, Mark (1996) Retuning
culture: musical
changes
in central and eastern
Europe.
Duke Univ. Press.
Stokes, Martin (1994) Ethnicity, identity
and
music: the musical construction
of place.
Oxford/Providence: Berg.
Washabaugh.
William (1996)
Flamenco:
passion, politics
and
popular
culture.
Oxford / Washington,
D.C.:
Berg.
and
Europe
was a
clearly complex one, play-
ing
out the racism of American society."
Later
she notes the
great irony
that "while the
Castles
might
have been able to
discipline,
refine and sanitize dance movement and
attendant behaviour, ultimately they
could not
discipline
or erase the black male bodies that
made their music" (147).
A successful collection of
papers then, not
particularly
aided and abetted by
the intro-
ductory
and concluding chapters.
The other
chapters
are well written, well informed and
revealing.
One final
point.
John
Blacking's
name is not even mentioned in the book. This
is a serious and
glaring
omission in a work that
claims to be
setting
standards in
exploring
the
connections between body, gender, music,
dance and
politics; Blacking
was a
passionate
advocator of the
study
of the
interrelationships
between them, and of how each is
contingent
in
performance.
He made
pioneering
studies in
these areas from the 1950s onwards,
and
many
of these
early
works contain ideas
pertinent
and relevant to current studies (see,
for
example, Blacking
1964 and
1967).
References
Blacking,
John (1964)
Black
background:
the
childhood
of
a South
African girl.
London/New York: Abelard Schuman.
(1967)Venda
children's songs.
Witswatersrand Univ. Press.
Repr. 1996,
Univ. of
Chicago
Press.
Cowan, Jane (1990)
Dance and the
body
politic
in northern Greece. Princeton Univ.
Press.
Gilmore,
David (1990)
Manhood in the
making:
cultural
concepts of masculinity.
Yale Univ. Press.
Holst, Gail (1977)
The road to rembetika:
music
of
a Greek sub-culture.
Songs of love,
sorrow and hashisch. Athens:
Anglo-
Hellenic
Publishing.
Manuel, Peter
(1998) Popular
musics
of
the
non-Western world: an
introductory survey.
Oxford Univ. Press.
Slobin, Mark (1996) Retuning
culture: musical
changes
in central and eastern
Europe.
Duke Univ. Press.
Stokes, Martin (1994) Ethnicity, identity
and
music: the musical construction
of place.
Oxford/Providence: Berg.
Washabaugh.
William (1996)
Flamenco:
passion, politics
and
popular
culture.
Oxford / Washington,
D.C.:
Berg.
KEVIN DAWE
The
Open University
k.n.dawe@open.ac.uk
KEVIN DAWE
The
Open University
k.n.dawe@open.ac.uk
RICHARD WIDDESS, The
rigas
of
early
Indian music: modes, melodies, and musical
notations from the
Gupta period
to c. 1250.
Oxford
Monographs
on Music. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1995. xvii +
429pp.,
photos, maps, tables, transcriptions, appen-
dices, glossary, references, index. ISBN 0-
19-315464-1 (hard).
Richard Widdess did not invent historical
ethnomusicology,
but he has had an
important
hand both in
identifying
it as a
subdiscipline
(1992)
and in
advancing
the field. The
ragas
of
early
Indian music is historical in both the
chronological sense, dealing
with materials
from the distant
past,
and in the
disciplinary
sense that in
being critically interpretative
of
materials from the
past,
it informs our under-
standing
of
present-day
Indian musical
practices.
The
subject presents
an enormous
challenge,
and Widdess has met it
impres-
sively.
The book is
organized
into three
large
parts:
the first is in two sections
-
a
conspectus
of the nature of the evidence on which the
study
is based,
that is, the
documentary
sources,
and a
large
theoretical
chapter
on
"modes",
in which Widdess sorts out the
early
meanings
of
jdti
and
raga.
The second
part
combines an introduction to the
study
of
musical notations in India with several case
studies, including
the famous
Kudumiyamalai
Inscription.
The third
part analyzes
the data
produced by
the first two
parts,
in terms such
as the
dynamics
of
raga
and the function of
alap.
So far,
it doesn't sound much like
ethnomusicology,
in which we have come to
expect
at least interaction with informants and
consideration of context. But it is
striking
how
the sources
speak
to Widdess in
ways
similar
to informants: the material is
incomplete,
misleading, contradictory,
unclear and
tantalyzing,
not to mention
complex, frag-
mented and sometimes
corrupt.
It is often
difficult to make even
conjectural
sense of the
data,
and Widdess does a
remarkably
sane
job
under the circumstances. I find his deductive
process
not dissimilar in kind from that which
Paul Berliner, working
with
living informants,
followed in his
study
of mbira
(1978).
RICHARD WIDDESS, The
rigas
of
early
Indian music: modes, melodies, and musical
notations from the
Gupta period
to c. 1250.
Oxford
Monographs
on Music. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1995. xvii +
429pp.,
photos, maps, tables, transcriptions, appen-
dices, glossary, references, index. ISBN 0-
19-315464-1 (hard).
Richard Widdess did not invent historical
ethnomusicology,
but he has had an
important
hand both in
identifying
it as a
subdiscipline
(1992)
and in
advancing
the field. The
ragas
of
early
Indian music is historical in both the
chronological sense, dealing
with materials
from the distant
past,
and in the
disciplinary
sense that in
being critically interpretative
of
materials from the
past,
it informs our under-
standing
of
present-day
Indian musical
practices.
The
subject presents
an enormous
challenge,
and Widdess has met it
impres-
sively.
The book is
organized
into three
large
parts:
the first is in two sections
-
a
conspectus
of the nature of the evidence on which the
study
is based,
that is, the
documentary
sources,
and a
large
theoretical
chapter
on
"modes",
in which Widdess sorts out the
early
meanings
of
jdti
and
raga.
The second
part
combines an introduction to the
study
of
musical notations in India with several case
studies, including
the famous
Kudumiyamalai
Inscription.
The third
part analyzes
the data
produced by
the first two
parts,
in terms such
as the
dynamics
of
raga
and the function of
alap.
So far,
it doesn't sound much like
ethnomusicology,
in which we have come to
expect
at least interaction with informants and
consideration of context. But it is
striking
how
the sources
speak
to Widdess in
ways
similar
to informants: the material is
incomplete,
misleading, contradictory,
unclear and
tantalyzing,
not to mention
complex, frag-
mented and sometimes
corrupt.
It is often
difficult to make even
conjectural
sense of the
data,
and Widdess does a
remarkably
sane
job
under the circumstances. I find his deductive
process
not dissimilar in kind from that which
Paul Berliner, working
with
living informants,
followed in his
study
of mbira
(1978).
211 211
212 British Journal
of Ethnomusicology,
vol. 6 (1997)
As shown
by
the table of contents, Widdess
is not
very
concerned with context. There is,
admittedly,
a
passage
on
"history, ethnology
and
raga"
in the first
part,
but
broadly
speaking
he focuses on the data rather than its
environment. While he situates
every piece
of
evidence historically,
he
usually
does not
pause
to
ponder
its role in social context.
Nevertheless, Widdess
gives plenty
of
proof
of
an
understanding
of what we
might
call meta-
context,
the cross-cultural sensitivity
and
open-mindedness
to which all ethnomusicolo-
gists
should
aspire
and which
distinguishes
them from run-of-the-mill historical musicolo-
gists.
I think
particularly
of the
"approach
to
the
study
of
early
Indian music notations"
(87-
102),
which should be
required reading
for
anyone needing
to understand what musical
notation is all about.
The book contains an abundance of
original
terminology,
which Widdess
always
defines
clearly
and
explains perceptively; given
the
nature of the
topic, explanation
of
terminology
is one of the most useful
things
that an
historical work such as this can do. Those of
us who are not
experts
on Indian music can
learn a
great
deal from Widdess'
clarity
of
thought
and
apply
it to our own fields. For
example,
in
speaking
of
jati,
he
says,
"Each
jati
is defined
by
a
'group
of characters',
comprising
a
type,
rather than
by
one
single
criterion or definition;
and it
potentially
comprises many
'individual instances',
not
individually identified,
which
may
lack one or
more characters,
but are still
aesthetically
true
to
type" (47).
I wish I had said that about
traditional Korean rhythmic patterns.
It is an art to define a term
clearly
without
being
more
precise
than the
concept
of the
term warrants,
and Widdess' careful defini-
tions
get top
honours.
Having
raga
treated as
both a
"concept"
and a
"phenomenon",
for
example,
is
highly
instructive. Widdess does
give English equivalents
of the
original
terms
when
possible
and useful, but he
habitually
continues to
give
the
significant original
terms
in brackets after occurrences of the
English
version, especially
when
translating
a
passage
from a
primary
source. It is an honest
procedure
which leaves the author
exposed to
critical
investigation;
if we have the
expertise,
we can readily
check
up
on him. Given the
quantity
of
original terminology,
most readers
will be
glad
to
keep
one
finger
in the
helpful
glossary containing summary
definitions.
This book is not
light reading,
and the
writing
is
highly
dense. A
great
deal of
thought
and effort has
gone
into each sentence,
and that makes the text slow
going;
there are
no
throw-away
sentences
anywhere,
and the
analytical chapters
in
particular require
a
perseverance
which is
amply
rewarded.
Those worried about the relevance of this
seemingly
remote historical material to current
practice
should take heart: Widdess
sprinkles
useful and
revealing
observations about the
present
whenever the
history
informs the
observation. A
particularly
useful
passage
in
this
regard
is the
transcription
and
analysis
of
a modern
dbrupad alap (313-20).
Much of the data in this book has been
studied before,
much has been the
subject
of
heated debate,
and there are
strongly-held
opinions by experts
on all sides. But Widdess
shows it is
possible
to write
beautifully
and
informatively
in the total absence of recrimina-
tion and accusation,
and the book is an
excellent demonstration of the
complete
dispensability
of the confrontational, aggres-
sive,
moral
high-ground
writing
which has
recently
become so common in ethno-
musicology.
References
Berliner, Paul (1978)
The soul of
mbira. Univ.
of California Press.
Widdess, Richard (1992)
"Historical
ethnomusicology".
In Helen
Myers (ed.)
Ethnomusicology:
an introduction, 219-37.
London: Macmillan.
ROBERT C. PROVINE
University of
Durham
r.c.pro
vine @ durham.ac.uk