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EM Article EM News, Vol. 3, No.

2, May 1994

Cultural Components of Music

A Review and Application of the Figure 1 (entitled Cultural Components of Music) attempts
to show that music is much more than a system of sounds. In fact,
book The Western Impact on World it is Western culture that uniquely separates the sound of music
Music: Change, Adaptation and from other aspects of culture. This phenomenon itself can be seen
in the figure under Conceptualization/Motivation as
Survival (New York: Schirmer dependence of music on other domains. The fact that there are
Books, 1985 by Bruno Nettl). extracultural aspects of music should not be new to most of us, but
Todd Saurman in looking at culture change it is essential that we take into
consideration as many of these aspects as possible.
Music is so woven into the fabric of culture that it not only In Figure 1 I have also noted components that Nettl claims to
symbolizes extra musical aspects of a given culture but it also may be central to Western music as perceived by non-Western cultures.
symbolize, through change, the interaction and relationship with Labels that appear in bold are related to concepts that stood out to
other cultures. Bruno Nettl gives a clear presentation of the me as I read the book. I have included some components that I do
complexities of the impact of Western music on world music while not remember being directly referred to by Nettl. I am sure that
at the same time introducing concepts to help us better understand each of us might organize such a figure differently, including
the situation. An extensive bibliography is also provided in the components that I may have missed. I would be interested in
book. receiving your comments and suggestions in this regard. My hope
is that this figure would remind us to ask questions such as:
Theoretical considerations are discussed in the first five and
the final three chapters but the remaining thirty-two chapters are What are peoples attitudes toward innovation and
condensed ethnographic vignettes that accentuate the diversity of change?
music-related responses which other cultures have had to the West How is knowledge transmitted from generation to
over the last one hundred years. Indeed, diversity is the theme of generation?
this book. Do people see their music as having international
If this essay [book] has a message, it must How does the culture categorize different music
surely be that the coming of Western music, systems?
rather than bringing about the homogenization How is scholarship viewed?
of world music, has actually helped to make the How is electronic technology used, if it is used?
twentieth century a period of great musical
diversity. [xiv] When comparing two or more cultures in contact I would
suggest making separate figures for each culture including only
Nettl (xiv).clarifies this statement by admitting that while his those components that are relevant. Obviously a series of figures
view is optimistic he does not approve of the colonization, would be necessary for each culture to capture the historical
conquest, and exploitation of Third World peoples by Europeans progression. As cultures go through changes it would be expected
and North Americans... It should be made clear at this point that that certain components would appear and disappear, affecting
this book focuses more on dominant cultures such as the people of each other. For example, improvisation may disappear as notation
Iran, South India, Japan, and China than it does on minorities of becomes prominent, thus causing a shift to precision being more
oral tradition, with the exception of the American Indians. A valued. Other factors would also become apparent from a
person interested in indigenous minority groups might speculate historical comparison which I have displayed in the second figure.
that if the more dominant cultures have been as strongly impacted
by Western culture as this book suggests, then surely one cannot be
so optimistic about the outcome of the dominated groups. Influential and Resultant Factors in Culture Contact and
Nettl, too, is quick to update the reader regarding the Figure 2 is entitled Influential and Resultant Factors in
relatively recent Western ideas that (1) much contact between Culture Contact and Change. There is definitely some overlap
cultures had occurred long before the industrial revolution and that between the two figures in that certain cultural components of
(2) it is more helpful to examine the process of change than to music influence the results of contact and factors that influence
examine a culture as if it were static. change could be considered cultural components of music. As
influenced by Nettl I have extracted the core factors that seem to
While Nettl presents a very complex picture of music and the most determine the process of culture change and I have put them
issue of culture change, he also admits that the picture is vastly in this second figure. The general question of Who? was my
more complex. In an effort to pull all components of the picture of addition. The remaining questions were strongly emphasized by
music and culture change into one coherent whole, I have devised Nettl. I think of this figure as a computer in which one would feed
two figures. Each figure takes the ideas and concepts presented in in, at the top, all of the relevant cultural components of music from
the book and brings them together into one place. In the next the cultures in contact.
section, I will explain each figure and present suggestions for the
use of each figure in our work. In looking at a particular culture, the computer asks, Who are
we talking about? and What is their status? People are not the
same in every culture. Consequently, their responses to contact
with other cultures are not all the same. Throughout the vignettes
in the book, one can see the influence of economic, political, Nettls concluding remark reflects his own tempered view of other
educational, social, religious, and/or musical status as an essential cultures response to Western influence:
element in examining culture change. There are also questions of
young or old, urban or rural, male or female, insider or outsider, ...each [culture] has tried, sometimes at great
and the degree of influence each person or group has in a particular cost, to retain some significant degree of musical
situation. identity; and...each has found ways to symbolize, in
its music, the positive, negative, and ambiguous
At the same time that the computer asks who we are talking aspects of its relationship to European-derived
about and what cultural components of music are involved, it lifeways and values. [165]
needs to be asking what components are seen as central within the
donor culture and what components are perceived to be central in In reading Nettls book I had a real sense that he was trying to
the receptor culture. A related question would be, What is the communicate the importance of the relationship between
attitude of the person(s) in question toward their own culture in individuals in different cultures. The element of relationship
comparison to their attitude toward the receptor culture? I becomes filtered out in my figures but should by no means be
honestly could not think of a way to include attitude in the figure, forgotten. It is, after all, the nature of the relationship that helps
but it also was not directly emphasized by Nettl. I will come back form the attitudes that people in a given culture have about
to this point in the concluding remarks. themselves and others. Consider the following illustration from
this book:
Next the computer needs to ask which of the central
components are compatible or incompatible. Actually the answer William Shakespear, an Arapaho Indian living for
to this question will probably not be apparent to an outsider and the first seven decades of this century on the Wind River
thus each of the two cultures may interpret compatibility Reservation in Wyoming, spent his early and middle
differently. It might be easier to see what the people perceive as years learning much of the culture of his people. This
compatible after examining the response. In the theoretical included some very old traditional ceremonial songs but,
chapters Nettl compares and integrates classifications of responses to a larger extent, the recently developed songs of the
from Wachsmann, Blacking, Merriam, Kartomi, Shiloah and pan-Indian Movement that one would hear at powwows.
Cohen, and his own earlier writings. His main religious involvement was in the Peyote cult of
recent vintage, whose distinctive songs he learned by the
There are several illustrations of responses where central dozen and also composed. In 1950, he was sought out to
components are shown to be compatible. The change of accepting serve as a professional consultant by a midwestern
radio, amplification, recording concert format, and Western style university holding a summer-long institute in linguistics
scholarship can actually provide stability for the system of sound. and needing his help in research on the Arapaho
Such cases are seen in illustrations of South India and the language. There he also met a student of
American Indians. ethnomusicology who asked him to sing all of the songs
he knew, and to tell what he could of his musical culture.
A response of consolidation of music systems is said by Nettl He made important contributions to the understanding of
to be found among various Plains Indians. However, it should not the Arapaho language, patiently dictated texts, and
be assumed that all Plains Indians share a common music system helped develop methods for their analysis and for the
even to this day. explication of the musical culture. But in doing this he
also came to realize that there was much about his own
A syncretism of music systems is reported to exist between culture that he did not know, and he began to read the
African and Western music. While this coelescence is evident on accounts of anthropologists such as A.L. Kroeber who
both sides we should not assume that it is true of all African music had worked with his people around the turn of the
systems anymore than we can say that all Westerners accept twentieth century. He became an enthusiastic scholar in
African beats as compatible with Western music. the Western sense, taking books out of the library and
making interlibrary loan requests. He returned home to
When central components are incompatible, there is a wide Wyoming a changed person. He made a project of
spectrum of responses illustrated by Nettl. There is virtual teaching his people the traditional culture, as he knew it
abandonment of ethnic music among Australian Aboriginal urban and was able to learn it from books and older people. He
migrants. There is a form of artificial preservation in Japan. In the taught songs, and in various ways revived what had been
Japanese illustration music is kept as artifact and the actual process considered lost, and for this he became revered among
of composition in a particular style may be lost. There is an his people. Shakespear used the tools of Western
exaggeration of one or more components of music as seen in the scholarship and the white Americans interest in
importance of vocal timbre of the American Indians. Arapaho culture to foster revival of older tribal tradition
among his people. Indeed, it was the white mans
Conclusions interest that made him go back beyond pan-Indian songs
I have over simplified here what Nettle already admits is his and Peyote ceremonies to seek them out. [pp 108-109]
oversimplification and so I would highly recommend not just
seeing the movie but also reading the book. Nettl makes his In all we do, we should never forget that our lives are linked
point well that the impact of Western culture has not diminished with those of the people with whom we live and work. We can
the diversity that can be found but the harsh realities of culture learn from people as much as they can learn from us. Let us
change, especially among indigenous minority groups, temper the remember this as we do the task appointed us.
optimism that comes from discovering greater diversity. Even