Thursday, January 12, 2012

music class - bringing in diverse human experiences

While visiting a high school choir class, the anthropologist in me found ways to introduce vocal art to illustrate some of the variety of music expression. Surely there are more or better references to sample, but these came first to mind:

-(Japan) Noh theater solos
-(Polynesia? Micronesia?) hymn in quarter tones
-(Swiss; USA) yodeling
-(USA) work songs to synchronize group exertions
-(USA) Sacred Harp (shape note singing) in hollow square
-(USA) rapping (cf. Bobby McFerrin vocal percussion)
-(USA) vocal jazz 'scat singing'
-(Scotland) mouth music (imitating instruments)
-(ancient Britain) slaves brought to Imperial Rome: novelty of singing in 3rds
-(Bulgaria) women's chorus singing in 9ths and 7ths
-(Central Asia) Tuva "throat singing"
-song circles for healing
-(India) mantra repetitions

These could be extra-credit assignments for students to report to the class (or in writing to the teacher), for the teacher to playback samples (Wikipedia; Wikimedia), to demonstrate and challenge students to produce each of these.

Why don’t other animals produce or consume such things as dance, music, visual art...

Humans feel motivated to create and consume many artistic forms. Why don't other animals produce or consume such things as dance, music, visual art, verbal arts of story and lyric and declamation?


Recognizing patterns and relationships, then applying ones known by experience to new material is something that characterizes human minds and hearts. In abstract terms this search for meaning is an extension from the core motivation in spoken (and thus also written) language. For some reason a given musical phrase, movement sequence, or choice of words stands out in a person's mind. It "means" something or resonates with a feeling or concept in one's own mind, as yet perhaps not articulated into a definite form. The artist answers a specific itch by producing sequences of pattern and meaning. The audience may dwell on a novel piece of work to grasp it, or in dim recognition of knowing it from another place or medium. Alternatively the audience may be actively seeking something to touch the itch they feel, and therefore browse rapidly through the works until they find something partly or fully connected to the meaning they are seeking. In the case of visual arts, the elements of composition, light, texture, narrative (intertexuality) or context could spark the feeling of recognition and personal meaning attached to the work. In other words the meaning can be perceived indirectly, incidentally and thus unintentionally.