The primary objective of the SMT Analysis of World Music Interest Group is to provide a unique interdisciplinary platform from which to explore the panoply of global musical traditions, both past and present, that lie outside the purview of Western art music from the broadest possible array of theoretical, cultural, historical and analytical perspectives. This group is allied with the SEM Special Interest Group on Analysis of World Music and the organization Analytical Approaches to World Music (AAWM).

Notes from the 2019 AWMIG Meeting

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      Anna Yu Wang

      At the 2019 meeting of the SMT in Columbus, Ohio, the Analysis of World Music Interest Group hosted a workshop to discuss how music theorists can meaningfully represent diverse global and vernacular musics in our classrooms. The first part of the workshop consisted of pedagogical demonstrations given by Jane Clendinning, Richard Cohn, Daniel Goldberg, John Roeder, and Anna Wang, followed by a response by Robin Attas. In the second half of the session we opened the floor to a discussion around the ethical imperatives and challenges of presenting such diverse repertoires to our students. Contributions to this discussion were recorded in writing (and can be found in the ‘docs’ section of this Humanities Commons page) and will be integrated into the introduction of a special issue we are planning with Engaging Students. More information about this issue and ways to contribute to this collective endeavor to decenter music theory pedagogy can be found at the end of this report.

      To recap the first part of our workshop: Clendinning introduced us to the rich cultural and class significations of “Despacito,” including the three Puerto Rican musical traditions from which the pop song draws and the waves it has made in musical circles across diverse ethnicities. Cohn showed  that metric subcycles described in African music theory can have cross-cultural pertinence, which he demonstrated using animated examples of the initiation and conclusion of interlaid cycles over the lifespan of a musical excerpt. For Goldberg’s presentation we pushed our chairs to the side, joined hands with one another, and were taught to dance (and thus to embody!) the 5/8 and 7/8 non-isochronous meters of Balkan dance music. Roeder’s teaching demonstration was similarly concerned with metre. He asked us to beat to the tactus we intuited from several excerpts of West African music before revealing how differently the tactus was interpreted by musical insiders, an exercise that illuminated the contrasting metric templates listeners inherit through their membership to different musical cultures. Wang’s demonstration uncovered some of the cultural affordances of the pentatonic scale as practiced by huangmei opera artists. We sang through characteristic opera melodies in jianpu notation to gather a sense of the vocal buoyancy afforded by the arrangement of pentatonic intervals and the related lightness of aesthetic character valued by huangmei opera artists. Finally, Attas offered her remarks in response to this panel, touching on the power of multimodal approaches to pedagogy (whether through dancing, singing, or clapping) and bringing to light a vital connective thread between teaching our students to engage ethically with the musics of other cultures and teaching them to engage ethically with the people of those cultures.

      Meeting attendees then drew on their impressions of the presentations and their personal experiences as scholar-pedagogues to discuss the ethical imperatives and pitfalls of integrating world musics into the music theory classroom. The points raised included the implications of having a music theory professoriate trained primarily in the Western art music tradition teach culturally diverse repertoires, and the need to negotiate a critical balance between discussions of cultural similarity and cultural difference, or universalism and relativism. We invite you to read through the notes from this discussion, which will be posted shortly under “Ethical Imperatives and Snares of Diversifying Music Theory Pedagogy” in the Docs section of our Humanities Commons page. We also encourage you to offer your own contributions to the prompt (our open-floor discussion was unfortunately truncated due to time) by adding comments directly to the editable doc. These comments will ultimately be worked into an introduction, collectively authored by the Analysis of World Music Interest Group, for a special issue in Engaging Students on the pedagogy of diverse musics and theories.

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