Writing American Indian Music: Historic Transcriptions, Notations, and Arrangements. (Book Reviews: Ethnomusicology).
Students of North American Indian music who wish to engage in dialogue with their musicologist colleagues are often stymied by the problems of notation and the apparent lack of historical notations. Researchers into traditions in the American northeast, for example, must comb through the pages of seventeenth-century reports of European explorations into North America for scanty references to singing, dancing, and drumming. There is a widespread perception that since the traditions are oral, meaningful notation does not exist before sound recordings.
Victoria Lindsay Levine argues in the prefatory essay to this valuable collection that not only has notation of native repertories by outsiders (such as European explorers, missionaries, and later anthropologists) been going on since the late sixteenth century, but these notations are a record of the history of cultural interaction between Native Americans and Europeans. The title of her prefatory essay, "Reading American Indian Music as Social History," cogently makes this point in itself. The interaction began with native musicians who consented to assist in documentation of their traditions, and ultimately involved native people using and extending European forms of notation. The European systems of documentation used by outsiders to transcribe songs in their efforts to preserve traditions have, in turn, been used to maintain those traditions within the native communities themselves. Further, some indigenous traditional systems of notating songs, examples of which are included in this collection, were eith er used before or developed during the period of European contact.
This volume could do much to correct misconceptions about the transcription and notation of Native American music. The transcriptions alone add considerably to the resources available for the study of these musical traditions. Levine has carefully chosen examples that illuminate the history of transcription. In addition to classic examples from the major works of Important ethnographers, those by lesser-known persons show several interesting and significant innovations. The book could well serve as an introduction to the area of study, particularly given the excellence of the prefatory essay. The reproductions are wonderful, in many cases better than the original sources. The presentation of each example is uniform and clear, accessible even to nonspecialists. Nine photographs of musicologists and native musicians (included in plates 1-10) add a human context to the collection; there are also two color plates of graphic representations.
As a collection, the volume is more like others in the series Recent Researches in American Music (Madison, Wisc.: A-R Editions, 1977-- ), for example, Richard Crawford's The Core Repertory of Early American Psalmody (vols. 11-12, 1984), than those that have so far appeared in the series Music of the United States of America (Madison, Wisc.: A-R Editions, 1993-- ), devoted to individual composers.
Altogether, this volume presents a selection of 116 examples of notated Native American music, covering the geographic area of the United States and Canada. The majority are in score format, but examples of other forms (solfege, mnemonic graphemes, melograph, and metrical text) are also represented. The editor has attempted to include examples from all the major cultural groups and areas, and the result is quite impressive. The arrangement is not strictly chronological, but "organized by topics" (p. xx), which reflect four cultural approaches to understanding and presenting Native American music: "Explorations of American Indian Music," "Native Notations and Transcriptions," "Popular Arrangements, and "Composer Arrangements." Levine has done a wonderful job of balancing geographical, historical, musicological, and social concerns to produce a collection edited with critical aplomb and acumen.
The only conceptual difficulty in the topical categorization is that transcriptions by nonnative persons are set off from those by natives--including native anthropologists and ethnomusicologists. All examples of work by natives is grouped in the section "Native Notations and Transcription," which seems to imply that identity is more important than the difference between emic notation and etic transcription that is so clearly explained in the prefatory essay. The editor argues that native people in these professional capacities brought a different perspective to bear on the task of representation, and often extended the standard Euro-American academic systems of notation as a result. But, as the examples in the first section ("Explorations of American Indian Music") clearly show, nonnatives were also resourceful in extending standard systems as needed. This editorial decision maintains the essential difference between natives and nonnatives; but as this difference is a fact of life, it would unduly burden thi s collection to mount a refutation. Composers of all ethnicities are grouped together in the section "Composer Arrangements.
The prefatory essay, "Reading American Indian Music as Social History," (pp. xix--xxxviii) discusses clearly and concisely the differences between various representations of Native American music and the distinctions between notation and transcription; it could stand on its own as a contribution to ethnomusicology. All these issues are thorny, and often presented more obtusely. With ample references to the standard literature on issues of transcription, and richly illuminated by the examples, the essay might well be illuminating reading for graduate level introductions to musicology.
Each reproduced example comes with a critical apparatus that gives specific details about the score, and the entries can be approached either individually or by reading the prefatory essay. This gives the volume versatility, and increases its potential audience. Included in the critical apparatus for each example are a description of the piece itself, including cultural and geographical provenance and functional category; the date of first publication, and transcription or notation where applicable; the bibliographic source; the type of process that the score represents (transcription, arrangement, composition); a brief description of the process, including whether transcribed from a recording or live performance if that information is known; biographical information about the transcriber, notator, or commentator, and singers; reason for selection; comments and critical notes. The bibliographic source entry also cites recordings when available. The comments and critical notes for entries are expanded as neces sary to explain details of the notation, and cultural context of the song.
While the prefatory essay treats general issues in the history of transcribing Native American songs admirably, it is unfortunate that more space could not have been devoted to critical assessment of the transcriptions themselves, particularly those in the first section of the volume ("Explorations"). There are issues, no doubt, surrounding many of the transcriptions, and the methods of many of the ethnographers whose transcriptions are included have been discussed in detailed individual studies. A short note pointing out known problems would have been helpful. For example, Natalie Curtis ("Maliseet Dance-Song," pp. 58-59, ex. 37) did not study Native American languages, nor to my knowledge did she cross-check all of her transcriptions. Her project of representing songs from as many native traditions in the United States as possible was probably too broad to allow extended contact with most communities. The result of her method is that many of her transcriptions suffer from idiosyncratic representation of pho nemes, misunderstandings of rules of combining text and melody, and, at worst, suspected misrepresentation on the part of some singers (see Nicholas N. Smith, "The Wabanaki Trading Dance," in Papers of the Twenty-Seventh Algonquian Confrrence, ed. David Pentland [Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1996], 241). (The example of Curtis's work included here happens to be the same transcription that I once spent three hours going over with a native speaker and singer trying to reconstruct the actual text.)
Overall, the selection criteria for the examples in the volume makes sense; these are the examples and scholars one would wish to see included in a collection that introduces the field and serves as a teaching resource. Oddly, the very first entry in the volume is questionable, and the excellence of the volume as a whole should not be judged on the basis of this. For example, in the case of Membertou's Song (which appears as solfege syllables in a passage of text), I wonder why the original bibliographic source, Marc Lescarbot's Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (3d ed. [Paris: Ghez Adrian Perier, 1618]), was not chosen, instead of the quotation of the passage in Gabrielle Sagard-Theodat's Histoire du Canada...(Paris: n.p., 1636). Sagard misnamed the song as Huron when it was Souriquois (ancestors of the modern Mi'kmaq), and the presentation here could be confusing since the critical notes do not resolve the discrepancy. Both Lescarbot's and Sagard's works have been available in various reprinted editions with c ommentary since the mid-nineteenth century. Lescarbot's work offers much more contextual information (Marc Lescarbot, History of New France, 3 vols., trans. William Lawson Grant [Publications of the Champlain Society 1, 7, 11; reprint, New York: Greenwood Press, 1968], 1: 106-9). Furthermore, he was a fascinating character, and his polymathic abilities have some bearing on the nature of his transcriptions. Also, the citation given to a reprint of Sagard's quotation in the Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (ed. R. G. Thwaites [Cleveland: Borrows Bros., 1896-1901]) fails to give the volume and page number--an absolute necessity in a seventy-three-volume work! It may well be an error, as my search of the volumes turned up no references to it. The critical notes to example 2, Sagard's arrangement of these same songs for four vocal parts, do not point out the alterations he made: Sagard put the songs into meter, thus necessitating adding and dropping syllables. Other examples in the volume do contain notes abo ut discrepancies of notation, and between the transcriptions and available recordings.
These minor details do not detract from the volume's usefulness as a collection of important examples and an introduction to academic or amateur study in the history of Native American music. This volume could certainly have a wider audience than musicologists and academic specialists in Native American studies. Given that all things Native American are popular--and increasingly, required course material in secondary schools--and given that the reproductions are so clearly presented, the volume could even serve as a resource for junior high and high school teachers--indeed, even for Boy Scout and Girl Scout leaders advising advanced projects.
The only regret I have about the volume is that its price may be out of the range of the more general audience I believe it could find. Nevertheless, the expense is certainly justified by the superior quality of the reproductions. The softcover binding showed wear after a few days of serious use, so the additional expense of hardcover rebinding for public use would be recommended. Another quibble is that the margins on even-numbered pages were not shifted, so some material might be difficult to see after rebinding. (My thanks to Barbara Thorpe, librarian of Raymond Village Library of Raymond, Maine, for her comments on these points.)
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|Author:||Spinney, Ann Morrison|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2003|
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