M.A. Examination:
Folklore and Ethnomusicology
Spring, 1992

These three essays were written in a four-hour session. The judging professors awarded me a "Pass with Distinction", which was a high honor that rather stunned me. I should have been encouraged, since this recognition came in the same period as my award of the Richard Dorson Prize for outstanding student paper and my acceptance as a Graduate Assistant (a.k.a. T.A.) for the '92-93 school year. Yet I chose that moment to burn out. I turned down the Assistantship and took a semester off from school to just work and live (and got marriage counseling along the way, too). I finished my Ph.D. coursework as a part-time student, and took the Ph.D. Exams in the Spring of 1994.

I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I had braved things out and stayed in school. Although that would have kept me on track towards an academic career (an entirely different universe, indeed!), it would have also meant sacrificing the very valuable friendships I built during that period through work (of course, all those friends have moved away by now...). I imagine that either my marriage wouldn't be so happy or that I might not be married any more (shiver) if I had kept flogging myself forward without attending to other important things.

But I digress.

Q: Alan Merriam's The Anthropology of Music brought into focus key theoretical issues in ethnomusicology, and established a framework for the organization of the discipline. Evaluate the impact of this work on subsequent scholarship, choosing three works written since the publication of Merriam's work.

In 1964 Alan Merriam achieved with his The Anthropology of Music a cogent validation of the reorientation of much of ethnomusicological work from the study of "exotic" music as sound structure, to the study of music as something people did which had meaning and purpose for them --in his terms, music in culture or music as human behavior. A similar "revolution" brewing in folkloristics would not have its official articulation, and then as a concerted effort by several young scholars, until 1971 with the JAF number which would be published in 1972 as Toward New Perspectives in Folklore. In ethnomusicology the road had been no less rocky than for the folklorists, in coming to terms with a division within the discipline. In ethnomusicology's case, this division adhered between the traditional "old guard" musicologists who studied "other" music as a side-line to their training in Western Art Music, and for whom that music largely consisted of transcriptions in Western notation, i.e., a musical text to be analyzed; and for those who came to music from an interest in culture, or whose musical interests inclined them toward issues of aesthetics and social setting, i.e., a musical context to be described and interpreted. Alan Merriam was one of those who worked to bridge that gap, like Charles Seeger among the musicologists, but as his title indicates, his emphasis remained within the anthropological vanguard. What he achieved for subsequent scholars was a full, reasoned articulation of how music could be examined in culture yet still be comprehended as a musical structure, using the tools of both anthropological and musical analysis. The works of John Blacking, Stephen Feld, and Ruth Stone explore some of the avenues Merriam's work opened for scholars in ethnomusicology who wished to perform more than a musical analysis, and more than a cultural exposition: the study of music in culture.

John Blacking's 1971 How Musical is Man? argues in no uncertain terms both the weaknesses and the strengths of the Western musicological tradition as an approach to music-making. For Blacking, a conservatory-trained musician, the discovery of other ways of making and thinking about music (primarily among the Venda of southern Africa) was something of an epiphany, one which he at first resisted. By the time How Musical is Man? was written, however, he had developed an interest in these "other ways" which was both scholarly and personal, and which caused him to completely re-evaluate the attitudes which the conservatory had promulgated, while retaining the skills which emphasised musical structures of tone and form. The idea, which Merriam had so systematically presented, that music is something people do and care about on many levels, not just in concert halls and practice studios but with and for each other to meet certain needs, was to mark Blacking's work. Out of this work came the definition of music as humanly organized sound, along with ideas about the physicality of music-making. Blacking came to strongly criticize the elitist, insular attitudes fortifying the Western Art Music establishment, and to advocate a more holistic view of music as human behavior as well as sound system.

In 1982 Stephen Feld published a ground-breaking study of music aesthetics among the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea, entitled Sound and Sentiment. Through an exploration of the musical structure of Kaluli singing, in combination with an immersion in the Kaluli terminology surrounding that structure and expected responses to it, Feld produced a Geertzian thick description of how the Kaluli make music, and what it means to them. In doing this Feld actively refuted the view that "primitive" people --and New Guineans have traditionally been held to be among the most "primitive"-- have no music theory. He posited instead that researchers need an insider's understanding of how people talk about their music, citing Merriam's claim that the Flathead of Montana never talked about their music and had no articulated ideas about it. While rebuking this aspect of Merriam's work, Feld explored in Merriam's terms the emotional function of music, the primary thrust of his book being that Kaluli singing is meant to evoke intense emotional response, to cause men to weep.

Ruth Stone's Let the Inside Be Sweet, also published in 1982, explored the relationships between musicians in performance among the Kpelle people of Liberia, how they cue one another and frame the structures of their music. Following Merriam's cue Stone examined how musicians act in society, and how music-making is worked out as something done by people in social context with specific social values and expectations. She also took advantage of something Merriam did not have access to in 1964, namely, performance theory, which gave her tools for exploring the immediacy of performance situations and how they emerge and are defined as "performances" separate from the everyday. In Let the Inside Be Sweet Stone used musical analysis as a means of getting at these systems of performance, transcribing in order to detect within musical sound the structures of musical enactment, including the linguistic and physical cues among and between both performers and audience which were just as crucial to the situation as pitch and orchestration.

Blacking, Feld and Stone worked in a field which Merriam had opened up to their cultural interests. While Merriam's brand of structuralism may no longer be applied in toto, his emphasis on musical and cultural values, and on music as human behavior, gave structure and force to a more complete way of doing music study, one which had been argued back and forth for decades but which could now proceed more surefootedly as both an anthropological and a musicological endeavor (if heavily weighted toward the anthropological). While Charles Seeger's ideal of a "musicology" which includes all forms of music-making may never be realized within the conservatory, The Anthropology of Music provides a framework for discussing any music simply as human music, without forfeiting the skills and understandings provided by formal (Western) musical training.

Q: Folklore has traditionally been conceived of as a collective phenomenon, yet a number of works on the M.A. Reading List--including (but not limited to) Buchan, The Ballad and the Folk, Degh, Folktales and Society, Lord, The Singer of Tales, Glassie, Ives, and Szwed, Folksongs and Their Makers--focus centrally on individual performers. Discuss the ways in which the relationship between the individual and the collective is treated in three major works of folklore scholarship.

The nature of the relationship between the individual and the collective--what it means to be an individual in community-- has been a central and motivating issue in folklore studies from Herder onwards. Different theories have obtained concerning which of the two is most critical for scholarly attention, and on what levels of interaction between the two folklore is made. These ideas hinge on conceptions of "the folk" as well as on conceptions of the nature of folklore materials. If the folk are an undifferentiated collective representing the oral heritage of educated Europe, then the individual is not an issue; if the folk are the conduit for folklore transmission and diffusion, then the individual is important insofar as he or she affects that process, usually to harm it through faulty memory or poor narrative skill; if the folk are a group of individuals related to one another who creatively respond to that relationship and their shared background, then the individual becomes the source of folklore and the focus of attention as a performer. The history of folklore scholarship has not run in a straight line by any means, and diverse points of view fall off the cart, so to speak, when generalizations are made; but ideas about the individual and the collective surrounding "the folk", the nature of "oral tradition", and the significance of folklore provide a means of tracing our own heritage as folklorists. From Child's Ballads through Krohn's Folklore Methodology to Toelken's Dynamics of Folklore and onwards, we can look to assumptions and articulations about how the individual works in community in order to understand our intellectual history and present place.

In early folklore studies, "the folk" were the European peasantry, who romantically epitomized the spirit of a nation, or embodied the remnants of a communal, pastoral culture (in Rousseau's sense, "natural") being lost to industrialisation, whose vanishing oral traditions must be recorded before their extermination by the forces of literate modernity. Folklore as the product of the collective was the study object for scholars such as the Grimms and Child; individual creativity and individual performances were not the issue, but bodies of repertoire and their relationships to one another. Child's famous and voluminous study, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, published from 1882-1898, epitomizes this approach. Child believed that ballads were composed communally, and that their significance lay in their nature as sung narratives. He distrusted oral versions, although he also made some field collections, because of the contamination of literacy; he preferred instead to collect his texts from old printed sources and previous collections. For him the purity of the oral tradition was already lost, too late to be preserved, and the primary interest in the ballads lay not in a living tradition but in a literary record of collective folk artistry and history. The individual was currently an unreliable source, and historically a member of a whole which was itself important primarily as a producer of folk literature.

Later, with the historic-geographic method, the individual began to come into the picture, but as a weak link in the chain, the place where transmission of lore could be broken or marred. Kaarle Krohn's Folklore Methodology, first published in 1926 but not appearing in English translation until 1971 [69?], fully outlines this approach. Tale variants were to be collected as completely as possible in the effort to trace historical diffusion over land and from culture to culture. The method was motivated in part by the Indo-Europeanist discoveries and nationalist movements of the 19th-century, the former of which linked the "Aryan" peoples of Europe and northern India in one vast linguistic (and possibly folkloric/religious) family. The idea was to trace idealized texts to their probable original source and form, in order to further verify relationships among peoples in the Indo-European zone --or to determine important centers within Europe which could be pointed to as major cultural sources. Krohn's study object is the tale itself and its mode of travel, which happens to be through the mouths of the folk "like a coin passed from palm to palm". The collective folk are --no, is-- the source of the tale and the means for its diffusion, which unfortunately must be conducted through individuals who can make mistakes and thwart the regular, whole diffusion of texts.

By the time Barre Toelken published his Dynamics of Folklore in 1979, a major reorientation in folklore ideas and procedures had taken place. Starting in the 1950's, but with roots in the contextual and psychological emphases of Malinowski, Benedict, and Radin, the overwhelming emphasis on folklore as texts, as objects to be passed about, became oppressive to scholars who were interested in the people who did the lore and in the situations in which they did it. Albert Lord's 1960 The Singer of Tales provided a significant impetus for the casting off of older assumptions about the individual by emphasising the performer's creativity and skill in manipulating traditional oral formulae, where change and variation were expected and appropriate for different performance situations. These ideas were eagerly taken up by the scholars Richard Dorson christened the "young Turks" for their vehemence in presenting a new folklore order focussing on first the contextual and social situations and purposes of folklore, and second on the dynamics of performance. While in 1971 Dan Ben-Amos had avoided any mention of the catchwords "oral" and "tradition" in his definition of folklore as "artistic communication in small groups", Toelken was willing to work with the idea of tradition --but with a difference. Tradition now constituted not a stipulation that folklore emerge out of a hoary past, but a recognition that the individual performer was constrained by the standards and expectations that he or she and the community held in common for their artistic performances. The formulation of individual and collective had been turned around, and the dynamics of folklore were those active, surprising processes of performance and responses to shared and individual identities.

Who or what produces folklore? If the answer is, "the folk," and folklore is in Utley's sense that which is collected from authentic folk sources, the question remains of how the folklore got there, how it was composed and transmitted, as well as how it is structured. As contextual concerns are added to this formula, it is simpler to focus on one individual performer, to gather one person's repertoire and examine one person's interactions with different audiences in different situations; and so the orientation begins to come 'round to a different answer to the question. If the answer is "the individual," then one still must deal with the community standards of behavior and values which motivate and constrain that individual, and with the ideas of identity and cosmology which are themselves the context for behavior and values, and the answer begins to return, at least in part, to the nature of the folk who are the individual's context. We neglect either end of the balance at our own peril--or at least at the peril of our paradigms--and must ultimately be satisfied that, if we are all "the folk" or even several "folks" at once, then we are all individuals in community, responding to membership and identity expectations and resources in different and often creative ways. This is how and why we must take Master's Exams.

Q: Select three works from the M.A. Reading List and comment upon the implicit or explicit approaches to fieldwork that you can discover. Include analysis of method, relationship to people and data, fieldnotes, and presentation of the field situation.

Jaap Kunst's Ethnomusicology, Elizabeth Fine's The Folklore Text, and Henry Glassie's Passing the Time in Balleymenone each reflect different attitudes toward fieldwork. Kunst's book, meant as a handbook for a new discipline, gives important but general guidelines for fieldworkers; Fine promotes an ideal of presentation which requires certain field procedures; and Glassie gives a portrait of a community and its story-telling which also tells the story of his fieldwork. These books represent three different concerns surrounding the multi-sided issue of how to approach the doing of folklore study: a concern with instruction or elucidation; a concern with promoting a certain attitude toward the material; and a thorough study in itself which recognizes the role and road of the fieldworker. The latter is ultimately the critical application of fieldwork instruction and attitude, allowing the process of fieldwork, from paradigm to problem to practice, to be evident in its final presentation.

Jaap Kunst wrote his book, Ethnomusicology to meet a strongly felt need. The discipline of ethnomusicology as such, newly renamed from its original "exotic music" and "comparative musicology", had only recently initiated the separation of itself as a distinct scholarly pursuit, and although much work had been done, little had been done to articulate what ethnomusicology was and where people could go who wanted to learn more about it or pursue degree studies in it. The bulk of Kunst's book, particularly the third edition, was his nearly exhaustive ethnomusicology bibliography and list of academic programs. His essay on the nature of ethnomusicology, however, dealt quite specifically with technical concerns, particularly those met in the field. For Kunst the endeavour consisted of two necessary components. First came the ability to accurately record and analyze sound, which required knowledge of available technology. Mechanical assistance was necessary, since as Kunst pointedly asserts, the Western-trained ear will almost invariably misinterpret music systems foreign to it. The aim was objective accuracy so far as possible, which meant making allowances for the limitations of equipment, the fieldworker himself, and systems of presentation. Regarding the latter Kunst admitted the shortcomings of Western music notation, but agreed with Bartok that it was the system most comprehensible to Western scholars, and that with modifications it could be acceptable. Second, and almost more importantly, Kunst stressed that the fieldworker must have a sympathetic human character which could gain the trust and friendship of the performers who provided the material for those necessary recordings; without such a character the field endeavor was virtually futile. This included the recognition that the performers' patience could be as much taxed by the process as the fieldworker's (as well as a discussion of which natives in Kunst's experience had liked which beads best...). While Kunst discusses all these issues candidly in his handbook format, he does not discuss field notes nor mention how or whether the exigencies of fieldwork should be presented in the final analysis of the music.

Elizabeth Fine's book, The Folklore Text, examines the nature of folklore presentation in print. Her emphasis is on the nature of performance, and how to convey the fullness of that live activity to the reading audience. She discusses technical issues such as how to use microphones and cameras to capture as much of the performance and its situation as possible for study, and advocates a transcription system which can include such performance features as gesture and facial expression, and pitch and volume of voice. Field notation of the performance situation, things the equipment won't be able to give back to you later, require sensitive observation. Her point is that these "extra" features are not simply "extratextual", but are indeed as much a part of "the text" as its verbal content and deserve to be presented as such. This emphasis on presentation has definite implications for fieldwork, since you can't present what you haven't studied or paid attention to. In Kunst's day such a holistic endeavor would not have been feasible without the visual documentation which video technology has made accessible to the average research budget; but Fine is quick to point out that the camera has its limitations as well. The Folklore Text advocates an understanding of the material at hand which requires a fuller view and more focussed attention on the details of performance.

In Passing the Time in Balleymenone Henry Glassie presents an in-depth study of a community and the relationships which house (often literally) its tale-telling. While not explicitly directed at field technique, Glassie's descriptions and elucidations indicate a level of involvement and personal commitment which reflect the "sympathetic human character" Kunst stipulated for the fieldworker. Such evidence of involvement, which allows for the presence of the fieldworker in the community as much as for the studied community itself, is not often seen in the products of field studies. Some would argue that it is neither necessary nor relevant for a scholarly work to dwell on the day-to-day affairs and interpersonal dynamics that produced it (i.e., the process of fieldwork), with Glassie's own material culture studies in the United States as good cases in point. Admittedly there is a fine line between honestly presenting onesself as part of the study and self-indulgently presenting onesself as the study, but in Passing the Time in Balleymenone Glassie has given us an example of a large, significant work which not only adds to our understanding of tale-telling and community, but helps us understand how and why the researcher came to the conclusions he did by letting us see some of the processes of fieldwork as human encounter.

Doing fieldwork is a complex proposition, requiring directed endurance and fortitude of character, intellect and finances. It is at the base of how we do our work as folklorists, how we learn those things that we share with others in the academic community in order to build our careers. We can be instructed in techniques, guided in our attitudes, and shown ways the field experience can be articulated, as the examples given here of Kunst, Fine, and Glassie have done in different ways. Many difficult ethical issues surround its execution, such as how "informants" should be cited, how or whether people should be recompensed for helping the researcher, the honesty of presentation on the part of the researcher, and even whether anyone has the right to "invade" a community and study anybody else in order to make a living off of it. Technically speaking, any academic work based on field work is "about" field work, usually implicitly, since the people encountered and the problems encountered --and the joys encountered-- always shape the final result just as current techniques and conventions of presentation do. We will continue to pursue fieldwork because it is our primary means of learning different ways to be human and different aspects of being human; and we will also continue to debate its methods, assumptions, and presentations.

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