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Ethnomusicology Essay, Research Paper

1. The terms ?use? and ?function? are described by Merriam whereas ?use? is the concept studied is to increase factual knowledge directly. ?Function? is ?an attempt to increase factual knowledge indirectly through the deeper comprehension of the significance of the phenomenon studied.? (Merriam 209)

Scholars in the field tend to agree with Merriam?s assessment for the most part. The only point in question that I gathered from the readings is that there is some discrepancy whether all the activities in a culture have a function. Merriam seems to think that they do or else that activity is not a function of society. Nadel believes that there are varying degrees of function in a society (Merriam 210) but adheres to the same basic definitions of function.

2. The tripartite model of analysis that Merriam uses contains concepts, behavior, and structure.

Concepts are the elements that come into play to integrate music into the life of a society. One concept for example is that of what a society considers music and what it considers to be noise. The manner in which that same society uses and organizes music is an underlying concept of the former. (Merriam 63)

Behaviors are the result, or a translation as Merriam puts it, of a culture?s concept music. Merriam categorizes behavior in this manner, ?Four major kinds of behavior can be isolated in respect to the production and organization of sound; these include physical behavior, verbal behavior about the music sound, social behavior both on the part of those who produce music and those who listen and respond to it, and learning behavior which enables the musician to produce the appropriate sounds.? (Merriam 103)

The structure component is the more concrete of the there analytical levels. It is the music sound itself in the context of how it is created and used. (Merriam 20) These three levels have a strong connection in that they all are codependent on the other. If there is no concept of what music is, then there is no certain behavior that can be had from a particular sound or rhythm. Structure could not exist without some idea of what it is supposed to be. I think this could be a useful way to look and think about music if every person in this field agrees upon a common definition of terms. When the endeavor to learn is undertaken a concrete method by which to catalogue events and facts is needed, but if there isn?t a universal way for all who study the same phenomena can compare and contrast then it makes sharing knowledge somewhat difficult.

3. Clarification of Merriam?s viewpoint when distinguishing between ?folk evaluations? and ?analytical evaluations? I think is best characterized by paraphrasing Paul Bohannan?s definition. ?Folk evaluation is internal to the specific culture being studied/observed with the intent to understand what is happening in order to take part or be involved in the activity. Analytical evaluation is observing activity to understand what is taking place in order to re-communicate what was learned and to educate one culture

in the ways another. (Merriam 31) I think this distinction is both helpful and necessary. Studying a culture obviously involves more that one participant, the observer and the observed. It must be taken into account that the society an ethnomusicologist is studying knows the purpose of what they are doing and it would ludicrous to think that without having been brought up in that society?s culture an outside observer can fully understand and grasp the full context of what he or she is observing. Hence it is necessary for this distinction to be drawn.

4. Functionalism is the activities of a particular society in a culture combined with the reasons for the activities and significance the activities play in that society. Music in these terms is an activity that may be found in a specific culture and ethnomusicology is the study of music in a specific culture. The whole reason for the existence of this field is to study the function of music in the context of a society in a specific culture.

5. Mbira music consists of two main parts. The first part being called the kushaura meaning ?to lead the piece? and the second named the kutsinhira. The kushaura is the key to identifying a piece. It provides the main melodic structure of a song. The kutsinhira mostly provides rhythmic contrast more so than harmonic. Most often mbira pieces are in a triplet feel with accented downbeats and are contained within 4 phrases in length.

6. The three vocal accompaniment styles in mbira music are the mahon?era, huro, and the kudeketera. Mahon?era is described as ?a soft, syllabic style of singing, usually in the singer?s lowest comfortable range.? (Berliner 115) The huro contrasts the mahon?era in that it is in the upper range and compliments the melodic lines rather than the bass line. It also so utilizes a form of yodeling called kunguridzira. (Berliner 117) Third is the kudeketera style. This is a verbal style that includes ? poetic lines that associated with particular mbira pieces, other lines appropriate to any mbira piece, and lines improvised in response to events taking place at the time of the performance. ? (Berliner 121) Although these are separate styles they can be used in the same performance or in combination with each other.

7. The bira is an important religious ceremony for the Shona people. Its significance is to enable the people to call upon their ancestors for advice or help with a situation. Ancestors are reached via the possession of a spirit medium. A bira is also held at season changes to beseech the gods if there are needs to be met. The ceremony usually starts at dusk and continues until dawn the following morning. A ceremonial beer is brewed especially for the occasion. Typically an mbira group is hired to play throughout the bira in its entirety.


9. Birds are believed by the Kaluli society to be ?gone reflections? of their ancestors. The role of how many different types and what song each bird sings is important to understand to realize the place birds hold in Kaluli culture. The Kaluli view every song from each bird as a different voice representing a loved one that has gone on before them. Music is used to communicate and order to communicate with that person one would need to recognize and be able to imitate that birdcall or song then being able to incorporate into music. (Feld 217-18)

10. Weeping in the Kaluli society is a gender divided phenomena. The men are characterized with iligi-yelema, gana-yelema, and gana-gili-yelema. The women are characterized with gese-yelema, and sa-yelema. Generally the difference between the to gender types of weeping is that the men are more prone to uncontrolled and spontaneous, whereas the women are more given to controlled and melodic weeping. (Feld 262)

The iligi-yelema is sudden and startled, gana-yelema is a loud melodic falsetto, and gana-gili-yelema is loud, melodic shrieking. Gese-yelema is a sorrowful and pitiful melodic from of weeping, and sa-yelema is a melodic weeping that is sung with a text. (Feld 90-93)

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