Spring 2015 course preview – Traditional Musics of World Cultures

The course I’ll be teaching in the Spring 2015 semester, “Traditional Musics of World Cultures,” will feature a survey of world cultures and how people preserve, celebrate, and alter their traditions through music. Knowledge of and participation in traditions create senses of belonging and can be crucial sites of identity formation. While some view tradition as immutable and static, others view it as dynamic and continually adapting through time. In this course we’ll examine these and other issues through the lens (and soundtrack) of music. We’ll explore many points on this continuum between statis and dynamism in traditional music, with particular focus on improvisation as a formative process in working out ideological contestations and interpersonal collaborations. This course is the academic affiliate of the Cooper Series event “Sound Breaks: Improvisation, Interdisciplinarity, and Social Advocacy.” This semester-long focus on improvisation and the “Sound Breaks” symposium  will provide students a singular opportunity to work with some renowned musicians and scholars. Here’s the official course description:

MUSI 005C Traditional Musics of World Cultures

This course will introduce students to world music and ethnomusicology via a set of case studies on traditional music and music-making practices. While the course’s geographic coverage of the world will be comprehensive, only certain traditions and musical styles will be studied from each region. Students will acquire a basic descriptive vocabulary and musical understanding–as well as a strong contextual background–for each case study. Throughout all topics, this course stresses music as an integral to–constitutive of, rather than separate from–the culture in which it is rooted. As such, studying music and music-making practices will provide an important vantage point from which to understand wider cultural phenomena. Furthermore, as ethnomusicology often entails interdisciplinary research practices, we will draw on analytical techniques and scholarship drawn from music and the fine arts, the social sciences, and humanities. This approach will be especially helpful in understanding the different modes, movements, and media through which traditional music is produced and disseminated. Within this framework we will discuss how the concept of “tradition” does not necessarily imply historical fact, but can be more influenced by understandings of and nostalgic feelings about “the past” as commentary and critique of the present. We will also examine musical interpretations of this phenomenon, in particular how contrasting ideas of tradition as either fixed or dynamic can be manifest in attitudes toward and performance of music. The course’s final project will consist of individual ethnographic projects, in which students engage with a local community group or musicians involved in some form of traditional music practice.

And here are a few examples of some of the artists and traditions we’ll be discussing…

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