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How Musical Is Man? (Jessie and John Danz Lectures)

por John Blacking

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This important study in ethnomusicology is an attempt by the author -- a musician who has become a social anthropologist -- to compare his experiences of music-making in different cultures. He is here presenting new information resulting from his research into African music, especially among the Venda. Venda music, he discovered is in its way no less complex in structure than European music. Literacy and the invention of nation may generate extended musical structures, but they express differences of degree, and not the difference in kind that is implied by the distinction between ?art? and ?folk? music. Many, if not all, of music's essential processes may be found in the constitution of the human body and in patterns of interaction of human bodies in society. Thus all music is structurally, as well as functionally, ?folk? music in the sense that music cannot be transmitted of have meaning without associations between people. If John Blacking's guess about the biological and social origins of music is correct, or even only partly correct, it would generate new ideas about the nature of musicality, the role of music in education and its general role in societies which (like the Venda in the context of their traditional economy) will have more leisure time as automation increases.… (mais)
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  USYDArtsMusicLibrary | Sep 5, 2010 |
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  USYDArtsMusicLibrary | Aug 23, 2010 |
John Blacking was an ethnomusicologist who spent two years living with, and studying the Venda, a tribe in South Africa. As opposed to Western classical music where the few (professional concert musicians) are revered by the many, and only a handful are regarded as "talented" while most believe they have no "talent," with the Venda, everyone is expected to be able to perform; no one is excluded. Music is their religion.

In the first chapter of his small yet very powerful book, Blacking writes that when he began to live with and study the Venda, he believed that music began and ended with Western classical music, but, that after two years of living and studying the Venda and their music, he no longer understood Western music. Put differently, his experience living with and studying the Venda forced him to question all prior beliefs he had both about Western music and assumptions underlying them. The Venda taught him that all people have talent or musical ability. It is only Western values or myths that create hierarchies of talent and ability. And that these underlying Western values and myths subjugate countless people, causing them to dismiss key aspects of their inherent human potential, because of widespread belief that it is pointless to pursue musical ambitions only a fortunate few possess, but most do not.

Blacking's book is important not only as an ethnomusicological study, but has, I think, universal application because its underlying theses directly question Western assumptions and myths that adversely affect people regardless of musical preference. The book forces one to think, to challenge values one might previously have taken for granted.

I have recommended John Blacking's How Musical is Man? to friends who thought themselves totally bereft of any musical ability or talent, who were highly reluctant to attempt anything musical.

Though the book has musical examples, it can be read and appreciated by those with absolutely no ability to read or play music.

Highly recommended. ( )
  non_fiction_buff | Aug 6, 2007 |
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This important study in ethnomusicology is an attempt by the author -- a musician who has become a social anthropologist -- to compare his experiences of music-making in different cultures. He is here presenting new information resulting from his research into African music, especially among the Venda. Venda music, he discovered is in its way no less complex in structure than European music. Literacy and the invention of nation may generate extended musical structures, but they express differences of degree, and not the difference in kind that is implied by the distinction between ?art? and ?folk? music. Many, if not all, of music's essential processes may be found in the constitution of the human body and in patterns of interaction of human bodies in society. Thus all music is structurally, as well as functionally, ?folk? music in the sense that music cannot be transmitted of have meaning without associations between people. If John Blacking's guess about the biological and social origins of music is correct, or even only partly correct, it would generate new ideas about the nature of musicality, the role of music in education and its general role in societies which (like the Venda in the context of their traditional economy) will have more leisure time as automation increases.

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