Ethnomusicology in the Undergraduate Program at the University of Hawaii

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A concentration in ethnomusicology is being added this year to the options in the B.A. degree in music at the University of Hawaii. Previously established areas of concentration include music literature and theory in the B.A., composition and performance in the B.Mus., and music education in the B.Ed. degrees. For a university in a multi-racial environment such as Hawaii, the new curriculum may seem to be not only a logical, but also an overdue development. However, the Territory, and later the State of Hawaii's public university is mandated to serve the needs of its people as these are evaluated at a given time, and as they can be realized within the university's limited financial resources. It is characteristic that immigrants seek first for their children to become successful and accepted in the dominant culture of their new home, and that the second generation tends to ignore their parents' culture in their conscientious striving for this goal. Only among those of the third or later generations, after socio-economic security has been achieved, is there time and motivation to study the cultures of both their residence and their ancestral heritage.

Quite naturally, the music department of the University of Hawaii was called on first to provide training in standard American public school music for teachers in Hawaii's schools, and then to provide instruction comparable to the offerings at good mainland universities. Only when these achievements were in sight, was justification apparent to more than a few music educators for devoting time and money to the necessary research and curriculum development, or for initiating means to make a place in the already full curriculum for the musics of the many component peoples of our local population. Therefore, it has been only gradually, beginning in 1957, that courses in non-Western musics were introduced; somewhat later that a now well-established M.A. in music with a concentration in ethnomusicology was initiated; and still later that the Festival of Arts of This Century, stimulated in part by the participation of the then newly established East-West Center, became committed to giving equal emphasis to the works of contemporary Asian and Western composers.

The new concentration is not, however, just a response to the local situation or of merely local significance. It must be acknowledged as the response of this university to the need for another avenue towards relevance in the study of music—a need as apparent among young people on the mainland as in Hawaii. That many students from various majors desire a pluralistic approach to a broader range of musics than the Euro-American concert tradition has been demonstrated here by the continuing large enrollments and favorable response to an introductory course, "Music in World Culture." This course was initiated in 1968 as an alternative to the standard "Introduction to Music Literature" (which continues with thriving enrollments) for those students who were already acquainted with representative masterpieces of the Western tradition through high school or extracurricular experience, or those who, for whatever reasons, wished to gain an understanding of music as a cultural product, process, expression, and institution in various societies.

"Music in World Culture" is conceptual in approach. The prominent features of a culture are considered first, followed by a description of the human processes of creating music in that culture. The musical components of the music per se are then analyzed with attention to whether rhythmic, melodic, multi-part, or other components dominate the tonal organization. Finally, attention is directed to how the cultural values of the society are reinforced through its music. The selection of cultures attempts to achieve a suitable representation of the major areas, while also providing special interest to our students. The sequence of presentation is determined primarily to allow a logical continuity in the consideration of some major intellectual frames. In Hawaii, it is logical to begin with ancient Hawaiian music. Advantageously for students without previous theoretical study, this music is not too complex, and attention can be focused on rhythm, tone production, text, and contour of a single melodic line before styles with complex multi-part relationships are introduced. This is followed by two contrasting Polynesian cultures, Tahitian and Maori. Fijian music completes the unit on Oceania.

The second large unit begins with Africa, focusing on West African musics. A transition to the rural tradition of Black America follows, then to the rural tradition of White America, and finally to urban America with consideration of the differences between folk and commercial art. Ritual is the focus of the next unit which begins with the Jewish tradition, proceeds to the Catholic Christian tradition in which relations of ritual to high art musics receive special attention, and concludes with the music of the native American Church.

Sinitic cultures form the next large unit, and although it would be logical to begin with Chinese music, we usually begin with Japanese because it is far more extensively performed in Hawaii. By beginning with Japanese court music which is performed in a ritual context here, there is an easy transition from the focus of the previous unit while the geo-cultural locus is changed. Chinese, Korean, and Okinawan musics are studied contrastingly to discover the continuities and idiosyncrasies in these related musical cultures.

Southeast Asia is represented by Java. Relations of folk and art musics are studied in this context and compared with those of the Sinitic traditions. In the unit on Indian music, after raga and tala have been presented, their role in determining musical form is studied and then compared to the formal determinants of Chinese music. The final lecture in the semester is devoted to Rock, not only because it provides a return to the home environment, but also because, after studying the musics of Africa, rural White America, and India, students can better understand its eclectic nature and its place in the continually evolving streams of musical style.

The educational values of the course are not limited to such obvious things as exposure to selected musics of the world and introduction to some ethnomusicological approaches. Pluralism, recently acknowledged in our society, should be found in the study of music, for it provides avenues for valid alternatives in personal preference while maintaining respect for the preferences of others. For students of ancestries other than Euro-American (and in Hawaii these are the majority of the citizenry), it offers an avenue for self-realization in terms of heritage. It makes all students aware that in different cultural environments, different musics or aspects of musics may elicit similar human responses. It may even be essential to the future of education in music to recognize that unless music is presented as having sufficient adaptive potential as well as cultural validity, it is likely to be crowded out of the curriculum entirely as changes are forced on curricula by our evolving culture.

The physical organization of the course is planned as two large lecture sessions, each meeting twice a week, and a large number of discussion sections with enrollments not exceeding twenty, each meeting once a week. The course is offered both semesters and both summer terms.

"Music in World Culture" and the student response to it has undoubtedly played a key role in making it broadly apparent that a curriculum with concentration in ethnomusicology is both justified and desirable. Prior to formal adoption of the new concentration, some students who had completed that course took the initiative to select a viable group of courses from several departments appropriate to their individual interests and to petition that this group be accepted to serve somewhat like a departmental major in a recent innovative program, with the improbable tide of the "non-major major," to earn a B.A. in Liberal Studies (or for those with some years left before graduation, to serve as a temporary academic home until implementation of the new curriculum).

The curriculum with a concentration in ethnomusicology requires the same first year theory course as other concentrations, but introduces cross-cultural theory for the second year's work. The history of Western music finds a counterpart in two one-semester courses, "Music of Non-Literate Peoples" and "Art Musics of Asia," the latter employing the masterpiece approach to selected representative works. A group of music courses may be selected by the student from specific non-Western traditions studied in greater depth than the required courses, "Music in Modern America," and the Western music literature and theory courses. Applied music experience requires functional piano, and participation in at least three performance traditions selected from the standard Western music offerings and the large number of Pacific and Asian traditions that our fortunate local resources enable us to present with highly qualified artist-teacher bearers of the traditions and ethnomusicology specialists. A high level of competence with language, the college and university general requirements, and electives complete the course requirement for the degree. It should be apparent from this, that a student in this program is expected to experience an involvement in a variety of the broad spectrum of world musics, and to develop the conceptual skills and analytical constructs enabling him to gain entry and insight into a number of cultures and their musical organization. It hopes to develop students who are conversant in and sensitive to various modes of cultural expression, and able to relate effectively to them. To the Music Department of the University of Hawaii this option seems to be a viable goal for the study of music in the 1970's.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 13/11/2018

Barbara B. Smith

University of Hawai‘i Professor Emerita of Music-Ethnomusicology Barbara B. Smith continues to participate in events of the program she initiated in 1957 to recognize the value of the musical heritage of her students of Hawaiian and Asian ancestries whose academic studies in music had been exclusively Euro-American. The program featured both outreach to and (especially in its instruction of selected genres of music and dance) inreach from the local community. In 1960 it developed into the MA in Music with concentration in ethnomusicology and a geo-cultural focus on the Asia-Pacific region that attracted outstanding students from Asia, the Pacific Islands and mainland USA, It has continued to expand through addition of faculty with expertise in this region and the offering of the Ph.D.

Although primarily an educator who considers the accomplishments of the program’s alumni more significant than her own, she has received numerous local, national and international honors and, until recently, has been an active participant in societies devoted to music education, ethnomusicology and regional research. Her most important published works are articles about music of the Pacific Islands (especially Micronesia) in German- and English-language encyclopedias and about music in Hawai‘i’s multicultural society in scholarly journals and elsewhere and, as editor, Music in World Culture (1972) for use in schools, and The Queen’s Song Book (1998) that has expanded the people of Hawai‘i’s performance and appreciation of Queen Lili‘uokalani‘s musical gifts.

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