Globalization and Speciesism: Musical Thoughts for a Small World

September 1, 1999


A term that is often tossed around these days at ethnomusicology and area studies conferences is "globalization," which I define as the ways in which music and other aspects of culture have fewer borders and boundaries than ever before. The recent CMS international conference in Kyoto was a unique study of globalization as Japanese musicians performed works by American composers and American musicians performed works by Japanese composers. In between were other performances, lectures, and papers that pertained to many cultures and diverse types of music. (There were even Japanese compositions performed by Japanese and American compositions performed by Americans!)

Another form of globalization at the CMS conference was when Silvain Guignard (Swiss musicologist and the main host for the conference) performed so masterfully on the Chikuzen biwa at the Kyoto conference. I can also include the time when I played a Buddhist shakuhachi piece while standing inside the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) statue in Kamakura-the reverberation was unbelievable!-and the Japanese people outside thought the museum was piping a recording through the statue. Many of these above musical acts have been called "transcultural interpretations" by Japanese musicologist Toru Mitsui (personal communication), and they are examples of what ethnomusicologist Mantle Hood called "bimusicality."

In many places where Diane and I traveled in Japan during the month of July we were serenaded by globalized music where no Japanese person perhaps ever stopped to think there was anything unusual about the music or the context. Here are some examples: 1950s American top forty songs in the post-modern Kyoto train station; Caribbean steelband calypsos piped over loudspeakers on the main street of Ryotsu, Sado Island; heavy metal in the Sapporo subway; Ainu (native people of Japan) rock in Shiraoi, Hokkaido; traffic signals that play "Coming Through the Rye" during the green light (walk) in Hirosaki, Morioka, and elsewhere in northern Japan; Vivaldi's "Spring" from the Four Seasons in a Tokyo museum of ancient Japanese art; and of course Delta airline's theme song with Peruvian quena flutes during our trans-Pacific flights.

All of these diverse examples of globalization are perhaps common throughout many parts of the world. Much less discussed and more controversial than the "Americanization" of Japanese daily life or the "Japanization" of a few Western musicians, is what I call "speciesism in music."


During a lecture I gave entitled "Music and Shamanism in Rain Forest Cultures" at the Atenisi Institute in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, in July of 1998, several questions and comments were made by a mixed audience of Tongan students and scholars, American Peace Corps Volunteers, around-the-world sailors, and others in attendance. A very significant question was raised after my definition of music as "humanly organized sound communication, other than speech and Morse code." "Why should we as humans think of ourselves as the only species capable of making music?" was asked by several Tongans and a Peace Corps Volunteer biology teacher. "Because we have never been able to ask a member of another species whether or not he or she makes music!" was my reply.

Remembering Mantle Hood's definition of music as "Anything that a culture calls music," however, I also realized that much of what I call music and study as music is not called music by the cultures themselves.

Indeed, the word "music" as derived from the Greek and Latin has few uses outside of European-derived countries. If ethnomusicologists were to live and work by Hood's definition, however, there would be little music to study outside of European-derived or -influenced cultures.

Nevertheless, why should we assume that animals do not make music? Biologists, of course, have determined that many bird "whistles" and animal "vocalizations" are instinctive, although some recent researchers have argued that dolphins and whales communicate other ideas through "singing" (or is this their normal speech mode?). Perhaps these concerns are more important to Tongans and other Polynesians than to Americans because animals of many types are vital to their gesture songs and dances such as the lakalaka, ma'ulu'ulu, hula and many others.

What does all of this mean to us as members of The College Music Society? I'm not sure it has to mean anything other than as musicians, teachers, administrators, and other people concerned about communicating ideas, our ears and minds are constantly being stretched wherever we are. Therefore, we need to constantly think about how we can musically communicate to every living thing and, in turn, be musically inspired (a form of communication) by every living thing.

This, incidentally, is why I love The College Music Society, because we all share at least three things: learning about music, teaching about music, and disseminating music to all living things. We, I believe, are the most broad-minded scholarly music society, and I am very proud of that fact.


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