1. There is a multitude of relationships between past and present

Let me begin with some remarks about the classifications of the concept of change. Most broadly, ethnomusicologists have studied change in three relatively distinct ways. First, and dominant in our literature, is statements based events recorded by observers, in traditional historical and ethnographic senses. Second, we are also concerned with the ways in which change, history, relationship of past and present are perceived and classified by the world's societies -- sometimes in ways that do not conform to the mentioned observations. And third, as a related issue, we study the world's interpretations of their perceptions, the ways in which societies shape their past to fit the needs of the present. These areas of study overlap, but it is sometimes helpful to separate them artificially for analysis.

But what do we mean by the concept of "musical change"? Let me start by simply listing a few quite unrelated examples of some of the things that have happened. In the 19th century, some Native American tribes felt forced to completely give up their traditions and take up those of Western vernacular music. In the 20th century, mainstream European composers of fine art music gave up functional harmony and adopted serialism, but they kept traditional forms and genres such as symphony and string quartet. Already in the 18th century, African slaves in Jamaica created a new music that incorporated principal elements of their African heritage as well as of the Protestant hymns to which they had been introduced. After 1920, Iranian classical musicians added Western harmony to their melodies. In the late Middle Ages, German villagers sang a ballad over a period of a hundred years and created seventy-five variants. Today, an Indian musician plays the same raga in concerts year after year, but never the same way. When Mozart first played his D-minor concerto it had the same notes as it does more than 200 years later, but it sounds quite different today -- and different also on each 20th-century recording. I am sure you get my drift. We can group these examples somewhat along the lines of a continuum: replacement by a society of an entire musical system; radical change of a music; and changes within a system, permitted and perhaps even required for its maintenance.

And then, we can also distinguish change in the central system from peripheral change --the violin becomes the main accompanying instrument in South India, but the saxophone might be used only by two musicians. Musical style can remain while social context and the system of ideas about music change: Again, in India, the classical repertory of devotional songs sung at temples moved during this century to the middle-class concert milieu of cities. The meaning of music, may change while the structure remains. The symbolic role of folk songs changed greatly in American society between 1900 and 1990.

There have been attempts to classify types, and more accurately, degrees of change, and processes range from complete abandonment to cosmetic changes such as the addition of a chord here and there. There are lots of terms, including transculturation, westernization, modernization, syncretism, some of which I'll mention again. Classifications have been provided in publications by John Blacking (1978), Margaret Kartomi (1981) Amnon Shiloah and Erik Cohen (1983), and myself (Nettl 1978). In most cases, what impresses me is not so much change, but the techniques societies have devised to prevent, inhibit, and control change, and to maintain musical tradition, permitting it to flourish while other things in life are forced to change. In music, perhaps more than in other domains of culture, people wish to tie their present to the past. So, there are changes in the total musical culture that are brought about in order to maintain some aspects of a tradition intact -- for example, secularization of a sacred tribal repertory; or reduction of a repertory to make possible its retention when decreased musical energies are available for its maintenance; introduction of functional harmony; or replacement of improvisation with emphasis on precomposition. The first thing with which we may be struck in looking at the relationship of past and present is the bewildering variety of phenomena that must be taken into account. Indeed, in the history of one genre or style or even an instrument, a number of processes occur and converge. So, I come to my first excursion, to Australia.

The story of the aboriginal didjeridu is one in which several ways of relating past and present interact and conflict. It is a long trumpet, ordinarily made of eucalyptus. Looking at its ancient history from the viewpoint of Kulturkreis anthropologists of around 1920 (see Schneider 1978), it is similar to long trumpets in other societies -- Tibetan trumpets, the Alphorn, the molimo of the Mambuti pygmies, the Trutruka of the Araucanians, and this non-contiguous geographic distribution as well as the instrument's role in fundamental rituals suggests that it is particularly ancient. In Australia, however, it was at one time limited to tribes in the north. After settlement of the continent by whites, it began to have a much wider distribution, and eventually it became a kind of musical symbol of Australian aboriginal (Berndt and Phillips, ed. 1978:269-75).

Australian didjeridu
Didjeridu. In Uomini & Suoni (Firenze: Usher): 48

[Editor's suggestion: you may visit a site on the didjeridu]

I suggest three reasons: the greater amount of contact among Australian peoples; the need for small and diverse aboriginal societies, all of them under the pressure provided by domination of white culture, to find artifacts and ideas which, via re-interpretation and with the concept of nativism, they could share in a kind of pan-Australian culture; and the desire to find a way to syncretize with the emblematic role of instruments in Western culture, where music was regarded as quintessentially an instrumental art. So, changes in Australian culture brought about not so much a new musical sound but new conceptions and different distribution. New sounds came to the didjeridu later yet, when it had become a kind of symbol of Australian aboriginal culture to white Australians and began to be introduced as an instrument in rock music associated with aboriginal, or by aboriginal musicians.

Australian aboriginal rock music

Eventually, as indicated in Australian tourist shops and by films about white Australians, it has become something of an emblem of Australia generally (see M. Breen, ed 1989; Dunbar-Hall 1994). Then, as illustrated by its use by American musicians such as the trombone virtuoso Stuart Dempster experimenting with metal and plastic and with its tone in European cathedrals, it became a part of the international new music instrumentarium.

This instrument makes its way through history with a variety of processes: it seemed once to be part of a large Kulturkreis; it partakes of abandonment of traditional culture; it is the subject of acculturation, reinterpretation, syncretism, modernization, westernization. It successively becomes part of several cultures; its sound stays the same while its social and musical contexts change; its symbolic role changes from ceremonial to ethnic to national. It experienced interaction with social, political, technological forces. Changes in the use and sound and conception of the instrument accompanied culture changes largely resulting from contact among societies. Ironically -- and one sees this in the music of many small societies -- the didjeridu became increasingly known and used at the same time as Australian aboriginals and their culture became increasingly absorbed into the Australian mainstream. That it is a powerful tool for connecting past to present is clear.

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