3. Components of a musical system may change in different ways and at different rates

What is it that determines what musical style a society will have, or prefer? When pushed to the wall, most ethnomusicologists, after some squirming, will maintain that it must have something to do with the character of the society's culture. A good many studies, beginning with work of Curt Sachs (1937 -- and earlier) and continuing in the cantometrics work of Alan Lomax (1968), and going on into the recent studies in the anthropology of music, suggest that there is at least something to this theory. And if culture determines music, then culture change must usually also determine musical change.

But what is it that may change? The conventional wisdom to the effect that culture is a unit and therefore its domains somehow change in tandem would suggest that music is also a unit. But we know that individual parameters of music may change -- affecting but not changing the rest. Obviously, adding harmony to a melody is a change in texture but does not necessarily alter the melody itself. It may be more interesting to contemplate the question in the light of the three-part model for the study of music proposed by Merriam (1964:32-33) sound, behavior, and concepts. The point is that these three sectors (one could probably divide music differently as well), integrated though they are, nevertheless often behave differently in given situations. Indeed, they may have complementary roles in culture and music change, the conceptual framework of music perhaps remaining essentially constant while sound, or style, changes; or, the behavior sector changing in order to permit the style to survive.

Approaches to musical and cultural change revolving around Merriam's model have parallels in anthropological theories of culture change. The musical system may be seen as practicing adaptive strategies, somewhat along the line of cultural evolution -- or as contributing to adaptive strategies. I particularly want to call to your attention two concepts characterizing older possibly conflicting approaches to these issues: innovation as a cultural phenomenon, and cultural evolution. Their musical ramifications are perhaps obvious. For literature, I'll mention only two major scholars. Julian Steward's (1955) model of multi-linear evolution, where regularities and patterns characteristic of different cultural and even physical environments were recognized but which relied on high cultures as sources for innovation and diffusion, has close parallels in the typical ethnomusicological approach to musical change. Along different lines, H. G. Barnett analyzed the concept of innovation, as a way of tying personal to societal insights and behavior. It is interesting that neither of them took advantage of the divisible nature of the musical domain to show the complexity of the phenomenon of culture change. An example from Iran, based largely on my own field observations (see Zonis 1973, Farhat 1990, and Nettl 1992 particularly for details and bibliography).

In twentieth-century Iran, we can observe the interaction of Persian and Western musics, and of their subdivisions of sound, behavior, and ideas, with this interesting result: The coming and the adoption of Western ideas about music and how it should function in a society permitted the musical sound -- the repertory -- to remain unchanged in its central features. At the same time, imitating the structure of the European repertory (structure of the repertory, not of the individual pieces), Iranian musicians built something analogous to the European classical system, its theory and its repertory, in the context of the Persian style. Also, European practices such as concerts permitted Persian music to survive and flourish, even at a time when much of the rest of Persian culture was changing fundamentally in a direction of western practices and values.

Dastgah-e Shur. Persian music played on santour: traditional avaz

In the older traditions of Iran, music had been something about which people were ambivalent. They wanted music in their lives, but music was dangerous, and they had coped with this problem in several ways: by creating a narrow definition of music, by seeing sounds as having varying degrees of musicness in them (but rarely being fully "music"), by giving musicians low social status or turning music over to non-Muslim minorities, by not permitting music to experience the development of the kinds of large formal structures found in Persian visual art and literature; and more.

Then, when Westernization came to play a major role in the late 19th century and later, and when life began to have a distinct Western flavor, traditional Persian music suddenly began to flourish. In part this was due to the Westernization of the music concept, as something one could respect. What happened was not so much the introduction of Western music -- which did take place -- but changes in musical life and musical style that approximated Western, musical culture, and this included allowing music to have the advantages of the other arts -- and the establishment of the magnificent radif as a basis for improvisation -- as well as introduction of Western-style teaching methods, notation, ensembles, emphasis on composed pieces, virtuosity, and much else; even Westernization of musical style such as harmony and emphasis on modes compatible with major and minor, but in a distinctly Persian musical milieu.

Dastgah-e Mahour. Persian music played on santour: modernized and Westernized Chahar mezrab

[Editor's suggestion: you may look for photos and information on santour
in the Larnikam catalogue]

Much of this was inhibited, after 1978, along with Westernization at large. But what had been changing musically in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, in the context of culture change, is fundamentally the value of music among the domains of culture; this accomplished, we see Persian music develop, to a substantial extent in the direction of Western musical culture, but flourishing in Iran. And among the hundreds of thousands of immigrants and exiles in Europe and North America who in most respects began to act like mainstream Americans and Europeans, music ceased being a neglected domain of culture and became a major emblem of ethnicity. In all of this, we note the processes identified by anthropologists. We note Barnett's innovation and its adaptation to traditions (Barnett 1953); and there is evolution in which Persian music has adapted to Western intrusions in sophisticated and distinct ways, following Steward's model, different from the lines of evolution followed in India and Africa, unique ways of relating past to present.

While Steward and Barnett concentrated on cultures as self-contained units in which change was mainly determined by factors internal to the society, other approaches, such as that of Melville J. Herskovits (e.g. 1945) and some of his students such as R. Waterman (1948) and Merriam (1977), concentrated on change that resulted from the interaction of cultures. The picture of culture change studies has by now changed completely, from the contemplation of cultures as units in which outside contact would be an intrusion, to the belief that intercultural contact and the resulting culture change were the norm.

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