5. Musical change may contradict or mitigate culture change.

As I already suggested, during the last thirty of forty years, anthropologists have become interested principally in culture change that results from interaction among societies. (For detailed bibliography to 1984 see Nettl 1985:167-81). They developed concepts, some of them mentioned already, to explain the results of such interaction: acculturation -- the result of sustained contact between two cultures; syncretism -- an acculturative mechanism in which the degree of similarity or differences between analogous components of two cultures plays a major role in determining the direction of change; re-interpretation, a change in function without change in form; division of a culture into its central and peripheral components results in two mechanisms: Westernization (or the related concepts, Hinduization and Sinisization), in which central cultural features change to become part of the general Western (or Hindu, or Chinese) cultural system; and modernization, where a society changes the peripheral components of its culture in order to maintain the integrity of its central ones. (The concept was first brought forward by Rudolph and Rudolph 1967, and Singer 1972.) We have seen some of these mechanisms at work in my last example. In most cases, musical change is simply part of culture change, music is a participant, though, to be sure, sometimes with unexpected results.

But also, there are situations in which the story of music contradicts what happens in the rest of culture. Music changes, perhaps, when the rest of culture does not, or it remains stable when everything else changes. This may suggest the conclusion that music is independent of culture, doesn't really matter, experiences arbitrary development; for example, that the maintenance of a singing style has no more to do with cultural continuity and change than vowel shifts in medieval English. Or, it may suggest to us that music, on the contrary, is especially close to fundamental identities such as ethnicity. Or we may guess that it is the particular cultural role of music to mitigate, as one may say in music what one does not dare say in speech, that it is the function of music to balance. Or that music is essentially outside culture, contemplating and commenting. My illustration from Iran showed that when Persian culture became modernized and westernized, its traditional, non-western music flourished, perhaps because music became particularly associated with Western musical conceptions. By contrast, in our next example, from Native North America, music contradicts the norms of experience.

It was about 1880 or 1890 that the Native American people of the Plains, including the Sioux, Crow, Blackfoot, Arapaho, and other well-known names, were finally defeated by the U.S. Army and by the bad management of the buffalo herds. Their culture virtually went out of existence, and in the course of the 20th century, they began to experience culture change of a most fundamental sort, and many of them became members of Western society, but of its most impoverished and deprived sector. After 1950, there were efforts to resurrect important components of Plains culture on the reservations while maintaining Western-style modes of subsistence, industry, transportation -- and even religion, as most Indians had become nominally Christian.

At the same time, in music, Plains Indians maintained and emphasized their traditional style and in effect increased or exaggerated it (see Nettl 1985:33-36). And further, as Native Americans from many culture areas came to work at establishing a pan-Indian culture in which elements were shared across cultural boundaries, they selected for their central sound the style of the style of the Plains peoples who had just been, it seemed, definitively beaten down.

Blackfoot Scalp Dance song, rec. 1910
Blackfoot Grass Dance song, powwow song rec. 1966
Scene from the large Blackfoot powwow, "North American Indian Days", 1982

How was it that at a time of heavy Westernization of Indian culture, the musical style of the very people undergoing the most heavily forced Westernization, a music most readily distinguished from Western music, became the generally accepted style of Indian peoples, became as it were "more Indian?" Some of the possible replies: Survival of a music through exaggeration of its distinctive characteristics; the use of music to express what may not be expressed verbally; music remaining an emblem of ethnicity when other domains cannot. Music does not always change in the same directions as the rest of culture. To be sure, in the realm of ideas about music, these styles have also been Westernized (see Powers 1990; Howard and Levine 1990).

Interestingly in the last two decades, as Indian traditions came to experience more encouragement and less pressure, more Western elements from musical style (such as harmony) and concept (such as human composition) have been accepted and syncretic forms established. Most obvious, in view of the centrality of instrumental music in Western culture and its relative absence in older Indian traditions, is the prominence of flute music as a major component of Indian music today.

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