By Karina Kücking, Exploring Music intern and student from Germany
What would it be like to delve into the peerless interplay between articulating patterns and melodic instruments – such as the nāy (flute) or the ʿūd (short-necked lute) – in Middle Eastern music, right amidst the triangle of the Arabic-, Turkish-, and Persian-speaking worlds? Or the fascinating journey that both Hindustani and Carnatic music have made during the history of Indian classical music? Or a shona mbira performance in Zimbabwe as part of the musical traditions in Sub-Saharan Africa?
Music is a cultural phenomenon which, if one tries to break it down just into its major parts, has at least ten areas or blocks: The music of India, the Middle East, China, Japan, Indonesia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, Latin America, Native American music and the music of ethnic North America. This gives us a diversity and uniqueness which is a research area, but at the same time is an assignment for an insatiable willingness to constantly present something new – even if it’s music that is hundreds of years old. Arts organizations are, without any doubt, positioned to be places of introduction, engagement and first and foremost the celebration of diverse cultures.
At this year’s APAP (Association of Performing Arts Professionals) conference in New York City, a session was solely dedicated to this purpose: The Why and How of Presenting Diverse Cultures. Imagining culture as the center of a triangle, the talk brought together speakers from all three angles: Tanya Gertz, College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, talking from the perspective of a university professor; Martha Redbone, singer-songwriter and community activist, talking from the perspective of an artist; and Jill Sternheimer, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, talking from the perspective of a programming director.
“I’m excited about these times, culturally. Theater is a great way of presenting various aspects. Tell stories – share individual stories. My mission, my hope is to share cultural pieces which are particular for Native American music”, says Redbone in her opening statement. “I have this great sense,” says Gertz. “When people have a sense that they want more – the joviality of culture. […] I should do that instead of I can’t do that. The opportunity of awareness. Our cultures are more multi-dimensional than we think when we create things by believing in the possibility of them.” Sternheimer then states, “My own philosophy is: Instead of pigeonholing, be mindful. Once, we had a Patti Smith concert (Editor’s note: Lincoln Center Out of Doors, A Night of Words and Music on July 20, 2016) and so we were thinking, ‘Who can we pair her up with?’ And because of her Mexican influence, she was introduced by a Mexican group: It made no sense and it made total sense.”
Bringing in unknown music and topics is risk-taking, there is no question about it. But in order to reflect the world’s musical diversity, one has to see all pieces of the puzzle: “Find something that connects – a flame or just a spark,” Redbone suggests, “the more you do it, you will start paying attention to your community differently. Try different things to raise people’s awareness and take people to experiences they never had before. Raise comfort by setting knowledge.” Speaking about how various musical cultures relate to each other, just think about the contact between the Arab world and Western Europe during the Middle Ages, in the Crusader States, the Iberian Peninsula, or Sicily. And this is only one reason why we should listen to music not only as a sensation on its own, but also with one question in the back of our heads: ‘What explains the nature of this musical piece?’
Whether you are an arts presenter yourself or a music enthusiast wanting to breathe in the cultural zeitgeist in all its aspects, “practice your own openness,” Gertz says, “no one really knows everything about everyone – it’s learning for everybody. (...) So, see as much as you can and do something out of your comfort zone.” At the end of the session, Sternheimer holds the last piece of the puzzle in her hands when saying, “it’s all up to us.”
How about starting right now, with this Iraqi maqam performance, featuring a lead vocalist (qari), a four-string fiddle (jawzah), a low-pitched hand-drum (dumbak) and a small tambourine (daff).
Archives: January 2018
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