The World Music Textbook Dilemma

by Dr. Norman Stanfield ~ September 4th, 2011. Filed under: World Music Studies.

“To textbook, or not to textbook; that is the question.” (Sorry, Will!)

I have struggled with this question since the very beginning of my teaching career. Each time my “Introduction to World Music” (M328) course rolls around in the school calendar, I re-visit my dilemma by looking at the fresh stock of World Music textbooks newly published. But I have never found the right fit. Now that we have arrived in the age of the webisphere and sites like Wikipedia, the question becomes moot. I should add that I entered the study of ethnomusicology at the graduate level, so I don’t have a fondly remembered and well-thumbed undergrad book to act as a role model.

Here is my problem in a nutshell. I teach a very unique set of lectures which are not mirrored by any one book.

Be that as it may, I want to take you on a quick tour of the World Music textbook literature created for undergraduate students. A more thorough survey is preferable, but this is the wrong place for such an ambition. Another, far better option would be for you to physically browse through the titles in the Music Library. Many of them include music examples in CD format, and online access to yet more information via their publisher’s website when you buy the book. I have added some example titles and their library location at the end of this blog entry, in case you take me up on the challenge.

As you casually flip through the pages, you will discover that many of the texts have virtually no music notation examples. This is because they are destined to be used in general interest classes comprised of non-music students in the same mold as campus-wide Music Appreciation classes. In fact, World Music Appreciation, and its close neighbour, Pop Music Appreciation, may be overshadowing that old standby called, anachronistically, Music Appreciation (that is, Western Art Music Appreciation, although units devoted to pop, jazz, and world, make brief appearances these days). This shift in interest is foreshadowed by the hundreds of undergrads who enrol for the Pop Music course at University of Toronto each year, and the dire statistics of the steady decline of WAM audiences and piano students interested in learning classical music. “Roll over Beethoven!”

World music textbooks are indescribably rich in information, delivered somewhat in the manner of a travelogue – one country, then the next, and so on as you travel the world, gobsmacked at the variety. Heather Sparling, one of my colleagues and a great friend in the CSTM (Canadian Society for Traditional Music, conducted a detailed comparison of three of them in a recent edition of MusicCultures, vol 34/35 (2007/08), the scholarly journal of the CSTM. Her interest was in the area studies, physical characteristics, costs, and supplementary goodies that come with each book upon purchase.

But all of the travelogue texts have two problems, in my opinion.

First, each book contains a vast amount of facts that likely would require intense and sustained study that could easily collapse into a “cramming” fest, given the many other course demands made of students. Oxford University Press, under the guidance of the editor Bonnie Wade, created an interesting solution to this problem of saturation. In addition to a general text on how to listen to World Music, Oxford publish a number of mini books devoted to individual music culture areas, to be chosen by the ethnomusicology teacher.

Second, I am hugely irritated by the lack of Canadian content. Each textbook casually and constantly employs references to America when making one or another point. No doubt American readers enjoy seeing familiar names and places in their textbook. (“I didn’t know that about Cleveland.”) But Canada is utterly invisible. Given that the textbooks are written and designed in America to service the huge and lucrative American university market where many World Music classes have enrolments in the hundreds, the lack of Canadian content is understandable.

So why are there no World Music textbooks specifically created or adapted for Canadian students, especially those who are new to Canada? An obvious answer might be that there simply aren’t the numbers to warrant the time and investment. But this answer does not hold water. Oxford University Press made a superb adaptation of their standard American textbook, American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MP3, for the Canadian market. It is entitled Rock: A Canadian Perspective (2008). Ryan Edwardson has written an excellent textbook called Canuck Rock: A History of Canadian Popular Music (2009) which has no American precedent.

Be that as it may, there are two general World Music textbooks that I am very fond of. First, there are the Rough Guides to World Music. They are cheeky and irreverent, but unfortunately too succinct to get under the skin of any one genre. They have a tone similar to Rolling Stone magazine, with a quick survey of each country’s traditional music, followed by a detailed look at its indigenous, hybrid pop music. Another favourite of mine is Music of the Whole Earth by David Reck (with photos by his wife, Carol), now out of print. It was savaged in the Ethnomusicology journal book review section, partly because of the author’s” gee whiz” tone and Pollyanna attitude. I loved it from the first moment I looked in its pages. The book has an irresistible sense of wonder, even if several facts are tossed about in a cavalier manner. The book has the same breathless rush of discovery as a great public lecture delivered by a charismatic speaker. It is ahead of its time as a “graphic text”, and the author solved the central problem of presenting music notation examples for non-music readers by devising a brilliant system of graphic notation. It is on reserve shelf in my course, M328, if you want to have a look at it.

Select Bibliography:

William Alves, Music of the Peoples of the World
ML3545 .A48 2006

Michael Bakan, World Music: Traditions and Transformations
ML3545 .B24 2007

Dorothea Hast and others, Exploring the world of music: an introduction to music from a world music perspective
MT90 .E97 1999 (Okanogan Library only!)

Terry Miller and Andrew Shahriari, World Music: A Global Journey
ML3798 .M53 2009

Bruno Nettl, Excursions in World Music
MT90 .E98 2008

William Malm, Music cultures of the Pacific, the Near East, and Asia
ML330 .M3 1996 and its companion volume (both published by Prentice-Hall as a set),
Bruno Nettl, Folk and traditional music of the western continents
ML3545 .N285 1990

Kay Kaufman Shelemay, Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World
MT90 .S53 2006

Jeff Titon, Worlds of Music
ML3545 .W67 2009

David (and Carol) Reck, Music of the Whole Earth
MT6.R273 M9 1977 (on reserve, in the MUSC 328 section)

Bonnie Wade, Thinking musically: experiencing music, expressing culture
ML3798 .W34 2009
Also look online for her collection called Global Music Series



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