Damian Day

  • Conceptions of World Music

    Damian Day, University of Surrey Roehampton

    Research paper

    Theme addressed: Theories of learning and teaching/ Course and programme design

    As a field ethnomusicology has spent a great deal of time and effort attempting to define the relationship between (ethno)musicologists from outside a culture and the music they are studying. There is no agreement about the precise relationship: some scholars suggest that a musician from outside a culture can never be truly absorbed into it and will always be aesthetically gauche; a second group disagree, suggesting that with time assimilation can occur; one anthropologist, Alan Merriam has proposed the notion of bi-musicality (a musical bilingualism is which a performer is practically and aesthetically competent within two cultures).

    An important part of an undergraduate training in enthnomusicology (now found in many universities) is helping students to understand the cross-cultural issues related to music. The language of essays can give the lecturer a fair indication of a student's approach to the study of music from another culture but this has not been explored systematically and not in relation to performance. This issue is complicated further because musical performance of all types is heavily under-theorised and students tend to approach performance in what they perceive to be a theory-neutral way.

    This study has used Prosser and Trigwell's Conceptions of Teaching/Learning to conceptualise students' understanding of non-Western music performance. Analogies are drawn between musical rote learning and teacher-centred approaches to teaching and creative performance in a tradition and learner-centred approaches. Further analogies are drawn between students who perceive themselves as musical apprentices (with a generally teacher-centred approach to performance) or as more creative musicians (with a more personal, student-centred approach). Varying notions of performance (rather than being a performer) are also discussed.

    In total 20 students across two institutions were interviewed: one institution a new university, the second an internationally-recognised music conservatoire; both are in London. All students have been learning to perform gamelan, the generic terms for art, court ensembles from Indonesia. In one case the students were studying the Sundanese style (from West Java), in the second the student were studying the Solonese style (from Central Java). There are stylistic differences between the two but each have very similar core features and are equally difficult to master. Students had all studied gamelan for approximately one semester after a theoretical introduction to ethnomusicology and to gamelan.

    The result of the research was a taxonomy of conceptions similar to Prosser and Trigwell's. Some students perceived themselves as being observers of a musical tradition and some participant-observers with a teacher-centred approach to performance. These students felt themselves to be aesthetically disengaged from the music. Some students felt they were moving towards an aesthetic understanding of the music (from either a teacher or student-centred perspective) and a few students felt they had been absorbed into the culture as creative musicians.

    The study provides ethnomusicologists with a useful heuristic to understand the range of conceptions of performance in a non-western performance situation in a Western classroom.

    The session will be suitable for a general audience (especially those with an interest in performance of any sort) and will not require any specialist musical knowledge.