You are on page 1of 4

British Forum for Ethnomusicology

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Jonathan P.J. Stock
Reviewed work(s):
Understanding Charles Seeger: Pioneer in American Musicology by Bell Yung ; Helen Rees
Source: British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol. 9, No. 1, Brazilian Musics, Brazilian
Identities (2000), pp. 157-159
Published by: British Forum for Ethnomusicology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3060794
Accessed: 06/01/2009 20:06
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless
you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you
may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.
Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at
http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=bfe.
Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed
page of such transmission.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the
scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that
promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
British Forum for Ethnomusicology is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to
British Journal of Ethnomusicology.
http://www.jstor.org
Reviews
Books
BELL YUNG and HELEN REES
(eds)
Understanding
Charles Seeger:
pioneer
in American
musicology.
Urbana: University
of Illinois
Press,
1999. xiii +
192pp., figures,
musical exx., appendices, notes,
index,
references. ISBN 0-252-
02493-1
($29.95).
Many
British
ethnomusicologists
will
have encountered some of Charles
Seeger's writings,
and we know his
reputation
as a
wide-ranging activist,
organizer
and thinker. He
figures
in our
lectures on
disciplinary history
and
probably
in our
reading
lists on such
topics
as
transcription
and music and
language.
Yet his
profile
as a whole is
less
richly
understood.
Yung
and Rees's
new book is therefore a valuable
contribution to our better awareness of
this
significant
and
interesting
man.
Preceded
by
an editorial introduction,
each of the
eight
contributions that make
up
the book is
relatively
concise and
focused, exploring
a selected
aspect
of
Seeger's
work in relation to its broader
historical-intellectual
setting.
First off is
Taylor
A. Greer,
who looks at the
common treatment of "dissonance" in
Seeger's
treatise "Tradition and
experiment
in
(the New)
Music" of the
early
1930s and his wife Ruth Crawford
Seeger's "String Quartet
1931". Charles
Seeger's
critical
approach
drew on
philosophical
work on intuition to look
systematically
at the resources of musical
sound
(pitch, dynamics, etc.).
After
providing
an overview of this
system,
Greer examines the third movement of
Crawford
Seeger's quartet, noting
the
means
through
which Crawford
Seeger
put
these ideas into
practice (but
see
discussion of Tick's
chapter
below
also).
Leonora Saavedra,
in
chapter 2,
considers the social
thought
of
Seeger
in
the 1930s as set beside that of his
Mexican
contemporary,
Carlos Chavez.
Both
Seeger
and Chaivez
sought
to create
an American musical culture within
which
they
and their
peers
could work.
Apart
from
giving
due attention to new
compositional work, they
saw this
culture as
needing
to
engage
with
workers' needs,
not the elitist interests of
a
minority.
For both,
a
key relationship
in this
process
was that between
technique
and content, though
each saw
these elements somewhat distinctly.
Chaivez,
it
appears,
saw them as
entirely
congruent (36),
while
Seeger analysed
the crisis in the art music tradition as
leading
to a selection of imbalances
between the two: neo-classicists who
were over-reliant on
past materials; neo-
romanticists who were insufficiently
critical in
developing
their
technique
or
content;
and radicals who too
rapidly
generated
new materials without
forming
a coherent musical
style (33).
Saavedra
provides
a
comparative history
of the
responses
of both Chavez and
Seeger
to
this situation that is of no small interest.
Robert R. Grimes's contribution looks
more
closely
at
Seeger's
critical
writing
on form,
content and value before 1940.
Given the
centrality
of these concerns to
Seeger's
later
writings,
Grimes's
nicely
balanced
essay
offers a
good starting-
point
for
any
reader new to
Seeger.
One
of several issues to which Grimes draws
attention is
Seeger's avoidance, during
this
period
of
Marxist-inspired political
activism,
of American vernacular musics.
We
might
have
expected
the
champion
of
music
for
the
people
to
champion
the
music
of
the
people (though
a look at the
musical
systems
of socialist states would
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL. 9/i 2000
BRITISH JOURNAL OF E T H N M U S I C L G Y VOL.9/i 2000
hardly
bear out such an
assumption).
According
to Grimes, Seeger
seems to
have
equated
folk music with
bourgeois
culture at this time
(77-8),
or
(I
would
guess)
with a
rapidly disappearing,
rural
past
of
decreasing
relevance to the
modem lives of
city
workers. In either
case, Seeger
considered it as unsuitable
for
revolutionary purposes
as art music.
Just as Grimes's
chapter
builds on
points
raised
by Saavedra, so Helen Rees
assesses
Seeger's position
as a folk music
researcher in more detail.
(The chapters
are well ordered
throughout.)
Her
argument
is that
Seeger's personal
discovery
of American
folksong
informed his
subsequent
theoretical
elaborations in
quite specific
and marked
ways. Seeger
first
began
to consider folk
music
seriously
in the mid 1930s, tapping
into a vein of functionalist
writing
produced by
folklorists and
anthropologists. Gradually,
he
began
to
see that
"people
make the music
they
want"
(93),
a realization that
inspired
further
practical
work on his
part.
Rees
goes
on to look at the fruits of
Seeger's
encounter in his
approaches
to
compositional process,
oral
tradition,
transcription
and
authenticity.
Chapter
5 is Judith Tick's "Charles
Seeger,
Ruth
Crawford,
and 'The music
of American folk
songs"'.
Examination
of this latter
unpublished manuscript by
Crawford
Seeger
leads Tick to
suggest
that our common
assumption
that the
older, theoretically-minded
husband
unidirectionally
influenced his
younger
wife and former
pupil disguises
a more
interesting process.
Tick
presents
a
portrait
of Crawford
Seeger
as the
partner
who made and
analysed
300
folksong
transcriptions
from material collected
by
John and Alan Lomax. It was Crawford
Seeger, therefore,
who encountered at
first hand the
challenges
of
fitting
this
material into staff notation, and worked
out solutions.
Seeger
himself was not so
much
prime
mover but
sounding
board
for his wife, later
writing up
his
reflections on these same matters in a
series of well-known
papers
that
parallel
(but
do not
acknowledge) many
of her
earlier conclusions.
A further
key aspect
of
Seeger's
work
is reconsidered in Lawrence M.
Zbikowski's
essay.
Zbikowski assesses
Seeger's "unitary
field"
theory
from the
perspective
of recent research on
cognition. Particularly,
Zbikowski sets a
reading
of Gilles Fauconnier's
theory
of
mental
spaces alongside Seeger's
earlier
model, arguing
that each of
Seeger's
several subuniverses
(speech, music, the
individual, culture and the
physical
universe)
can be considered a mental
space
accessed
by
means of a
trigger
and
connector from
any
other
(141).
Zbikowski
develops
on
(but
not
entirely
within)
this framework the notion of a
"properly
musical
concept",
that
is,
"a
concept-about-sound
that stands
apart
from
language" (140).
Zbikowski's
careful
wording ("properly
musical
concept",
not
"purely
musical
concept",
for
instance)
repays attention,
as does his
suggestion
that we
may
locate these
concepts
within the broader
"knowledge
structures"
proposed by
the last two
decades of
cognitive
science. From this
perspective, speech
is not
necessarily
to
be seen as the
pre-eminent
means
through
which we
experience
the world,
and the
"linguocentric predicament"
not the
insoluble
problem Seeger thought
it to be.
Chapter
7 returns to the
project
of
assessing
a
particular portion
of
Seeger's
writings.
Nimrod Baranovitch thus looks
at
Seeger's appropriation
of
anthropological
ideas between the
years
1933 and 1953. At first blush, Seeger's
essays
do not seem redolent of the
empirical aspects
of
anthropological
research-writing, yet
this
essay
shows
that he was
very
interested in
anthropology's
theoretical stance on such
158
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ET HNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.9/i 2000 159
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ET HNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.9/i 2000 159
concepts
as culture,
cultural relativism
and cultural evolution. Baranovitch
argues
that
Seeger's
calls for music
scholars to take on these notions need to
be
given
the attention that his role in
other domains
(for example,
as
developer
of the
melograph)
has been.
Finally,
Bell
Yung
looks at
Seeger's
"invocation of modem
physics" (173),
most
particularly
at his
readings
of
particle-wave duality (quantum theory)
and the
special theory
of
relativity.
The
evidence of direct invocation,
in
fact,
seems
relatively little, but
Yung's
short
essay
offers an
intriguing
foil for
discussion of several of
Seeger's ideas,
and is
probably
the kind of
response
that
Seeger himself,
as a man of wide
interests,
would have
enjoyed.
In
sum,
this is a
timely
book that becomes more
interesting
the more one reads it. The
contents are
nicely arranged
to
provide
both a
range
of
perspectives
and several
fruitful
points
of interconnection. A
collective
bibliography
at the end of the
book would
probably
be more useful for
the
specialist
reader than
separate chapter
references, but this is
hardly
a
major
problem.
JONATHAN P.J. STOCK
University
of Sheffield
j.p j.stock@sheffield.ac.uk
concepts
as culture,
cultural relativism
and cultural evolution. Baranovitch
argues
that
Seeger's
calls for music
scholars to take on these notions need to
be
given
the attention that his role in
other domains
(for example,
as
developer
of the
melograph)
has been.
Finally,
Bell
Yung
looks at
Seeger's
"invocation of modem
physics" (173),
most
particularly
at his
readings
of
particle-wave duality (quantum theory)
and the
special theory
of
relativity.
The
evidence of direct invocation,
in
fact,
seems
relatively little, but
Yung's
short
essay
offers an
intriguing
foil for
discussion of several of
Seeger's ideas,
and is
probably
the kind of
response
that
Seeger himself,
as a man of wide
interests,
would have
enjoyed.
In
sum,
this is a
timely
book that becomes more
interesting
the more one reads it. The
contents are
nicely arranged
to
provide
both a
range
of
perspectives
and several
fruitful
points
of interconnection. A
collective
bibliography
at the end of the
book would
probably
be more useful for
the
specialist
reader than
separate chapter
references, but this is
hardly
a
major
problem.
JONATHAN P.J. STOCK
University
of Sheffield
j.p j.stock@sheffield.ac.uk
KARL REICHL
(ed.)
The oral
epic:
performance
and music
(Intercultural
Music Studies
12).
Berlin:
Verlag
ftir Wissenschaft
und
Bildung,
2000. viii +
248pp.,
photographs,
musical
exx., notes,
bibliographies (DM 68.00).
Scholarly
work since the
eighteenth
century
has dealt with
epic
or heroic
song
almost
entirely
in terms of its
origin,
content or verbal
style.
It has
rarely,
or
exceptionally,
dealt with the
performative
or musical
aspects
of the
genre.
Like the
KARL REICHL
(ed.)
The oral
epic:
performance
and music
(Intercultural
Music Studies
12).
Berlin:
Verlag
ftir Wissenschaft
und
Bildung,
2000. viii +
248pp.,
photographs,
musical
exx., notes,
bibliographies (DM 68.00).
Scholarly
work since the
eighteenth
century
has dealt with
epic
or heroic
song
almost
entirely
in terms of its
origin,
content or verbal
style.
It has
rarely,
or
exceptionally,
dealt with the
performative
or musical
aspects
of the
genre.
Like the
ballad, epic
has drawn the
rapt
attention
of
literary pundits
because of its non-
literary
poetic qualities: formulaic
construction, stereotyped language,
textual
length,
and
repetition
of various
kinds. But in common with more recent
studies of ballad
performance
and
musical
style,
this collection of
essays
is
a
timely
reminder of the
actuality
of the
genre
as it is
performed
now and has been
performed
in the
past (where
evidence for
that is
extant).
The dimensions of
context-and-performance
and
"music",
of
course,
mark heroic
epics
off from
purely
literary genres,
and constitute essential
features of its communicative
power.
While in
epic
"the
story"
is the
thing,
the
way
the
story
is
conveyed
forms
part
and
parcel
of its communicative means.
Much of the
contemporary
interest in
the
living genre
came about in the last
half
century through
Milman
Parry
and
Albert Lord of Harvard
University who,
as a result of their fieldwork in
Bosnia,
opened
the
eyes
of Western scholars to
the
performative
conditions of Balkan
epic song. Parry's
field research
(and
later that of
Lord)
was not so much
ethnomusicological, however,
as an
attempt
to answer the Homeric
question:
who
composed
the Iliad and
Odyssey?
But both
Parry
and Lord were
inevitably
drawn into a consideration of
learning,
composition,
music, and
performance.
Lord's The
Singer of
Tales
(1960),
while
appealing
to a wide
range
of
literary
interest in
epic
because of its focus on the
tectonic function of verbal formulae,
attracted
ethnomusicologists
because of
its
portrayal
of the
performance
of a
genre thought
to have vanished
(from
Europe,
at
least).
Much of the
encyclopaedic
literature on "oral
theory"
stems from the
Parry-Lord hypothesis
of
formulaic
building
blocks as the
fundamental structure for the
construction of
epic
or heroic
song.
That
hypothesis
now needs some
ballad, epic
has drawn the
rapt
attention
of
literary pundits
because of its non-
literary
poetic qualities: formulaic
construction, stereotyped language,
textual
length,
and
repetition
of various
kinds. But in common with more recent
studies of ballad
performance
and
musical
style,
this collection of
essays
is
a
timely
reminder of the
actuality
of the
genre
as it is
performed
now and has been
performed
in the
past (where
evidence for
that is
extant).
The dimensions of
context-and-performance
and
"music",
of
course,
mark heroic
epics
off from
purely
literary genres,
and constitute essential
features of its communicative
power.
While in
epic
"the
story"
is the
thing,
the
way
the
story
is
conveyed
forms
part
and
parcel
of its communicative means.
Much of the
contemporary
interest in
the
living genre
came about in the last
half
century through
Milman
Parry
and
Albert Lord of Harvard
University who,
as a result of their fieldwork in
Bosnia,
opened
the
eyes
of Western scholars to
the
performative
conditions of Balkan
epic song. Parry's
field research
(and
later that of
Lord)
was not so much
ethnomusicological, however,
as an
attempt
to answer the Homeric
question:
who
composed
the Iliad and
Odyssey?
But both
Parry
and Lord were
inevitably
drawn into a consideration of
learning,
composition,
music, and
performance.
Lord's The
Singer of
Tales
(1960),
while
appealing
to a wide
range
of
literary
interest in
epic
because of its focus on the
tectonic function of verbal formulae,
attracted
ethnomusicologists
because of
its
portrayal
of the
performance
of a
genre thought
to have vanished
(from
Europe,
at
least).
Much of the
encyclopaedic
literature on "oral
theory"
stems from the
Parry-Lord hypothesis
of
formulaic
building
blocks as the
fundamental structure for the
construction of
epic
or heroic
song.
That
hypothesis
now needs some