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THE JESSIE A N D J O H N DANZ L E C T U R E S

THE JESSIE AND JOHN DANZ LECTURES

The Human Crisis, by Julian Huxley


Of Men and Galaxies, by Fred Hoyle
The Challenge of Science, by George Boas
Of Molecules and Men, by Francis Crick
Nothing But or Something More, by Jacquetta Hawkes
Abortion in a Crowded World:
The Problems of Abortion with Special Reference to India,
by S. Chandrasekhar
World Culture and the Black Experience, by Ali A. Mazrui
Energy for Tomorrow, by Philip H. Abelson
Plato's Universe, by Gregory Vlastos
The Nature of Biography, by Robert Gittings
Darwinism and Human Affairs, by Richard D. Alexander
Arms Control and SALT II, by W. K. H. Panofsky
Promethean Ethics:
Living with Death, Competition, and Triage,
by Garrett Hardin
Social Environment and Health, by Stewart.Wolf
The Possible and the Actual, by Francois Jacob
Facing the Threat of Nuclear Weapons, by Sidney D. Drell
Symmetries, Asymmetries, and the World of Particles, by T. D. Lee
The Symbolism of Habitat:
An Interpretation of Landscape in the Arts,
by Jay Appleton
The Essence of Chaos, by Edward N. Lorenz
Environmental Health Risks and Public Policy:
Decision Making in Free Societies,
by David V. Bates
Language and Human Behavior, by Derek Bickerton
The Uses of Ecology: Lake Washington and Beyond,
by W. T. Edmondson

HOW
MUSICAL
IS
MAN

JOHN

UNIVERSITY

OF

SEATTLE

BLACKING

WASHINGTON
AND

LONDON

PRESS

A tape recording of Venda music, prepared by the author, is available from


the publisher. Included are performances of some of the musical examples in
the book, as well as additional complementary material. A descriptive listing
of the items recorded accompanies the tape. (Venda Music. Recorded and
edited by John Blacking. 1974. One C-60 cassette, 1-7/8 ips [0-295-75512-2])
TO ORDER, please write University of Washington Press, P.O. Box 50096,
Seattle, WA 98145-50%.
Copyright 1973 by the University r
Second printing, 1974
First paperback edition, 1974
Sixth printing, 2000
Printed in the United States of Ameri
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopy, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Blacking, John
How musical is man?
u I U 4
(The John Danz lectures)
1. Musical ability. 2. Ethnomusicology.
I. Title. II. Series
ML3838.B6
780M
72-6710
ISBN 0-295-95338-1 (pbk.)
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of
American National Standard for Information SciencesPermanence of
Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.
Excerpts from Benjamin Britten's War Requiem are reproduced by permission
of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.; from Gustav Mahler's Ninth
Symphony and the " Abschied" from Song of the Earth by permission of
Universal Edition (London) Ltd.; from Mahler's Tenth Symphony by
permission of G. Schirmer, 140 Strand, London WC4R1HH, and copyright
1966 by Associated Music Publishers, Inc., New York, used by permission.
Examples from Deryck Cook's The Language of Music are reproduced by
permission of Ocford University Press.
All photographs are by the author.

To Meyer Fortes

T H E J E S S I E A N D J O H N DANZ L E C T U R E S

IN

O C T O B E R , 1 9 6 1 , M r . J o h n D a n z , a S e a t t l e pioneer, and
his wife, J e s s i e D a n z , made a substantia l gift to the U n i v e r -

sity of W a s h i n g t o n to establis h a perpetual fund to provide


i n c o m e to be used to bring to the U n i v e r s i t y of W a s h i n g t o n
each y e a r ". . . distinguished scholars of nationa l and international reputation w h o h a v e c o n c e r n e d themselve s with the
impact of science and p h i l o s o p h y on m a n ' s perception of a
rational u n i v e r s e . " T h e fund establishe d b y M r . and M r s .
Danz is now k n o w n as the Jessie and John Danz Fund, and the
s c h o l a r s b r o u g h t t o t h e U n i v e r s i t y u n d e r its p r o v i s i o n s are
known as Danz Lecturers or Professors.
M r . D a n z wisely left t o the B o a r d o f R e g e n t s o f the U n i versity of W a s h i n g t o n the identification of the special fields
in science, philosophy, and o t h e r disciplines in whic h lectureships m a y be established. His m a j or concern and interest
were that the fund would e n a b l e the U n i v e r s i ty of W a s h i n g ton to bring to the campus s o m e of the truly great scholars
and thinkers of the world.
M r . D a n z authorized the R e g e n t s to expend a portion of
the i n c o m e from the fund to p u r c h a s e special collection s of
b o o k s , d o c u m e n t s, and other s c h o l a r ly materials needed to
vii

viii
reinforce t h e effectiveness o f t h e extraordinar y lectureship s
and p r o f e s s o r s h i p s. T h e t e r m s of the gift also provided for
the publication a n d dissemination, w h e n this s e e m s appropriate, o f t h e l e c t u r e s g i v e n b y t h e D a n z L e c t u r e r s .
Through

this book,

therefore,

another Danz

Lecturer

s p e a k s to the people and scholars of t h e world, as he h a s


s p o k e n t o his audiences a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f W a s h i n g t o n and
in the Pacific N o r t h w e s t c o m m u n i t y .

PREFACE

T h i s is n o t a scholarly study of h u m a n musicality, so m u c h


a s a n a t t e m p t t o reconcile m y experiences o f music m a k ing in different cultures. I present n e w i n f o r m a t i on t h at is a
result of my research in A f r i c a n music, as well as s o m e facts
that are familiar to a n y o n e b r o u g h t up in t h e tradition of
European " a r t " m u s i c ; b ut m y conclusions and suggestion s
are e x p l o r a t o r y. T h e y express t h e dilemma of a m u s i c i a n w h o
has b e c o m e a professional anthropologist , and it is for this
reason tha t I dedicate the b o o k t o M e y e r Fortes . I n 1 9 5 2 ,
w h e n I was devoting far m o r e time to music than to my
courses in a n t h r o p o l o g y , he sent me to Paris to study e t h n o musicology under A n d r e Schaeffner during a s u m m e r v a c a tion. B u t a n o t h e r five years passed b e f o re I b e g a n to glimpse
the possibilities of an a n t h r o p o l o g y of music. E v e n after a
year's intensive fieldwork, I tended to regard A f r i c a n m u s ic
as s o m e t h i n g " o t h e r " ; and this attitude would be reinforced
w h e n I listened to a tape of Wozzeck or s o m e of W e b e r n ' s
music in my tent, or w h e n e v e r there was a p i a n o available
and I could i m m e r s e m y s e l f in B a c h , or C h o p i n , or M o z a r t .
I t was t h e V e n d a o f S o u t h A f r i c a w h o first b r o k e dow n
s o m e o f m y prejudices. T h e y introduced m e t o a n e w world
ix

PREFACE

of musical experience and to a deeper understanding of " m y


o w n " m u s i c . I h a d b e e n b r o u g h t up to u n d e r s t a nd music as a
s y s t e m of ordering sound, in which a cumulative set of rules
and an increasin g r a n g e of permissible sound pattern s had
b e e n i n v e n t ed and developed b y Europeans w h o were c o n sidered to h a v e had exceptiona l musica l ability. By associating
different " s o n i c o b j e c t s " with various personal experiences,
by hearing and playing repeatedly the m u s i c of certain a p proved c o m p o s e r s , and by selective r e i n f o r c e m e n t that w a s
supposed to be o b j e c t i v e l y aesthetic b u t w a s n o t unrelated
to class interests, I acquired a repertoire of performing and
c o m p o s i n g techniques and musical values that were as p r e dictably a c o n s e q u e n c e of my social and cultural e n v i r o n m e n t
as are the musical abilities and taste of a V e n d a m a n a c o n vention o f his society. T h e c h i e f results o f nearly two y e a r s '
fieldwork a m o n g the V e n d a and o f a t t e m p t s t o a n a l y z e m y
data over a period of twelve years are that I t h i n k I am
beginning to understand the V e n d a s y s t e m ; I no l o n g e r understand the histor y and structures o f European " a r t " music
as clearly as I did; and I can see no useful distinction b e tween the terms " f o l k " and " a r t " m u s i c , except a s c o m m e r cial l a b e l s .
T h e V e n d a taught me that music can never be a thing in
itself, and that all music is folk music , in the sense that music
c a n n o t b e transmitted o r h a v e m e a n i n g without associations
b e t w e e n people. D i s t i n c t i o n s b e t w e e n the surface c o m p l e x i t y
of different musical styles and techniques do n o t tell us a n y thing

useful about the expressive purposes and p o w e r of

music, or a b o u t the intellectual organization involved in its


creation. M u s i c is too deeply concerned with h u m a n feelings
and experiences in society, and its patterns are t o o often
generated b y surprising o u t b u r s t s o f u n c o n s c i o u s c e r e b r a tion, for it to be subject to arbitrary rules, like t h e rules of
games. M a n y , i f not all, o f m u s i c ' s essential p r o c e s s e s m a y
be found in t h e constitution of the h u m a n b o d y and in pat-

xi

PREFACE

terns o f i n t e r a c t i o n o f h u m a n bodies i n s o c i e t y . T h u s all


music is structurally, as well as functionally, folk m u s i c . T h e
m a k e r s o f " a r t " music are not i n n a t e l y m o r e sensitive o r
cleverer t h a n " f o l k " m u s i c i a n s : the structures o f their music
simply e x p r e s s , by processes similar to those in V e n d a music ,
the n u m e r i c a l l y larger s y s t e m s o f interaction o f folk i n their
societies, t h e c o n s e q u e n c e s of a m o r e extensiv e division of
labor, and an a c c u m u l a t ed t e c h n o l o g i c al tradition.
Literacy and the i n v e n t i on of n o t a t i o n are clearly i m p o r t a nt
factors that m a y g e n e r a t e e x t e n d e d musical structures, but
they express differences of degree, and not the difference in
kind that is implied by the distinction b e t w e e n " a r t " and
" f o l k " music. I h a v e limited my e x a m p l e s to the m u s i c of the
V e n d a , b e c a u s e I h a v e personal experienc e of it and empirical
data to support my s t a t e m e n t s . B u t my a r g u m e nt about music
in one culture s e e m s to apply to othe r musical s y s t e m s that
have b e e n studied by e t h n o m u s i c o l o g i s t s , and particularly to
Arabic,

Indian,

Chinese,

Japanese,

and

Indonesian

"art"

music. I am c o n v i n c e d that an anthropological a p p r o a c h to


the study of all musical s y s t e m s m a k e s more sense of t h e m
than analyse s of the patterns of sound as things in t h e m selves.
If my guess a b o u t the biological and social origins of music
is correct, or even o n l y partly correct, it could affect a s s e s s ments o f m u s i c a l i t y and pattern s o f music education. A b o v e
all, it m i g ht generat e some n e w ideas about the role of music
in education, and its general role in societies w h i ch (like the
V e n d a in the c o n t e x t of their traditional e c o n o m y ) are going
to have m o r e leisure time as a u t o m a t i on increases. I often
wondered h o w it w a s that at my preparatory school mos t of
the scholarships were w o n b y c h o r i s t e r s, w h o represente d
only a third of the school and m i s s e d m o r e than a third of the
classes b e c a u s e of sung services and choir practice. W h e n I
lived with the V e n d a , I b e g a n to understand h o w music can
b e c o m e a n intricate part o f the development o f m i n d , b o d y ,

PREFACE

xii
and h a r m o n i o u s

social relationships .

T h e s e ideas

are, o f

c o u r s e , older than the writings o f B o e t h i u s a n d P l a t o o n


m u s i c ; b u t I h o p e that my o w n experiences m a y add a fresh
perspective to a perennial p r o b l e m .
I am deeply grateful to t h e B o a r d of R e g e n t s of t h e U n i versity o f W a s h i n g t o n , w h o s e invitatio n t o deliver the J o h n
D a n z Lecture s has given m e t h e opportunit y t o t h i n k aloud
and s u m m a r i z e some of my findings on A f r i c a n music. I t h a n k
Robert

Kauffman , w h o originally

suggested

that

might

c o m e , a n d W i l l i a m B e r g s m a , R o b e r t Garfias, and m a n y o t h e r s ,
w h o helped me to spend a v e r y h a p p y and stimulatin g m o n t h
in S e a t t l e . In particular, I t h a n k N a o m i Pasca l for her e n t h u siasm and advice in preparing the lectures for publication ,
and Cyril Ehrlich for reading the m a n u s c r i p t and m a k i n g
m a n y useful c o m m e n t s ; but I t a k e full responsibility for any
deficiencies in the final product. I am c o n v i n c e d that a n y
creative effort is the s y n t h e s i s of an individual's response s to
all the g o o d things that o t h e r s h a v e given h i m ; and so these
b r i e f a c k n o w l e d g m e n t s represent only a fraction of the gratitude I o w e to all t h o s e w h o h a v e helped me to appreciate and
u n d e r s t a n d music.

CONTENTS
Humanly Organized Sound

Music in Society and Culture

32

Culture and Society in Music

54

Soundly Organized Humanity

89

H O W MUSICAL IS MAN?

Humanly
Organized
Sound
ETHNOMUSICOLOGY

is

comparatively

new

word

w h i c h is widely used to refer to the study of the different


musical s y s t e m s of the world. Its seven syllables do not give
it any aestheti c a d v a n t a g e o v e r t h e pentasyllabl e " m u s i c o l o g y , " b u t a t least they m a y r e m i n d u s that the people o f m a n y
so-called " p r i m i t i v e " cultures used s e v e n - t o n e scales and h a r m o n y long b e f o r e t h e y h e a r d t h e music o f W e s t e r n Europe .
P e r h a p s we need a c u m b e r s o m e w o r d to restore the b a l a n c e
to a world of m u s i c that t h r e a t e n s to fly up i n t o clouds of
elitism. W e need t o r e m e m b e r t h a t i n mos t c o n s e r v a t o i r e s
t h e y teach o n l y o n e particular kind o f ethnic music , and t h a t
m u s i c o l o g y is really an e t h n i c m u s i c o l o g y . A S c h o o l of M u s i c
such a s that a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f W a s h i n g t o n , w h i c h e s t a b lishes a s u b d e p a r t m e n t of E t h n o m u s i c o l o g y , E t h n ic M u s i c ,
or B l a c k M u s i c , h a s t a k e n the first step toward recognizin g
its role in t o m o r r o w ' s world of music. It has implicitly redefined its M u s i c m o r e m o d e s t l y , as a s y s t e m of musical t h e o r y
and practice that emerged and developed during a certain
period o f E u r o p e a n h i s t o r y .
M o r e i m p o r t a n t than a n y arbitrary , e t h n o c e n t r i c divisions
b e t w e e n M u s i c and Ethnic M u s i c , o r b e t w e e n A r t M u s i c and

HOW

MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

Folk M u s i c , are the distinctions that different cultures and


social groups m a k e b e t w e e n music and n o n m u s i c . In the long
run, i t i s t h e activities o f M a n the M u s i c M a k e r that are o f
m o r e interest and c o n s e q u e n c e to h u m a n i t y t h a n the particular musical a c h i e v e m e n t s of W e s t e r n m a n . If, for e x a m p l e , all
m e m b e r s of an Africa n s o c i e ty are able to p e r f o r m and listen
intelligently to their o w n indigenous m u s i c , and if this unwritte n m u s i c , w h e n analyze d in its social and cultural c o n text, c a n be s h o w n to h a v e a similar range of effects on
people and to be b a s e d on intellectual and musical processes
that are found in the so-called " a r t " music of E u r o p e, we
must a s k w h y apparently general musical abilities should be
restricted to a c h o s en few in societies supposed to be culturally m o r e advanced. D o e s cultural development represent a
real a d v a n c e in h u m a n sensitivity and technical ability , or is it
chiefly a diversion for elites a n d a w e a p on of class exploitat i o n ? M u s t the majority be m a d e " u n m u s i c a l " so that a few
m a y b e c o m e more " m u s i c a l " ?
R e s e a r c h in e t h n o m u s i c o l o g y h a s expanded our k n o w l e d g e
of the different musical s y s t e m s of the world, b u t it has n o t
yet

brought

about

the

reassessment

of human

musicality

which this n e w k n o w l e d g e demands. E t h n o m u s i c o l o g y has


the p o w e r to create a revolution in the world of music and
music education, if it follows the implications of its discoveries and develops as a m e t h o d , and n o t m e r e l y an area, of
study. I believe that e t h n o m u s i c o l o g y should be m o r e than a
b r a n c h o f orthodox m u s i c o l o g y concerne d with " e x o t i c " o r
" f o l k " m u s i c : i t could pioneer n e w w a y s o f analyzing music
and music history. C u r r e n t l y recognized divisions between
A r t M u s i c and Folk M u s i c are inadequate and misleading as
conceptual tools. T h e y are neither meaningful n o r accurate as
indices of musical differences; at best, they m e r e l y define the
interests and activities of different social groups. T h e y express
the s a m e outloo k as the irregular v e r b , "I play m u s i c ; you
are a folk singer; he m a k e s a horrible n o i s e . " We need to

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

k n o w w h a t sounds and w h a t kinds of b e h a v i o r different societies have c h o s e n to call " m u s i c a l " ; and until we k n o w m o r e
about this we cannot b e g i n to a n s w e r the question, " H o w
musical i s m a n ? "
If studies in the p s y c h o l o g y of music and tests of musicality have failed to reach a g r e e m e nt on the nature of musicality ,
it is p r o b a b l y becaus e t h e y h a v e b e e n almost exclusively
ethnocentric. T h u s , the contradictions that exist b e t w e e n the
different schools o f t h o u g h t m a y b e artifacts o f their e t h n o centricity. W h e n the G e s t a l t school insists that musical talent
is m o r e t h a n a set of specific attributes dependent upon sensory capacities, it is right; b u t only partly right, b e c a u s e its
whole does n ot e x t e n d into the culture of which the music is
a part. W h e n opponents of the G e s t a l t school attac h prime
importance to s e n s o r y capacities, they are also right, b e c a u s e
without certain specific capacities music could neither be perceived n o r performed. But their tests, like th e theories on
which they are based , are also of limited value and are hardly
m o r e o b j e c t i v e than those which m a y seem to be less scientific. Paradoxically , their laudable aim to be c o n t e x t - f r e e and
objective fails precisely b e c a u s e they minimize t h e i m p o r t a n c e
of cultural experience in t h e selection and d e v e l o p m e n t of
sensory capacities. For i n s t a n c e , a test of musical pitch based
on the sounds of a G e n e r al R a d i o beat-frequenc y oscillator
m a y seem to be m o r e scientific t h a n one based on culturally
familiar t i m b r e s , b e c a u s e the intensity and duration of the
sounds can be e x a c t l y controlled. B u t the results of such a
test could in fact represent a distortion of the truth, b e c a u s e
the s u b j e c t s ' perception m a y be t h r o w n off b a l a n c e by the
unfamiliar medium.
O n e e x a m p l e o f the e t h n o c e n t r i c i s m o f all the musical tests
that I h a v e so far encountered will serve as a general criticism, and also illustrate w h y we m u s t b r o a d e n our field of
investigation if we are to find out what capacities are involved

in musicality .

Carl

Seashore's

Measures

of Musical

HOW MUSICAL IS

MAN?

Talents were the first standardized tests of musical ability to


b e published, i n 1 9 1 9 ; and although they h a v e b e e n criticized,
refined, and elaborate d b o t h b y S e a s h o r e h i m s e l f and b y
m a n y other w o r k e r s , testing procedures h a v e n o t changed
radically. T h e basis o f t h e S e a s h o r e tests i s discrimination o f
s o m e k i n d . N o w , b e c a u s e sensory discrimination is developed
in culture, people m a y fail to express any distinction b e t w e e n
musical intervals w h i c h t h e y can h e a r , b u t w h i c h h a ve n o
significance in their musical s y s t e m . S i m i l a r l y , people w h o use
o n l y four or five basic color terms m a y be able to distinguish
b e t w e e n finer shades of color even t h o u gh t h e y m a y not
k n o w the special terms the manufacturers h a v e invented in
order to sell the n e w s e a s o n ' s clothes. I lived for nearly two
years in a rural A f r i c a n s o c i e t y , and I studied the developm e n t and expression of its m e m b e r s ' musical ability in the
c o n t e x t of their social and cultural experience . M u s i c plays a
very important part in the life of the V e n d a of the N o r t h e r n
T r a n s v a a l , and even white settlers w h o suffer from the dem e n t e d logic of apartheid readily admit that t h e V e n d a are
very musical people. But w h e n confronted w i t h the S e a s h o r e
tests of musical talent, an outstanding V e n d a musician might
well appear to be a t o n e - d e a f musical m o r o n . B e c a u s e his
perception of sound is basically h a r m o n i c , he m i g h t declare
that two intervals a fourth or a fifth apart wer e the s a m e ,
and that there was no difference b e t w e e n t w o apparently
different patterns o f m e l o d y (see Example 2 ) . T e s t s o f timbre
and loudness would be irrelevant outside the social c o n t e x t of
sound, and in any c a se t h e sound of the oscillator would
p r o b a b l y turn him off i n s t a n t l y : since it is not sound made
by a h u m a n being, it is n o t music.
T e s t s of musical ability are clearly relevant only to the cultures w h o s e musical s y s t e m s are similar to tha t of the tester.
But I would ask further q u e s t i o n s : H o w useful are musical
tests even within the cultural tradition in which they are set?
W h a t do the tests test, and h o w far is it related to musical

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

ability? H o w musical is the ability that finds its expression in


musical c o m p o s i t i o n or p e r f o r m a n c e , and under what condi tions can i t e m e r g e ? W e c a n n o t a n s w e r the question , " H o w
musical i s m a n ? " until w e k n o w w h a t features o f h u m a n b e havior, i f a n y , are peculiar t o music. W e talk freely o f musical
genius, b u t we do n o t k n o w what qualities of genius are restricted to music and w h e t h e r or n o t they m i g h t find e x p r e s sion in a n o t h e r m e d i u m. N o r do we k n o w to w h a t e x t e n t
these qualities m a y be latent in all m e n . It m a y well be that
the social and cultural inhibitions that prevent the flowering
of musical genius are m o r e significant than any individual
ability that m a y s e e m to p r o m o t e it.
T h e question, " H o w musical is m a n ? " is related to the m o r e
general questions , " W h a t i s the nature o f m a n ? " and, " W h a t
limits are there to his cultural d e v e l o p m e n t ? " It is part of a
series of questions that we must a s k about m a n ' s past and
present if we are to do a n y t h i n g m o r e than s t u m b l e blindly
forward into the future. A l t h o u g h I h a v e no final a n s w e r to
the question posed by the title of the b o o k , I h o p e to show in
the first three chapter s h o w research in e t h n o m u s i c o l o g y m a y
resolve m o s t of t h e p r o b l e m s , and, in the fourth, w h y the
issue m a y be i m p o r t a n t for the future of h u m a n i t y . T h e r e is
so m u c h music in the world that it is r e a s o n a b l e to suppose
that music, like language and possibly religion, is a speciesspecific trait of m a n . Essential physiological and cognitive
processes

that g e n e r a t e musical composition and p e r f o r m -

ance m a y e v e n be genetically inherited, and therefore present


in almost every h u m a n being. An understanding of these and
other processes involved in the production of music m a y provide us with evidence that me n are m o r e r e m a r k a b l e and
capable creatures than m o s t societies ever allow the m to b e .
T h i s is not the fault of culture itself, b u t the fault of m a n ,
w h o m i s t a k e s the m e a n s of culture for the end, and so lives
for culture and n o t beyond culture.
C o n s i d e r the contradictions b e t w e e n theory and practice in

HOW MUSICAL IS

MAN?

the m a t t e r o f m u s i c a l i t y i n t h e kind o f b o u r g e o i s e n v i r o n m e n t
in w h i c h I w a s raised and seemed to acquire a degree of
musical c o m p e t e n c e . ( I s a y " s e e m e d , " b e c a u s e a n essential
point o f m y a r g u m e n t i s that w e d o n o t k n o w e x a c t l y w h a t
m u s i c a l c o m p e t e n c e is or h o w it is acquired.) M u s i c is played
while we eat and try to t a l k ; it is played b e t w e e n films and
at the t h e a t e r ; it is played as we sit in crowded airport
l o u n g e s , and o m i n o u s l y as we wait in t h e p l a n e to t a k e off; it
is played all day l o ng on the radio; and even in c h u r c h few
organists

allow m o m e n t s o f silence t o i n t e r v e ne b e t w e e n

different stages o f t h e ritual. " M y " society claims t h a t o n l y a


limited n u m b e r of people are musical, and yet it b e h a v e s as if
all people possessed the b a s i c capacit y w i t h o u t w h i c h no
musical tradition can e x i s t t h e capacity to listen to and distinguish patterns o f sound. T h e m a k e r s o f m o s t films and
television serials hope to appeal to large and varied audiences;
and s o , w h e n t h e y add incidental music to t h e dialogue and
action, t h e y implicitly a s s u m e that audiences c a n discern its
patterns and respond to its e m o t i o n a l appeal, and that t h e y
will hear and understand it in the w a y s that its c o m p o s e r intended. T h e y assume that music is a for m of c o m m u n i c a t i o n ,
and that in a c o m m o n cultural c o n t e x t specific musical s e q u e n c e s can e v o k e feelings that are fearful, apprehensive ,
p a s s i o n a t e , patriotic, religious, s p o o k y , and so on.
T h e film m a k e r s m a y n o t b e aware o f the grounds for their
a s s u m p t i o n s ; but w e c a n b e sure that, i f e x p e r i e n c e had
proved t h e m wrong , t h e y would h a v e rejected all incidental
and m o o d music as u n n e c e s s a r y . Instead, t h e y seem to h a v e
s h o w n increasin g confidence in their audiences ' musicality by
a b a n d o n i n g continual b a c k g r o u n d music in favor of m o r e
selective heightening of the drama. T h i s m a y be o n l y a response t o the pressures o f m u s i c i a n s ' u n i o n s ; b u t, even i f this
were s o , film m a k e r s c o n t i n u e to c o m m i s s i o n c o m p o s e r s of
m u s i c , at considerable e x t ra expense. It is interesting that
these a s s u m p t i o ns should b e made b y m e n and w o m e n w h o s e

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

attitudes to art and financial profit often contradict t h e m . A


producer's training in W e s t e r n E u r o p e a n culture m u s t h a ve
taught h i m that not all people are musical, and tha t s o m e are
more musica l than others. B u t his k n o w l e d g e and experience
of life lead h i m u n c o n s c i o u s l y to reject this t h e o r y. Capitalist
dogma tells h i m that only a c h o s e n few are musical, b u t capitalist experienc e reminds h i m that The Sound of Music was
one of t h e biggest box-office draws of all time.
O n e explanation o f this parado x c o m e s i m m e d i a t e l y t o
mind. In m a n y industrial societies, merit is generally judged
according to signs of i m m e d i a te productivity and profits, and
postulated usefulness, within t h e boundaries of a given s y s tem. Latent ability is rarely recognized or nurtured, unless its
bearer b e l o n g s to the right social class or h a p p e ns to s h ow
evidence of w h a t people h a v e learned to regard as talent.
T h u s , children are judged to be musical or unmusica l on the
basis o f their ability t o p e r f o r m music. A n d yet t h e v e r y e x istence of a professional performer , as well as his n e c e s s a r y
financial support, depends on listeners w h o in o n e important
respect m u s t b e n o less musicall y proficient than h e is. T h e y
must be able to distinguish and interrelate different patterns
of sound.
I am a w a r e that m a n y audiences b e f o re and since t h e c o m position

of

Haydn's

Surprise

Symphony

h a ve

not

listened

attentively to music, and that, in a society w h i c h h a s invented


n o t a t i o n , music could be h a n d e d d o w n by a h e r e d i t a r y elite
without a n y need for listeners. B u t if we tak e a world view
of m u s i c , and if we consider social situations in musical traditions that h a v e no n o t a t i o n , it is clear that t h e creation and
p e r f o r m a n c e of m o s t m u s ic is generated first and foremost
by the h u m a n capacity to discover patterns of sound and to
identify t h e m o n subsequent o c c a s i o n s . W i t h o u t biological
processes of aural perception, and w i t h o u t cultural a g r e e m e n t
a m o n g at least s o m e h u m a n b e i n g s on w h a t is perceived,
there c a n b e n e i t h e r music n o r musica l c o m m u n i c a t i o n .

HOW MUSICAL IS

10

MAN?

T h e i m p o r t a n c e o f creative listening i s too often ignored i n


discussions of musica l a b i l i t y, and y e t it is as fundamental
to music as it is to l a n g u a g e . T h e i n t e r e s t i ng thing about child
prodigies is not so m u c h that s o m e children are b o r n with
apparently exceptiona l gifts, b u t that a child c a n respond to
the organized sounds o f m u s i c b e f o r e h e h a s b e e n taught t o
recognize t h e m . W e k n o w , t o o , t h a t children w h o are n o t
prodigies m a y b e equally responsive , though t h e y m a y n o t
relate to music in a positive w a y and s e e k to reproduce their
experience.
In societies w h e r e m u s i c is n o t written d o w n , i n f o r m e d and
a c c u r a t e listening is as i m p o r t a n t and as m u c h a m e a s u r e of
musical ability as is p e r f o r m a n c e , b e c a u s e it is t h e o n l y m e a n s
of ensurin g continuity of the musical tradition. M u s i c is a
product o f t h e b e h a v i o r o f h u m a n groups , w h e t h e r formal o r
i n f o r m a l : it is h u m a n l y organized sound. A n d , although different societies tend to h a v e different ideas a b o u t w h a t t h e y
regard as music, all definitions are b a s e d on s o m e c o n s e n s u s
o f opinion about t h e principles o n w h i c h the sounds o f m u s i c
should b e organized. N o s u c h c o n s e n s u s c a n e x i st until there
is s o m e c o m m o n g r o u n d of e x p e r i e n c e, and unless different
people are able to h e a r and recognize patterns in the sounds
that reach their ears.
I n s o f a r as m u s i c is a cultural tradition that c a n be shared
and t r a n s m i t t e d , it c a n n o t exist unless at least s o m e h u m a n
b e i n g s p o s s e s s, or h a v e developed, a c a p a c i ty for structured
listening. M u s i c a l p e r f o r m a n c e , as distinct from the production of n o i s e , is i n c o n c e i v a b l e without the perception of order
in sound.
I f m y emphasis o n the p r i m a c y o f listening m a y seem too
farfetched, consider w h a t would happen even to a tradition of
written m u s i c i f m e r e p e r f o r m a n c e w e r e regarded a s the
criterion of musical ability. M u s i c i a n s k n o w that it is possible
to get a w a y with a b a d or inaccurat e p e r f o r m a n c e with an
audience t h a t l o o k s b u t does n o t l i s t e n ; and e v e n listening

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

11

audiences c a n be trained to accep t g r o s s deviations from f a miliar scores of C h o p i n or B e e t h o v e n , w h i c h w e r e at first currently f a s h i o n a b le b u t later b e c a m e part of a pianistic tradition. T h e c o n t i n u i t y o f m u s i c depends a s m u c h o n t h e dem a n d s of critical listeners as on a supply of p e r f o r m e r s .
W h e n I s a y t h a t music c a n n o t exist without the perception
of order in the r e a l m of sound, I am n o t arguing that s o m e
kind o f t h e o r y o f music m u s t precede musica l c o m p o s i t i o n
and p e r f o r m a n c e : this would o b v i o u s l y b e untrue o f m o s t
great classical c o m p o s i t i o n s and o f t h e w o r k o f so-called
" f o l k " m u s i c i a n s . I am suggestin g that a perception of sonic
order, w h e t h e r it be i n n a te or learned, or b o t h , m u s t be in the
mind b e f o r e it emerge s as music.
I deliberatel y use the term " s o n i c o r d e r " and stress experiences of e x t e r n a l listening b e c a u s e I w a n t to e m p h a s i ze that
a n y a s s e s s m e n t o f m a n ' s m u s i c a l i ty must b e b a s e d o n descriptions of a distinctive and limited field of h u m a n b e havior w h i c h we will provisionally call " m u s i c a l . " S o n i c order
m a y be created incidentally as a result of principles of o r ganization t h a t are n o n m u s i c al or e x t r a m u s i c a l , such as the
selection of equidistantly spaced h o l e s on a flute or frets on a
stringed i n s t r u m e n t .

S i m i l a r l y,

an

apparent

lack of

sonic

order m a y e x p r e s s ordered a r r a n g e m e n t s o f n u m b e r s , people,


m a t h e m a t i c a l f o r m u l a e , o r a n y e l e m e n ts that c a n b e trans formed into sound, such as t h e application of a sine curve to
an electronic m a c h i n e .
If a c o m p o s e r tells me that I m u s t not expect to h e a r any
order " i n t h e n o t e s , " but that I m a y o b s e r v e it in patterns of
circles and cones t h a t are given to p e r f o r m e r s , or in n u m b e r s
that are fed into a m a c h i n e , I m a y prefer to call the noise r e actionary m a g i c rather than avant-garde m u s i c ; b u t I c a n n o t
exclude i t from any estimatio n o f h u m a n m u s i c a l i t y , even
though it p r o b a b l y does n o t b e l o n g to the area of b e h a v i o r
that includes t h e m u s i c o f the B u s h m e n , the B e m b a , the B a l i n e s e , B a c h , B e e t h o v e n , and B a r t o k . It is h u m a n l y organized

HOW MUSICAL IS MAN?

12

sound, intended for o t h e r h u m a n ears and p o s s i b ly enjoyed


b y t h e c o m p o s e r s ' friends, and thus concerne d w i t h c o m m u nication and relationships b e t w e e n people.
T h i s process of producing musical sound is n o t as m o d e r n
or sophisticated as its creators might c l a i m : it is simply an
e x t e n s i o n of the general principle that music should express
a s p e c t s o f h u m a n organizatio n o r h u m a n l y conditioned perc e p t i o n s of " n a t u r a l " organization. I observe d a similar p r o c ess i n Z a m b i a i n 1 9 6 1 . A m o n g the N s e n g a o f the P e t a u k e
district, b o y s play small kalimba mbiras as a diversion w h e n
t h e y are walkin g or sitting alone. A n a l y s i s of the tunes they
play reveals relationships b e t w e e n the patterns of m o v e m e n t
of the left and right t h u m b s , the patterns of r h y t h m with
w h i c h they pluck the " k e y s , " and the patterned a r r a n g e m e n t
o f the " k e y b o a r d " i t s e lf (see Figure 1 ) . T h e tunes d o n o t
sound like other N s e n g a music, b u t the two t h u m b s perform
typically

Nsenga

polyrhythms,

which

in

other

contexts

would be performed by m o r e than one player. A similar ins t r u m e n t called the ndimba h a s a different " k e y b o a r d " m o r e
suited to melodic a c c o m p a n i m e n t than to patterned doodling.
T h e m e n w h o play this instrument are usually public entertainers, w h o sing with or to large audiences. T h o u g h their
music often sounds simpler than that which the b o y s play, it
is in fact m o r e musical in construction, since the patterned
relationship between t h u m b m o v e m e n t and " k e y b o a r d " is
subordinate to the requirements of a song, with words and a
form that allow others to sing with the instrument. S o m e of
the b o y s ' tunes m a y b e m o r e experimental and avant-garde,
but they do not concern m a n y people, since they lack a quality the N s e n g a seem to desire of their music, n a m e l y , the
power to bring people together in b r o t h e r h o o d.
It is possible to give m o r e than one analysis of a n y piece
of music, and an enormou s a m o u nt of print is devoted to
doing just this. But it ought to be possible to produce e x a ct
analyses that indicate where musical and extramusical proc-

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

13

Transcriptions of three Nsenga melodies for kalimba

Layout of the "keys" of a 14-note kalimba (A) and a 14-note niimba (B).
(i): Approximate pitches of the scales most commonly used (transposed),
(ii): Numbering of "keys" from left to right of the "keyboard." (iii): "Keys"
numbered symmetrically according to their use in contrary motion by the
right and left thumbs. Shaded "keys" and underlined numbers above and below the music staff indicate pitches in the upper manual of the "keyboard."

1 . Comparison of melodies and "keyboards" of kalimba


and ndimba mbiras, played by the Nsenga of Petauke, Zambia,
illustrating the cultural and physical origins of musical sound.
FIGURE

HOW MUSICAL IS

14

MAN?

Rhythmic foundations of kalimba melodies, as revealed by analyses of


parts played by left and right thumbs

FIGURE 1

continued

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

Analysis of ndimba melody

15

16

H O W MUSICAL IS

MAN?

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

17

esses are e m p l o y e d , and precisely w h a t t h e y are a n d w h y


t h e y were used. A t some level o f analysis, all musical beh a v i o r is structured, w h e t h e r in relation to b i o l o g i c a l , p s y c h o logical, sociological , cultural, or purely musical p r o c e s s e s ;
and it is t h e t a s k of the e t h n o m u s i c o l o g i s t to identify all
processes

t h a t are relevant

to

an

explanation

of musical

sound.
Figure 2 s h o w s a m u s i c al p a s s a g e t h a t c a n be interpreted
in at least t w o w a y s . It is one of a n u m b e r of short repeated
figures t h a t o c c u r in a series of tunes played by a N a n d e (or
K o n j o ) flute player from B u t e m b o , in Zaire, and it is clear
from t h e musical c o n t e x t that it gives the player pleasure
and expresse s fundamental principles of musical structure.
W h a t i s n o t clear from t h e m u s i c alone i s t h e n a t u r e o f
these principles. A listener trained in European ethnic music
m a y h e a r m o v e m e n t a w a y from a n d b a c k to a t o n e c e n t e r ,
w h i ch he would describe as a t o n i c - d o m i n a n t - t o n i c sequence.
M o r e generally , i n term s H i n d e m i t h and o t h e r s h a v e used,
this could be described as a m u s i c al sequence e x p r e s s i ng relaxation-tension-relaxation.

T h e N a n d e musicia n m a y

also

conceive the p a s s a g e as m o v e m e n t a w a y from and b a c k to a


tone c e n t e r , since m u c h A f r i c a n m u s i c is structured in this
w a y , t h o u g h h e would n o t t h i n k specifically i n t e r m s o f tonic
and d o m i n a n t relationships. B u t i f w e consider his p e r f o r m ance in relation to the p h y s i c al e x p e r i e n ce of stopping holes
with t h e fingers, t h e tonal relationships acquire a different
m e a n i n g . T h e p h y s i c a l r e l a x a t i o n o f t h r o w i n g t h e fingers off
the flute produces a tone t h a t is h a r m o n i c a l l y t e n s e , w h i l e the
physical tension of stopping certain holes produces a tone
that is h a r m o n i c a l l y relaxed.
I do n o t k n o w w h i c h of t h e s e interpretations of t h e music
is right in t h e c o n t e x t of N a n d e s o c i e t y and t h e m u s i c i a n s h i p
o f t h e particular p e r f o r m e r, K a t s u b a M w o n g o l o , o r w h e t h e r
there is a n o t h e r e x p l a n a t i o n . B u t I am sure that there is ultim a t e l y o n l y o n e e x p l a n a t i o n and t h a t this could b e discov-

18

H O W MUSICAL IS

MAN?

Musical phrase used in flute music from Butembo

2.
sage, using
"languages,"
FIGURE

Two possible interpretations of the same musical pasa tension/relaxation model and harmonic and physical
respectively.

ered by a c o n t e x t - s e n s i t i v e analysis of t h e musi c in culture.


W h e n I analyzed the flute melodies in 1 9 5 5 , I w a s w o r k i n g
with a n n o t a t e d recordings and a specimen i n s t r u m e n t which
I learned to play. I had no firsthand experience of the culture
o f the performer and n o evidence o f its musica l s y s t e m ,
since very few recordings wer e available.
I can be m o r e confident about the analysis of t h e b a l a n c e

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

19

b e t w e e n physical and musical factors in generating the tunes


played on the N s e n g a kalimba and ndimba mbiras, b e c a u s e I
w o r k e d i n Z a m b i a i n 1 9 6 1 with the performers and learned
to play the tunes (ver y b a d l y ) , I o b s e r v e d the different c o n texts of p e r f o r m a n c e , and I heard and recorded scores of
other pieces o f N s e n g a m u s i c . O n l y b y a s s e m b l i n g musical
and e x t r a m u s i c al i n f o r m a t i o n w a s it possible to discover w h a t
was " i n the n o t e s . "
It is p o s s i b l e to improvise musical tests in the field; and
these m a y provide the o n l y m e a n s o f discovering o r confirming the principles that g e n e r a t e musical c o m p o s i t i o n . For e x ample, V e n d a y o u t h s play duets on o c a r i n a s , called zwipotoliyo, w h i c h they m a k e from small fruits of varying diameter s
(ca. 4 . 5 to 7 c m s ) , in which t h e y h a v e cut o n e large h o l e for
b l o w i n g and two for stopping with the fingers. T h e tones that
can be played on t h e ocarinas v a r y according to the size of
the spheres, and their pitch c a n be modified by the b l o w i n g
of the performer. For the duets, players select pairs that
" s o u n d g o o d , " and so their choice indicates w h a t musical
principles t h e y h o p e to express in the duets. I devised a test
in which t w o y o u t h s selected the m o s t satisfactor y of all c o m binations o f six differently tuned o c a r i n a s ; the sound o f the
duets played on t h e s e i n s t r u m e n t s , therefore, revealed tonal
and h a r m o n i c principles that are i m p o r t a nt in o c a r i n a m u s i c
in particular and V e n d a m u s i c in general. Figure 3 s h o w s
three such p a t t e r n s , with their root progressions and h a r monic s e q u e n c e .
T h e s e three e x a m p l e s illustrate p r o b l e m s t h a t exist in a n a lyzing t h e m u s i c o f a n y c o m p o s e r o r culture. T h e y also e m phasize the dangers of c o m p a r i n g different m u s i c solely on
the basis of its sound. Even t h o u g h the m e a n i n g of m u s i c
rests u l t i m a t e l y " i n the n o t e s " that h u m a n ears perceive, there
can b e several possibl e structural interpretation s o f a n y pattern o f sound , and a n a l m o s t infinite n u m b e r o f individual
responses to its structure, depending on the cultural b a c k -

20
Three Venda ocarina duets

FIGURE

3.

Tonal and harmonic principles in Venda ocarina music.

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

21

Scale diagram of two Venda ocarinas, made from hollowed fruits (A: of Strychnos
spinofto Lam., the wild orange;

FIGURE 3

B: of Oncoba spinosa Forsk.)

continued

ground a n d current e m o t i o n al s t a t e of its listeners.


H o w e v e r , the n u m b e r o f p o s s i b le structural interpretation s
can be greatly reduced w h e n the musical s y s t e m of a single
c o m p o s e r or culture is considered in its total cultural c o n t e x t .
Even w h e n a s y s t e m is clearly articulated, a structural e x planation in t e r ms of that s y s t e m m a y be i n c o m p l e t e . For
example, w e k n o w m u c h a b o u t the t h e o r y and practic e o f
h a r m o n y i n t h e Europea n " a r t " m u s i c o f the n i n e t e e n t h c e n tury, b u t w h e n we analyze t h e m u s i c of H e c t o r Berlioz it is
useful to k n o w t h a t he often w o r k e d out h a r m o n i c p r o c e dures on a guitar, and that t h e structure of the i n s t r u m e nt
influenced m a n y o f his chord s e q u e n c e s.
Let m e illustrate the analytical p r o b l e m further b y a n analo g y from structural linguistics. In doing this, I am n o t suggesting t h a t e t h n o m u s i c o l o g y should use the m e t h o d s of linguistics, t h o u g h the aims of m u s i c al and linguistic analysis
m a y be similar. I see no r e a s o n to a s s u m e that m u s i c is a k i n d
of l a n g u a g e , or that it h a s a n y special structural relationships
with l a n g u a g e , or that l a n g u a g e processes are n e c e s s a r i l y
m o r e fundamental t h a n o t h e r h u m a n cultural activities. H o w ever, a n a l y s e s o f languag e b e h a v i o r b y Eric L e n n e b e r g and
b y N o a m C h o m s k y and his a s s o c i a t e s point t o features that

HOW MUSICAL IS

22

MAN?

h a v e parallels in music. I do n o t refer so m u c h to t h e o b v i o u s


fact that the sound si can h a v e different structural and s e m a n tic significance in different l a n g u a g e s, and that even in English
the words sea, see, and see are different, as to t h e variety of
structures that c a n be embedde d in the surface structures of
a language, that is, in the pattern s of words w h i c h we hear
and to w h i c h we respond.
English

speakers generally understand strings

of words

according to t h e c o n t e x t in w h i c h they are heard. T h u s , as


L e n n e b e r g points out, the string " t h e y - a r e - b o r i n g - s t u d e n t s "
has two possible syntacti c interpretation s w h i c h are directly
related t o two possible s e m a n t i c interpretations. T h e s e n t e n ce
can be either a c o m m e n t by faculty on students1{ | [ ( T h e y ) ]
[(are) ( ( b o r i n g ) ( s t u d e n t s ) ) ] }| i n which " b o r i n g " is an adj e c t i v e ; or it c a n be a c o m m e n t by students on f a c u l t y
[ [ ( T h e y ) ] [(are b o r i n g ) ( s t u d e n t s ) ]

J||in w h i c h " b o r i n g " is

an inflected v e r b form. In m a n y c a s e s , h o w e v e r , there is n o t


a o n e - t o - o n e relationship b e t w e e n syntactic and s e m a n t i c in terpretations. C h o m s k y h a s s h o w n that at the surface level
the structure o f the gerundial p h r a s e " t h e s h o o t i n g o f the
h u n t e r s " m a y be a t r a n s f o r m a t i o n of either the active sentence " h u n t e r s s h o o t , " o r the passiv e " h u n t e r s are s h o t . "
I t i s b e c a u s e o f this k i n d o f relationship b e t w e e n deep and
surface structures that we c a n n o t regard language as a m a t t e r
of fitting words int o g r a m m a t i c al slots according to learned
patterns, regardless of the cognitive processes t h a t underlie
the patterns. T h e r e is a world of difference b e t w e e n the active
s e n t e n c e " J o h n is eager to p l e a s e " and the passive " J o h n is
easy to p l e a s e , " although on the surface o n l y o n e word has
been c h a n g e d . Similarly, we c a n n o t substitue any similar verb
form for " s h o o t i n g " without considering t h e s e m a n t i c implications, w h i c h in turn bring into play different structural
principles. In s o m e c o n t e x t s I can talk of " t h e eating of the
h u n t e r s " i n the s a m e w a y a s " t h e shooting o f the h u n t e r s , "
but i n all c o n t e x t s k n o w n t o m e " t h e drinking o f t h e h u n t e r s "

can h a ve onl y o n e structural and s e m a n t i c interpretation.


Logical possibilities m u s t always b e considered, h o w e v e r , and
in s o m e cultures the ambiguit y of phrases such as " t h e singing o f the h u n t e r s " o r " t h e d a n c i n g o f the h u n t e r s , " w h i c h
ought t o b e t r a n s f o r m a t i o ns o n l y o f active s e n t e n c e s , m a y b e
resolved b y the c o n c e pt that a m a n can " b e s u n g " o r " b e
danced."
M u s i c a l structures , like strings of words, can be interpreted
as the results of fitting tone s i n t o slots according to the rules
of a musical g r a m m a r . B u t if t h e deep structures are ignored,
confusion m a y arise. A h u m o r o u s c o n s e q u e n c e of such an
approach to musica l analysis is quoted by D e r y c k C o o k e in
his b o o k The Language of Music ( [ L o n d o n : O x f o r d U n i v e r sity P r e s s , 1 9 5 9 ] , E x . 7 3 , p . 1 8 6 ) . A friend o f his " c o n f i d e n t ly
a s s u m e d " t h at " t h e once-popula r c o m i c song ' Y e s , w e h a v e
n o b a n a n a s (we h a v e n o b a n a n a s t o d a y ) ' " w a s generated i n
the following w a y :
Example 1

A m o r e serious illustration of t h e i m p o r t a n c e of deep s t r u c tures in the a n a l y s i s of musi c is provided by t w o different


versions of a V e n d a children's song, Funguvhu

tanzwa mu-

lomo! (see E x a m p l e 2 ) . T h e t w o melodies are describe d as


" t h e s a m e " b e c a u s e they are melodic t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s o f t h e
same deep structure, w h i c h is an essentially " h a r m o n i c " s e q u e n c e , given r h y t h m i c impetus and c o n t o ur by a string of
words. T h e tones o f o n e m e l o d y are the h a r m o n i c equivalents
o f the o t h e r .
T h e first p r o b l e m in assessing h u m a n musicality is also the
central issue in m u s i c o l o g y and e t h n o m u s i c o l o g y . It is the

HOW

24

4. Vha

ka

e - n d a pT?

MUSICAL

Vho l i - m a

IS

MAN?

da-vha

la

kho - mbe.

problem of describing w h a t happens in a piece of music. We


cannot yet explain what we already k n o w intuitively as a
result of experience in culture, namely, the essential differences between the music of H a y d n and M o z a r t , or of the
Flathead and the Sioux Indians. It is not enough to k n o w the
distinctive features of Mozart's piano concertos or of Beethoven's orchestration: we w a n t to know exactly h o w and w h y
Beethoven is Beethoven, Mozart is Mozart, and H a y d n is
H a y d n . E v e r y composer has a basic cognitive system that sets
its stamp on his major w o r k s , regardless of the ensembles for
which they were written. This cognitive system includes all
cerebral activity involved in his motor coordination, feelings,
and cultural experiences, as well as his social, intellectual, and
musical activities. An accurate and comprehensive description
of a composer's cognitive system will, therefore, provide the
most fundamental and powerful explanation of the patterns
that his music takes. Similarly, the musical styles current in a
society will be best understood as expressions of cognitive

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

25

processes that m a y b e o b s e r v e d t o operat e i n the f o r m a t i o n


o f other structures. W h e n w e k n o w h o w these cognitive
processes w o r k in producing the patterns of sound different
societies call " m u s i c , " we shall be in a bette r position to find
out h o w musical m a n is.
T h e study o f music i n culture i s w h a t A l a n M e r r i a m advocated

in

his

important

book,

The

Anthropology

of

Music

( E v a n s t o n , 111.: N o r t h w e s t e r n U n i v e r s i t y Press, 1 9 6 4 ) , b u t
e t h n o m u s i c o l o g i s t s h a v e yet to produce s y s t e m a t i c cultural
a n a l y s e s of m u s i c that explain h o w a musical s y s t e m is part
of other s y s t e m s of relationships within a culture. It is n o t
e n o u g h to identify a characteristic musical style in its o w n
terms and view it in relation to its society (to p a r a p h r a se a
definition o f o n e o f the aims o f e t h n o m u s i c o l o g y b y M a n t l e
H o o d , w h o h a s don e m o r e for the s u b j e ct t h a n almost a n y
o t h e r living e t h n o m u s i c o l o g i s t ) . W e m u s t recognize that n o
musical style h a s " i t s o w n t e r m s " : its terms are t h e terms o f
its society a nd culture, and o f t h e bodies o f the h u m a n b e i n g s
w h o listen to it, and create and p e r f o r m it.
We can no longer study m u s i c as a thing in i t s e l f w h e n
research

in e t h n o m u s i c o l o g y

makes

it clear

t h a t musical

things are n o t always strictly m u s i c a l , and that the expressio n


o f tonal relationships i n patterns o f sound m a y b e s e c o n d a r y
t o e x t r a m u s i c al relationship s w h i c h t h e tones represent. W e
m a y agree that m u s i c is sound t h a t is organized into socially
accepted p a t t e r n s , t h a t m u s i c m a k i n g m a y be regarded as a
form of learned b e h a v i o r , and that musical styles are b a s e d
on w h a t m a n h a s c h o s e n to select from n a t u r e as a part of
his cultural e x p r e s s i on r a t h e r t h a n on w h a t n a t u r e h a s i m posed on h i m . B u t t h e nature from w h i c h m a n h a s selected
his musical styles is n o t o n l y e x t e r n al to h i m ; it includes his
o w n n a t u r e h i s p s y c h o p h y s i c a l capacities and the w a y s in
w h i c h t h e s e h a v e b e e n structured b y his experiences o f interaction with people and t h i n g s , whic h are part of t h e adaptive
process o f m a t u r a t i o n i n culture. W e d o not k n o w w h i c h o f

HOW MUSICAL

26

these

psychophysical

capacities,

IS

MAN?

apart

from

hearing,

are

essential for m u s ic m a k i n g , o r w h e t h e r a n y o f t h e m are specific to m u s i c . It seems t h a t m u s i c a l activities are associated


with specific parts of t h e b r a i n , and that these are n o t the
s a m e as the languag e centers . B u t we shall neve r k n o w w h a t
to l o o k for until we study the creative processes t h a t are
present e v e n in a learned p e r f o r m a n c e of music , m u c h as they
are presen t in the sentence s of a learned language.
E t h n o m u s i c o l o g y ' s claim to be a n e w m e t h o d of analyzing
music and m u s i c history m u s t rest on an a s s u m p t i o n n o t y e t
generally accepted, n a m e l y , that b e c a u s e m u s i c is h u m a n l y
organized sound, there ought to be a relationship b e t w e e n
patterns o f h u m a n organization and the p a t t e r n s o f sound
produced as a result of h u m a n interaction. I am chiefly interested in the analysis of musical structures b e c a u s e this is the
first step toward understanding musical processes an d h e n c e
assessing musicality. W e m a y n e v e r b e able t o understand
exactly h o w a n o t h e r person feels about a piece of m u s i c , b u t
we can perhaps understand the structural factors that generate the feelings. A t t e n t i o n to m u s i c 's function in s o c i e ty is
n e c e s s a r y o n l y in so far as it m a y help us to explain the
structures. A l t h o u g h I shall discuss the uses and effects of
music, I am c o n c e r n ed primarily with w h a t music i s , and n o t
what is is used for. If we k n o w w h a t it is, we m i g h t be able
to use and develop it in all kinds of w a y s that h a v e n o t yet
been imagined , b u t whic h m a y be inherent in it.
T h e sound m a y b e the o b j e c t , b u t m a n i s the s u b j e c t ; and
the k e y to understanding m u s i c is in the relationships existing
b e t w e e n s u b j e c t and o b j e c t , the activating principle of organization. S t r a v i n s k y expressed this with characteristic insight
w h e n he said of his o w n ethnic m u s i c : " M u s i c is given to us
with the sole purpose of establishing an order in t h i n g s, i ncluding,

and

particularly,

the

coordination

between

and time" (Chronicle of M y Life [ L o n d o n : G o l l a n c z ,

man

1936],

p.

8 3 ) . Every culture has its o w n r h y t h m , i n the sense t h a t c o n -

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

27

scious e x p e r i e n c e is ordered i n t o c y c l e s of s e a s o n a l c h a n g e ,
physical g r o w t h , e c o n o m i c enterprise , genealogical depth or
width, life an d afterlife, political s u c c e s s i o n , or a n y other r e curring features that are given significance. W e m a y say that
ordinary daily experienc e t a k e s place in a world of actual
time. T h e essential quality of m u s i c is its powe r to create another world o f virtual time.
In the musical s y s t e m of t h e V e n d a , it is r h y t h m t h a t distinguishes s o n g (u imba) from speech (u amba), so that patterns of words that are recited to a regular m e t e r are called
" s o n g s . " B o t h S t r a v i n s k y and t h e V e n d a insist that music
involves m a n . T h e regular b e a t s of an engine or a p u mp m a y
sound like the b e a t s of a drum, b u t no V e n d a would regard
t h e m a s m u s ic o r e x p e c t t o b e m o v e d b y t h e m , b e c a u s e their
order i s n o t directly produced b y h u m a n b e i n g s . T h e sound
of electronic i n s t r u m e n t s or of a M o o g synthesize r would n o t
be excluded from their realm of musical experienc e as long as
it was o n l y the t i m b r e an d n o t the m e t h o d of ordering that
was outside h u m a n control . V e n d a m u s i c is founded n o t on
melody, b u t on a r h y t h m i c a l stirring of the w h o l e b o d y of
which singing is b u t o n e e x t e n s i o n . T h e r e f o r e , w h e n we s e e m
to h e a r a rest b e t w e e n two d r u m b e a t s , we m u s t realize that
for the playe r it is n o t a r e s t : each d r u m b e a t is t h e part of a
total b o d y m o v e m e n t in whic h the h a n d or a stick strikes the
drum skin.
T h e s e principles apply in the children's song Tshidula tsha
Musingadi ( E x a m p l e 3 ) , w h i c h for t h e V e n d a is m u s i c , and
n o t speech or p o e t r y .
O n e m i g h t e x p e c t the b e a t to fall on the syllables -du, tsha,
and -nga-, w h i c h are stressed in p e r f o r m a n c e . B u t if people
clap to t h e s o n g , t h e y clap on the syllables Tshi-, -la, -si-, and
-di, so that there is n o t a rest on the fourth b e a t , b u t a total
pattern o f four b e a t s that c a n b e repeated a n y n u m b e r o f
times, b u t n e v e r less than o n c e if it is to qualify as " s o n g "
and n o t " s p e e c h . "

28

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

V e n d a music is overtly political in that it is performed in a


variety of political contexts and often for specific political
purposes. It is also political in the sense that it m a y involve
people in a powerful shared experience within the framework
of their cultural experience and thereby make them more
aware of themselves and of their responsibilities toward each
other. "Muthu ndi muthu nga vhahwe," the V e n d a s a y : " M a n
is man because of his associations with other men." V e n d a
music is not an escape from reality; it is an adventure into
reality, the reality of the world of the spirit. It is an experience of becoming, in which individual consciousness is nurtured within the collective consciousness of the community
and hence becomes the source of richer cultural forms. For
example, if two drummers play exactly the same surface
rhythm, but maintain an individual, inner difference of tempo
or beat, they produce something more than their individual
efforts. T h u s , the combination of a straightforward beat
played by two people at different tempi produces:

HUMANLY

ORGANIZED

SOUND

29

Example 4

A combination of iambic rhythms with different main beat


can produce:
Example 5

Other combinations are illustrated in Figure 4, which shows


how the same surface structure m a y be produced by different
processes, involving one, two, or three players.

FIGURE 4 . Different ways in which one, two, or three players may


produce the same surface structures of music.

30

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

T o describe these differently organized p a t t e r n s o f sound


as the s a m e " s o n i c o b j e c t s " simply b e c a u s e the y sound the
s a m e would be grossly misleading. Even to recognize the w a y
in which the sounds are produced and to describe s o m e of
t h e m a s e x a m p l e s o f p o l y r h y t h m would b e inadequate i n the
c o n t e x t o f V e n d a music. T h e y m u s t b e described first i n terms
of cognitive an d behavioral p r o c e s s e s that b e l o n g to the pattern o f V e n d a culture.
A cultural analysis of s o m e of the r h y t h m s in Figure 4
would n o t be o n e which simply points out that t h e y are used
in such-and-such a w a y on a stated variety of o c c a s i o n s . It
would n o t be a p r o g r a m n o t e outlining the c o n t e x t of t h e
music, b u t an analytical device describing its structure as an
expression o f cultural patterns. T h u s , performance s b y c o m b i n a t i o n s o f t w o o r three players o f r h y t h m s that c a n i n fact
b e played b y o n e are not musical g i m m i c k s : t h e y express c o n cepts o f individuality i n c o m m u n i t y , and o f social, temporal,
and spatial b a l a n c e , which are found in other features of
V e n d a culture and other types o f V e n d a music. R h y t h m s
such as t h e s e c a n n o t be performed correctly unless t h e players
are their o w n conductors and yet at the sam e time submit to
the r h y t h m o f a n invisible c o n d u c t o r. T h i s i s the k i n d o f
shared experienc e which the V e n d a seek a nd express in their
music m a k i n g , and an analysis of their music t h a t ignored
these facts would be as i n c o m p l e t e as an analysis of M o n t e verdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine of 1 6 1 0 which failed to
t a k e a c c o u n t o f the liturgical

f r a m e w o r k, t h e c o m p o s e r ' s

early sacred w o r k s , his service to the dukes of G o n z a g a , and


his early e x p e r i m e n t s in opera.
Functional analyses o f musical structure c a n n o t b e detached from structural analyses of its social f u n c t i o n : the
function of tones in relation to each other c a n n o t be explained
adequately as part of a closed s y s t e m without reference to the
structures o f t h e sociocultural s y s t e m o f w h i c h the musical
s y s t e m is a part, and to the biological s y s t e m to w h i c h all

HUMANLY ORGANIZED SOUND

31

music m a k e r s b e l o n g . E t h n o m u s i c o l o g y is n o t o n l y an area
study c o n c e r n e d with e x o t ic m u s i c , n o r a m u s i c o l o g y of the
e t h n i c i t is a discipline that hold s out h o p e for a deeper
understanding o f all music. I f s o m e m u s i c can b e analyze d
and u n d e r s t o od as tonal e x p r e s s i o n s of h u m a n experienc e in
the c o n t e x t o f different kinds o f social and cultural o r g a n i z a tion, I see no r e a s o n w h y all m u s i c should not be analyzed in
the s a m e w a y .

M u s i c in

Society and Culture

I H A V E D E S C R I B E D m u s i c a s h u m a n l y organized sound. I
h a v e argued that we ought to l o o k for relationships b e tween pattern s o f h u m a n o r g a n i z a t i o n and the p a t t e r ns o f
sound produced as a result of organized interaction. I reinforced this g e n e r al s t a t e m e n t by referring to the c o n c e p t s of
music shared b y the V e n d a o f t h e N o r t h e r n T r a n s v a a l . T h e
V e n d a also share the experience of music making, and without this experienc e there would be very little music. T h e production o f t h e patterns o f sound w h i c h the V e n d a call music
depends, first, on the c o n t i n u i ty of the social groups w h o
perform i t and, second, o n t h e w a y the m e m b e r s o f those
groups relate to each other.
In order to find out w h a t m u s i c is and h o w musical m a n is,
we need to a s k w h o listens and w h o plays and sings in a n y
given s o c i e t y , and w h y . T h i s is a sociological question, and
situations in different societies can be compare d w i t h o u t any
reference to the surface forms of m u s i c b e c a u s e we are concerned o n l y with its function in social life. In this respect,
there m a y b e n o significant differences b e t w e e n B l a c k M u s i c ,
C o u n t r y and W e s t e r n M u s i c , R o c k and P o p M u s i c , O p e r a s ,
S y m p h o n i c M u s i c , o r P l a i n c h a n t . W h a t turns o n e m a n off
32

MUSIC IN SOCIETY AND CULTURE

33

m a y turn a n o t h e r m a n on, n o t b e c a u s e o f any a b s o l u t e quality i n the m u s i c i t s e l f b u t b e c a u s e o f w h a t the m u s i c h a s c o m e


to m e a n to h i m as a m e m b e r of a particular culture or social
group. W e m u s t also r e m e m b e r that, while w e m a y h a v e our
o w n personal preferences , we c a n n o t judg e the effectiveness
o f music o r t h e feelings o f musicians b y w h a t seems t o h a p pen to people. If an old, blind m a s t e r of V e n d a initiation
listens in silence to a recording of the domba initiation song,
we c a n n o t rate the m u s i c m o r e or less effective t h a n a r e c o r d ing o f S p o k e s M a s h i y a n e ' s p e n n y whistle b a n d from J o h a n n e s b u r g , w h i c h bores h i m but excites his grandson. W e
c a n n o t s a y that the K w a k i u t l are m o r e e m o t i o n al t h a n the
Hopi b e c a u s e their style of dancin g looks m o r e ecstatic to
our e y e s . In some cultures, or in certain types of music and
dancing within a culture, e m o t i o n s m a y be deliberately inter nalized, b u t they are not necessaril y less i n t e n s e . A m a n ' s
mystical or psychedelic experiences m a y not be seen or felt
by his n e i g h b o r s , b u t they c a n n o t be dismissed as irrelevant
to his life in society.
T h e s a m e criteria o f j u d g m e n t should b e applied t o apparent differences in the surface c o m p l e x i t y of music, whic h we
tend to see in t h e s a m e term s as that of other cultural p r o ducts. B e c a u s e the growin g c o m p l e x i t y of cars, airplanes, and
m a n y o t h e r m a c h i n e s can be related to their efficiency as
m e a n s of c o m m u n i c a t i o n , it is often assumed that technica l
development in m u s i c and the arts m u s t likewise be a sign
of deeper or b e t t e r expression. I suggest that t h e popularity
of s o m e Indian m u s i c in Europe and A m e r i c a is n o t unrelate d
to the fact t h a t it s e e m s to be t e c h n i c a l ly brilliant as well as
pleasing to t h e ear, and that it is a c c o m p a n i e d by profoun d
philosophizing. W h e n I try to interest my students in the
sounds of A f r i c a n m u s i c , I k n o w that I too tend to draw their
attention to technical feats in p e r f o r m a n c e , b e c a u s e these are
m o r e i m m e d i a t e l y appreciated.

A n d y e t the

simplicit y o r

c o m p l e x i t y of the m u s i c is ultimatel y irrelevant: t h e equation

34

HOW MUSICAL

should

not be

LESS =

DIFFERENT.

LESS

IS

BETTER or MORE

MAN?
=

BETTER, b u t MORE

or

It is the human c o n t e n t o f the h u m a n l y o r -

ganized sound t h a t " s e n d s " people. Even if this emerges as


an exquisite turn of melody or h a r m o n y , as a " s o n i c o b j e c t "
if you like, it still began as the t h o u g h t of a sensitive h u m a n
b e i n g , and it is this sensitivity that m a y arouse (or n o t ) the
feelings o f a n o t h e r h u m a n being, i n m u c h the sam e w a y that
m a g n e t i c impulses c o n v e y a telephone conversation from one
speaker to a n o t h e r .
T h e issue o f musical c o m p l e x i t y b e c o m e s i m p o r t a n t only
w h e n we try to assess h u m a n musicality. S u p p o s e I argue
that, b e c a u s e there are s o m e societies w h o s e m e m b e r s are as
c o m p e t e n t in m u s ic as all people are in language, m u s ic m a y
be a species-specific trait of m a n . S o m e o n e will a l m o s t certainly retort that evidence of a widespread distribution of
listening and performing ability a m o n g the V e n d a and other
apparently musical societies should not be compared with the
limited distribution of musical ability in, say, E n g l a n d b e c a u se
the c o m p l e x i t y of English music is such that o n l y a few could
master it. In o t h e r words, if English music w e r e as e l e m e n t a r y
a s V e n d a music, then o f cours e t h e English would s e e m t o
b e a s universally musical a s the V e n d a ! T h e broade r implication

of

this

argumen t

is

that

technological

developmen t

brings about a degree of social e x c l u s i o n : b e i ng a passive audience is the price that s o m e m u s t pay for m e m b e r s h i p in a
superior society w h o s e superiority is sustained by the e x c e p tional ability of a c h o s e n few. T h e technical level of w h a t is
defined as musicality is therefore raised, and s o m e people
must be branded as unmusical. It is on such a s s u m p t i o n s that
musical ability is fostered or anesthetized in m a n y m o d e r n
industrial societies. T h e s e a s s u m p t i o ns are diametrically o p posed to t h e V e n d a idea t h a t all n o r m a l h u m a n b e i n g s are
capable o f musical p e r f o r m a n c e .
T h e issue of musical c o m p l e x i t y is irrelevant in a n y c o n sideration of universal m u s i c a l c o m p e t e n c e . First, within a

MUSIC IN SOCIETY AND CULTURE

35

single m u s i c a l s y s t e m greater surface c o m p l e x i t y m a y b e like


a n e x t e n s i o n o f v o c a b u l a r y , which does n o t alter the b a s i c
priniciples of a g r a m m a r and is m e a n i n g l e s s apart from t h e m .
S e c o n d , in c o m p a r i n g different s y s t e m s we c a n n o t a s s u m e
that surface c o m p l e x i t y is either musically or c o g n i t i v e ly m o r e
c o m p l e x . In any c a s e , the m i n d of m a n is infinitely m o r e
c o m p l e x than a n y t h i n g produced by particular m e n or cultures. A b o v e all, t h e functional effectiveness o f m u s i c s e e m s
to be m o r e i m p o r t a n t to listeners than its surface c o m p l e x i t y
or simplicity. W h a t is the use of b e i n g the greatest pianist in
the world, or of writing the cleverest music, if n o b o d y w a n t s
to listen to i t ? W h a t is the h u m a n u s e of inventin g or using
n e w sounds j u s t for their o w n s a k e ? D o n e w sounds m e a n
a n y t h i n g in V e n d a culture, for i n s t a n c e , in terms of n e w
groups and social c h a n g e ? W h y sing or dance or play at all?
W h y b o t h e r to i m p r o v e musical technique if the aim of perf o r m a n c e is to share a social e x p e r i e n c e ?
T h e functions o f music i n society m a y b e the decisive f a c tors p r o m o t i n g or inhibiting latent musical ability, as well as
affecting the choice of cultural concepts and materials with
which t o c o m p o s e music. W e shall n o t b e able t o explain the
principles of c o m p o s i t i o n and the effects of m u s i c until we
understand b e t t e r the relationship b e t w e e n musical and h u m a n e x p e r i e n c e. If I describe s o m e of the functions of m u s i c
i n V e n d a s o c i e t y , perhaps the n e w k n o w l e d g e m a y stimulat e
a b e t t e r understanding of similar processes in o t h e r societies.
T h i s has certainl y b e e n m y o w n experience . S i n c e m y initial
stay o f two years i n the S i b a s a district b e t w e e n 1 9 5 6 and
1 9 5 8 , and a s a result o f s u b s e q u e n t fieldwork i n other parts
of A f r i c a , I h a v e c o m e to u n d e r s t a n d my o w n society m o r e
clearly and I h a v e learned to appreciate my o w n music b e t t e r .
I do not k n o w w h e t h e r or n o t my a n a l y s es of V e n d a m u s i c
are c o r r e c t : I h a v e benefited greatly by the criticisms of
V e n d a w h o h a v e b e e n good e n o u g h t o discuss m y evidence
and c o n c l u s i o n s , b u t there m a y b e o t h e r interpretations that

36

HOW

MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

have so far escaped us. W h a t e v e r t h e ultimate j u d g m e n t on


m y a n a l y s e s o f V e n d a m u s i c , I h o p e that m y discoveries m a y
play a small part in restoring the conditions of dignity and
freedom in w h i c h their musical tradition originally developed.
T h e r e are a b o u t three h u n d r e d t h o u s a n d V e n d a , and m o s t
of t h e m live in the undeveloped rural area that w a s left to
t h e m w h e n w h i t e colonists t o o k the rest of their land for
farming and mining. C o m p a r e d w i t h over twelve million
b l a c k S o u t h A f r i c a n s , divided almost equally a m o n g the Zulu,
X h o s a , and S o t h o - T s w a n a l a n g u a g e groups, t h e V e n d a m a y
seem insignificant. A n d yet t h e white S o u t h A f r i c a n govern m e n t h a s s h o w n great interest in t h e m and h a s held an i m portant military exercise in their so-called h o m e l a n d . For the
V e n d a live in and around the Z o u t p a n s b e r g M o u n t a i n s , just
south o f the L i m p o p o R i v e r , t h e n o r t h e r n b o u n d a r y o f the
white R e p u b l i c o f S o u t h A f r i c a . S i n c e I was there i n 1 9 5 8 ,
more and m o r e whites h a v e b e e n settling on land t h a t was
once reserved for b l a c k s .
'In 1 8 9 9 the V e n d a b e c a m e the last o f the S o u t h A f r i c a n s t o
submit to B o e r rule. T h e y are well placed to b e c o m e the
first to achieve their full freedom. T h e a n c e s t o rs of some
V e n d a clans lived in V e n d a long b e f o r e whites landed in the
C a p e , and t h ey m a n a g e d to retain their identity even after
t h e y h a d accepted the rule of b l a c k invaders from t h e n o r t h
about two hundred years ago. T h e V e n d a are pacifists at
heart,

and they h a v e a s a y i n g :

"Mudi wa gozwi a

na

malila" ( " I n the h o m e s t e a d of the coward there is no w e e p i n g " ) . W h e n their c o u n t r y was later invaded from t h e south
by b l a c k s w h o were fleeing from the a d v a n ce of the w h i t e s ,
the V e n d a preferred to retreat to t h e safety of their m o u n tains and wait for t h e m to pass. T h e y were unwilling to a c cept cultural innovations or to incorporat e strangers into
their political s y s t e m on terms that were likely to diminish,
rather than increase, cooperatio n and " h u m a n n e s s " (vhuthu)
in their society. On the other h a n d , during the latter h a l f of

MUSIC IN SOCIETY AND CULTURE

37

t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u r y , the V e n d a adopted and accepted a s


" s o n g s o f the V e n d a - s p e a k i n g p e o p l e " several foreign songs
and styles of m u s i c from their n e i g h b o r s in the n o r t h and
south.
I t m a y s e e m surprising t h a t s u c h musical people should
h a v e s h o w n little interest in, and c o m p a r a t i v e l y little ability
for, the sounds and techniques o f European m u s i c . T h e reasons are partly t e c h n i c a l, b u t chiefly political. First, t h e sort
o f music t h a t has b e e n disseminated i n m i s s i o n s and s c h o o l s
h a s often b e e n the dullest type of Europea n institutional
music, and even the b e s t m u s i c h a s i n v a r i a b ly b e e n distorted
b y the w a y i n w h i c h i t w a s t a u g h t b y the whites . T h e r e h a s
b e e n n o real c o n t a c t w i t h the original o f the unfamiliar i d i o m ;
n o n e o f t h e E u r o p e a n s w h o h a v e passed o n the tradition h a v e
b e e n a c c o m p l i s h e d m u s i c i a n s,

and so b o t h

they

and

the

A f r i c a n s t h e y h a v e trained h a v e often b e e n a s u n s u re about


the correc t reading o f the scores a s t h o s e t h e y h a v e taught.
W h i t e " e x p e r t s " h a v e assured t h e m that sentiment and e x pression ( w h i c h often a m o u n t to w e a r i ng b r i g h t u n i f o r m s at
i n t e r s c h o o l singing c o m p e t i t i o n s ) are m o r e i m p o r t a n t than
a c c u r a c y . T h i s is a n o t i o n quite foreign to traditional V e n d a
music, in which accuracy is alway s expected and s e n t i m e nt
generally a s s u m e d , b u t it is o n e s t r o n g e n o u g h to h a v e h a d
disastrous results in the p r o c e ss of assimilating European
m u s i c , and so it is n o t surprising that the apparently m u s i c a l
V e n d a h a v e generall y failed to excel in performing Europea n
m u s i c , even w h e n t h e y h a v e w a n t e d to do so.
Political factors w e r e p r o b a b l y e v e n m o r e significant than
the t e c h n i c al barriers I h a v e described . A l t h o u g h t h e gospel
and the e d u c a t i on t h e m i s s i o n a r i es b r o u g h t were at first well
received b y the V e n d a , the w h i te administration and the
c o m m e r c i a l e x p l o i t a t i on that c a m e i n their w a k e w e r e not.
S i n c e 1 9 0 0 t h e V e n d a h a v e n o t b e e n able t o retreat t o their
m o u n t a i n f a s t n e s s e s , as t h e y did with earlier invaders. T h e y
h a v e b e e n c o m p e l l ed by superior p h y s i c a l f o r c e to put up

HOW

38
with

an

MUSICAL

authoritarian

system

IS

that

MAN?
contradicts

traditional

A f r i c a n democracy. Is it surprising, therefore, that indifference and even hostility to European music should go along
with their resistance to white domination? T h e general reaction to European music is in keeping with the function of
music in their society, and it must be seen as a sociological
as well as a musical phenomenon.
M u c h V e n d a music is occasional, and its performance is a
sign of the activity of social groups. M o s t adult V e n d a know
w h a t is happening merely by listening to its sounds. During
girls' initiation, whenever a novice is being taken d o w n to
the river or back to her initiation hut, the women and girls
w h o accompany her w a r n people of their approach with a
special song, in which the lower lip is flapped with the forefinger.
Example 6

T h e following song, with its unusual prelude, indicates that


a novice is being taken from her home for initiation. T h e
melody will be recognized even by women w h o cannot hear
the words.

MUSIC IN SOCIETY A N D CULTURE

39

Example 7

During the various stages of the girls' schools, instruction


is given both directly and indirectly by means of symbolic
dances, which are often v e r y strenuous physical exercises,
performed to a variety of complex rhythms. O n e song tells
girls not to gossip.

40

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

Example 8

T h e u . e of left and right hands (which may be reversed) in the drum parts is shown by the direction ol the t a i l s of the n o t e s .

T h e V e n d a learn to u n d e r s t a nd the sounds of music as


they

u n d e r s t a nd

speech.

No

fewer

than

sixteen different

styles are distinguished, with different r h y t h m s and c o m b i n a tions of singers and i n s t r u m e n t s ; and within these styles are
further subdivisions of style , as well as different s o n g s within
each division. For e x a m p l e , at the sungwi initiation s c h o o l for
girls, there are four m a i n t y p es o f s o n g :
1. Nyimbo dza u sevhetha ( s o n g s for dancing round) are
sung by the girls as t h ey d a n c e c o u n t e r c l o c k w i s e in a circle
round the drums. T h e t e m p o of t h e songs is rapid, and t h e y
are sung m o r e often than a n y o t h e r type of song at the school.
C l a s s e d w i t h t h e m are two

s o n g s with

special

rhythms,

a " s o n g of d i s m i s s a l " (luimbo Iwa u edela, literally, s o n g for


sleeping), w h i ch alway s t e r m i n a t e s a session ; and a recruiting
song (luimbo Iwa u wedza, literally, song for helping a person
across a r i v e r ) , which is sung w h e n senior m e m b e r s go round
recruiting.
2. Nyimbo

dza vhahwira

( s o n g s of the m a s k e d dancers)

are sung w h e n the m a s k e d dancers perform in front of the

MUSIC IN SOCIETY AND CULTURE

41

girls. T h e t e m p o varies, with fast and slow episodes to a c company

different

phases

of

the

dance

and

distinctive

r h y t h m s to m a r k the various steps.


3. Nyimbo dza dzingoma

(song s for special rites) a c c o m -

p a n y certain ordeals that the n o v i c e s must undergo w h e n


they are in t h e second stage of initiation. E a c h o n e h a s a
distinctive r h y t h m i c pattern.
4. Nyimbo dza milayo ( s o n gs of the laws of the s c h o o l)
are sung by the novices and a n y graduates present. T h e y
kneel on t h e ground by the drums while muluvhe, the girl
appointed to be in charg e of the n o v i c e s , leads the singing.
Figure

summarize s

the

different

types

of

communal

music recognized b y the V e n d a and indicates the times o f


year w h e n they m a y o r m a y n o t b e performed.
A l t h o u g h the V e n d a generally classify their music a c c o r d ing to its social function, and the n a m e for the function and
its music is often the s a m e , the criteria of discrimination are
formal and musical . It is by its sound, and particularly by its
r h y t h m and the m a k e - u p o f its vocal a n d / o r i n s t r u m e n t a l ens e m b l e , that the function o f music i s recognized. T h e c o n t e x t s
in which s o n g s are sung are n o t exclusive , b u t the w a y in
which they are sung is generally determined by c o n t e x t . T h u s ,
a beer song m a y be adapted as a play song for the girls'
domba initiation, in which c a s e a drum a c c o m p a n i m e n t will
be added and the call-response form m a y be e l a b o r a t e d int o
a sequence of i n t e r l o c k i n g melodic phrases. S i m i l a r l y , a n u m b e r of different t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s of the national dance, tshikona, m a y be performed on V e n d a musical i n s t r u m e n t s . T h e y
sound different, b u t they are all called tshikona and are c o n ceived as variations on a t h e m e in the " l a n g u a g e s " of the
different i n s t r u m e n t s .
W h e n the V e n d a discuss o r classify different type s o f song,
they generally distinguish b e t w e e n s o n g s that are proper to
the function and t h o s e w h i c h h a v e b e e n adopted and adapted.
As I believe that this is a c o m m o n p h e n o m e n o n in central

42

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

MUSIC IN SOCIETY AND CULTURE

43

T o n g a o f Z a m b i a . I recorded w h a t w a s described t o m e a s " a


grinding s o n g , " and the c o n t e x t left me in little doubt a b o u t
its function. In a different c o n t e x t , t h e s a me m e l o d y w a s described to me as a mankuntu d a n c e song for y o u n g people,
and the n e w c o n t e x t also left me in little d o u b t a b o u t its
function. T h e o n l y differences b e t w e e n the two p e r f o r m a n c e s
were i n their r h y t h m , t e m p o , an d social c o n t e x t . T h e song
was not, in fact, a grinding s o n g , b u t a song sung while
grinding. It h a p p e n e d to be a mankuntu dance s o n g that was
currently popular, and the w o m a n ' s use of it while grinding
was

comparable

to

a performance

of " H a r k ,

the

Herald

A n g e l s S i n g ! " over the w a s h i n g - up a t C h r i s t m a s time.


People's classifications o f s o n g s b y form and b y function
m a y provide i m p o r t a n t evidence o f musical and e x t r a m u s i c a l
t r a n s f o r m a t i o n processes t h a t are a c c e p t a b le in a culture.
T h e y m a y also b e relevant i n assessing the effects o f m u s i c .
For e x a m p l e , t h e r e is a V e n d a s o n g a b o u t loneliness and death
which I h e a r d sung with great gusto at a party, and with no
trace of s o r r o w . On another o c c a s i o n , I was talking one day to
an old, blind m a s t e r of initiation, and he suddenly b e g a n to
sing this sam e song. He w a s a b o u t to stand up and dance
w h e n his son stopped him, saying, " D o n ' t d a n c e , old m a n ! "
S i n c e his f a t h e r w a s singing a sad song, he m u s t be full of
sorrow and so there was no point in intensifying the e m o t i o n
by dancing, especially as there w a s a risk that he m i g h t fall
and hurt himself. T h e son w a s deeply m o v e d , b u t w h e n I
asked h i m a b o u t the s o n g he replied simply that it w a s a b e e r
song. He could h a v e described it as a " s o n g of s o r r o w , " b u t
he preferred to give it its formal classification.
T h e value of music in society and its differential effects on
people m a y b e essential factors i n the g r o w th o r a t r o p h y o f
musical abilities, and people's interest m a y be less in the
music i t s e l f than i n its associate d social activities. O n the
o t h e r h a n d , musical ability m a y n e v e r develop w i t h o u t s o m e
e x t r a m u s i c a l m o t i v a t i o n . For every infant prodigy w h o s e in -

44

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

terest and ability fizzled out b e c a u s e he could n o t relate his


music to life w i t h his fellows, there must be thousands of
people w h o n o w love music as part of the experience of life
and deeply regret that the y neglected to practice or were n o t
properly

taught

an

instrument .

This

conflict

has

been

greatly alleviated b y s o m e m u s i c education p r o g r a m s , b u t the


c o m b i n a t i o n of social, p h y s i c a l , and musical activity is n o t as
total as in V e n d a society. W h e n I watched y o u n g V e n d a
developing their bodies, their friendships, and their sensitivity
in c o m m u n a l dancing, I could n o t help regretting the h u n dreds of afternoons I h ad wasted on the r u g b y field and in
b o x i n g rings. B u t then I w a s b r o u g h t up n o t to c o o p e r a t e ,
but to c o m p e t e . Even music was offered m o r e as a c o m p e t i tive t h a n as a shared e x p e r i e n c e.
A l t h o u g h the structure of m o s t V e n d a m u s i c d e m a n d s a
high degree of cooperatio n for p e r f o r m a n c e , it would be
wrong to suggest that all musical and associated social experiences are equally shared. For i n s t a n c e , on t h e last day of the
tshikanda g i r l s ' initiation, the sullen, silent d e m e a n o r of the
novices c o n t r a s t s strongly with t h e excited singing a nd d a n cing of the old ladies in c h a r g e and the other graduates present. Even t h o u g h the girls h a v e to put on a s h o w of humility
and d e t a c h m e n t , it is hard to believe that the y are concealing
a n y t h i n g but resignation and indifference to the m u s i c they
are required to perform. W h e n I a s k ed t h e m a b o u t their reactions, I detected a significant difference b e t w e e n t h e girls'
" I t ' s the c u s t o m , " and the adults' " I t ' s the c u s t o m . It's n i c e ! "
S i m i l a r l y , the exciting r h y t h m s o f the V e n d a possession
dance (ngoma dza midzumi) do n o t send every V e n d a into a
trance. T h e y send o n l y m e m b e r s of the cult, and then only
w h e n they are dancing at their o w n h o m e s , with w h i c h the
spirits o f the ancestors w h o p o s s e s s t h e m are familiar. T h e
effectiveness of the music depends on the c o n t e x t in whic h
it is b o t h performed and heard. B u t ultimately it depends on
the music, as I found out o n c e w h e n I was playing o n e of the

MUSIC IN SOCIETY AND CULTURE

45

drums. D a n c e r s t a k e turns c o m i n g out into the " a r e n a , " and


at first there w e r e no c o m p l a i n ts a b o u t my efforts. V e r y s o o n ,
h o w e v e r , a senior lady b e g a n d a n c i n g , and she w a s e x p e c t e d
to go i n t o a trance b e c a u s e the m u s i c w a s b e i n g played for
her cult group. H o w e v e r , after a few m i n u t e s she stopped
and insisted that a n o t h e r d r u m m e r should replace m e ! S h e
claimed t h a t I was ruining the effect of t h e music by " h u r r y i n g " the t e m p o j u s t e n o u g h , I suppose, to inhibit t h e o n s e t
o f t r a n c e.
T h e w a y i n w h i c h the m u s i c o f the p o s s e s s i on dance b e c o m e s effective suggests that k i n s h i p is as i m p o r t a n t a factor
as the r h y t h m of m u s i c in h a v i n g effects on people. B u t it is
not b l o o d relationships so m u c h as their social i m p l i c a t i o ns
that are the decisive factors, a n d n o t t h e music so m u c h as its
social e n v i r o n m e n t and the attitudes developed t o w a r d it.
A f t e r all, if t h e possessio n d a n c e m u s i c h a s the p o w e r to
" s e n d " a w o m a n on one o c c a s i o n , w h y should it not do so
on a n o t h e r ? Is it the social situation that inhibits the o t h e r wise powerful effects o f the m u s i c ? O r i s the m u s i c p o w e r less w i t h o u t t h e r e i n f o r c e m e n t of a special set of social circ u m s t a n c e s ? It is evidence such as this that m a k e s me s k e p t i cal o f m u s i c a s s o c i a t i on tests w h i c h h a v e b e e n a d m i n i s t e r ed
to subject s in artificial and unsocial settings n e v e r envisage d
b y t h e creators o f the music. U n d e r s u c h c o n d i t i o n s , the m u s i c
c a n n o t help b e i n g m e a n i n g l e s s , or at least its m e a n i n g s are
hopelessly diverse. It also raises a n o t h e r i s s u e : granted that
music c a n n o t express a n y t h i n g e x t r a m u s i c a l unless the experie n c e to w h i c h it refers already e x i s t s in the m i n d of t h e listener, can it c o m m u n i c a t e a n y t h i n g at all to u n p r e p a r e d or
unreceptive m i n d s ? C a n n o t even a powerful r h y t h m e x c i t e an
unprepared p e r s o n ? O r are the V e n d a w o m e n u n m o v e d b e cause t h e y are u n w i l l i n g? I c a n n o t a n s w e r this, b u t my o w n
love o f m u s i c and m y c o n v i c t i o n t h a t i t i s m o r e t h a n learned
b e h a v i o r m a k e me h o p e that it is the social inhibition s w h i c h
are powerful and n o t the m u s i c w h i c h is p o w e r l e s s .

46

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

Let us return to the m a t t e r of k i n s h i p in the d e v e l o p m e n t


o f musical ability. T h e V e n d a m a y n o t consider t h e possibility
o f u n m u s i c a l h u m a n b e i n g s , b u t t h e y d o recognize that s o m e
people perform b e t t e r t h a n o t h e r s . J u d g m e n t is b a s e d on the
performer's display of technical brilliance and originality , and
the vigor and

confidence

o f his execution .

Anyone who

troubles to perfect his technique is considered to do so b e cause he is deeply c o m m i t t e d to m u s i c as a m e a n s of sharing


s o m e experience with his fellows. A sincere desire to express
feeling is n o t accepted as an e x c u s e for inaccurat e or i n c o m petent p e r f o r m a n c e , as it often is in the confused world of
m o d e r n P o p and so-called Folk music. If a person w a n t s to
do his thing, he is expecte d to do it well. T h e ability of a
m a s t e r d r u m m e r (matsige) at a possession d a n c e is assessed
by the sounds he produces, and n o t by the e x t e n t to which
he rolls his eyes and t h r o w s his b o d y about.
T h e V e n d a m a y suggest that exceptional musical ability i s
biologically inherited, b u t in practice the y recogniz e that
social factors play the m o s t i m p o r t a n t part in realizing or
suppressing it. For i n s t a n c e , a b o y of n o b l e birth m i g h t s h o w
great talent, b u t as he grows up he will be expected to a b a n don regular musical p e r f o r m a n c e for the m o r e serious (for
him) b u s i n e ss o f g o v e r n m e n t . T h i s would n o t m e a n that h e
would cease to listen critically a nd intelligently to m u s i c : in
fact, i m p o r t a n t guidance to successful g o v e r n m e n t m i g h t be
given to him in song. C o n v e r s e l y a girl of n o b l e b i r t h has
every e n c o u r a g e m e n t to develop her musical capacities, so
that as a w o m a n she c a n play an active role in supervising
the girls ' initiation schools which are held in the h o m e s of
rulers, and for which music is an indispensable adjunct of
their didactic and ritual functions. D u r i n g two m o n t h s of
daily

rehearsal s of the

young

girls'

dance,

tshigombela,

watched the youn g relatives of a h e a d m a n e m e r g e as outstanding performers , although at first they did n o t seem to
be m o r e musical than their a g e - m a t e s. I am sure t h a t the k e y

MUSIC

IN

SOCIETY

AND

CULTURE

47

to their d e v e l o p m e n t as dancers w a s the praise and the interest s h o w n in t h e m by the w o m e n in

the audience, w h o w e r e

m o s t l y from the h e a d m a n ' s f a m i l y , a n d w h o therefore k n e w


the girls by n a m e b e c a u s e t h e y w e r e relatives. It was surely
the social c o n s e q u e n c e s of b l o o d relationship that affected the
g r o w t h o f their m u s i c a l i t y , r a t h e r t h a n special, genetically inherited musical capacities. A g a i n , it is not surprising that
m a s t e r s o f initiation tend t o " i n h e r i t " the craft from their
fathers. A m a s t e r m u s t k n o w m a n y songs and rituals, and so
his son is in a favored position w h e n he assists his father on
the j o b .
In V e n d a society, exceptiona l musical ability is therefore
expected of people w h o are b o r n into certain families or social
groups in whic h musical p e r f o r m a n c e is essential for m a i n taining their group solidarity. J u s t as musical p e r f o r m a n c e is
the central factor that justifies the continued existenc e of an
o r c h e s t r a as a social group, so a V e n d a possession cult group,
or a domba initiation s c h o o l, or a sungwi girls' school , would
disintegrate if there were no music. O n l y a few of those w h o
are b o r n i n t o the right group actually emerge as e x c e p t i o n a l
m u s i c i a n s , and w h a t s e e m s to distinguish t h e m from o t h e r s
is that t h e y p e r f o r m b e t t e r b e c a u s e they have devoted m o r e
time and e n e r g y to it. In applauding the m a s t e r y of e x c e p tional m u s i c i a n s , t h e V e n d a applaud h u m a n effort, a n d in
b e i n g able t o recogniz e m a s t e r y i n t h e musical m e d i u m , l i s t e n ers reveal that their general m u s i c a l c o m p e t e n c e is no less
than that o f the m u s i c i a ns w h o m they applaud. W e should
r e m e m b e r that the e x i s t e n c e o f B a c h and B e e t h o v e n depends
on discriminatin g audiences as m u c h as on p e r f o r m e r s, j u s t
as some V e n d a a n c e s t o r s c a n o t return to their h o m e s except
by the good offices of their d e s c e n d a n t s .
A l t h o u g h c o m m u n a l m u s i c d o m i n a t e s the V e n d a musical
s c e n e , and social factors influence t h e d e v e l o p m e nt of musical
ability, there is individual m u s i c m a k i n g , and good solo instrumentalists c a n e m e r g e w i t h o u t a n y of the i n c e n t i v e s I

48

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

have described. Y o u n g g r o w i n g girls confide in t h e quiet,


intimate tones of a lugube musical b o w or its m o d e r n equivalent, t h e j a w ' s h a r p. Y o u t h s sing o f the j o y s and p a n g s o f
love while a c c o m p a n y i n g themselve s with an mbira or another kind of b o w , called tshihwana. A third t y p e of b o w
(dende) is m o s t c o m m o n l y played by semiprofessiona l m u s i cians w h o are n o t o r i o u s ly popular with w o m e n .
T h e n a m e given t o such m i n s t r e l s t s h i l o m b e i s related
to words that refer to spirit possession , such as tshilombo
and malombo. T h e V e n d a a c k n o w l e d g e that m a n i f e s t a t i o ns of
musical

ability

can

emerge

in

unexpected

quarters

and

a m o n g unlikely subjects , b u t insist that they be normalized


by logical e x p l a n a t i o n s . T h e t e r m tshilombe should be regarded as n o t so m u c h an a c c l a m a t i o n of genius or of e x c e p tional talent as an occupational description. An outstanding
individual musician is o n e w h o puts h i m s e l f in touch with
spiritual forces, like a d o c t o r or t h e m e m b e r of a possession
cult, and so is able to e x p r e s s a wider range of experience s
than m o s t people. It m a y s e e m paradoxical that his creative
abilities should be expressed in t h e originality and t h o u g h t fulness of the words he c o m p o s e s , rather than in t h e music.
But there is a reason for this to be found in the b a l a n c e of
two b a s ic principles o f V e n d a m u s i c .
As I emphasized in the first chapter, V e n d a m u s i c is distinguished from n o n m u s i c by the creation of a special world
of time. T h e c h i e f function of m u s i c is to involve people in
shared experience s within the f r a m e w o r k of their cultural
experience. T h e form the m u s i c takes m u s t serve this function, and so in the n o r m a l course of events V e n d a m u s i c b e comes m o r e musical and less culture-bound w h e n e v e r pos sible, and t h e restrictions of words are a b a n d o n e d for the
freer musical expression o f individuals i n c o m m u n i t y . T o
ensure that the form does n o t lose its essential function, the
process is inverted in the c o m p o s i t i o ns of certain individuals.
T h e function of such c o m p o s i t i o n s is to jolt and e x p a n d the

MUSIC IN SOCIETY AND CULTURE

49

c o n s c i o u s n e s s o f V e n d a audiences b y b o t h reflecting and c o n tradicting the spirit of the time. T h e y reflect the political i n terests o f the m a x i m u m n u m b e r o f people b y contradicting
the musical tendencies to w h i c h t h o s e people ar e a c c u s t o m e d .
T h e s a m e k i n d o f analysis o f musica l effectiveness m i g h t b e
applied in o t h er c o n t e x t s : I would n o t consider it an e x a g g e r a tion to say that B e e t h o v e n achieved his extraordinar y musical
p o w e r b y b e i n g a n i / m u s i c a l and s h o c k i n g the c o m p l a c e n c y
o f his c o n t e m p o r a r y society. His c o n t e m p o r a r i es m a y have
b e e n m o r e musical i n their t r e a t m e n t o f m e l o d y , for i n s t a n c e,
b u t their k i n d o f c o n v e n t i o n a l m u s i c a l i t y was less relevant t o
c o n t e m p o r a r y p r o b l e m s a l t h o u g h it w a s a logical c o n s e q u e n c e
o f t e m p o r a r y cognitiv e p r o c e s s e s .
T o a n a l y z e the c o m p o s i t i o n and appreciation o f m u s i c i n
t e r m s of its social function and of cognitive p r o c e s s es that
m a y be applied in othe r fields of h u m a n activity does n o t in
a n y w a y diminish t h e i m p o r t a n c e of the music itself, and it is
in line with the c o m m o n c u s t o m of interrelating a series of
h u m a n activities and calling t h e m T h e A r t s . H o w e v e r , at this
early stage o f investigatio n w e should b e

careful

not to

a s s u m e that music is alway s created by the s a m e p r o c e s s e s ,


or that its p r o c e s s e s are specially related to t h o s e e m p l o y e d in
the other arts. T h e processes that in o n e culture are applied
to languag e or music m a y in a n o t h e r be applied to k i n s h i p
or e c o n o m i c organization.
It will be useful to distinguish different kinds of musical
c o m m u n i c a t i o n , w h i c h m i g h t b r o a d l y be described as the
utilitarian and artistic uses of m u s i c in V e n d a society. It is
clear from the w a y the V e n d a talk a b o u t it that n o t all music
has the s a m e value. All their m u s i c grow s out of h u m a n
experiences and h a s a direct function in social life, but o n l y
some o f i t i s regarded a s w h a t J o h n D e w e y h a s called " a n
i n s t r u m e n t indispensabl e to the t r a n s f o r m a t i o n of m a n and
his w o r l d . "
A s m y e x a m p l e s h a v e s h o w n , m u c h V e n d a music i s merely

50

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

a signal or sign of social event s and no less utilitarian than


c o m m e r c i a l j i n g l e s , radio station identifications, s o m e incidental m u s i c , and the h y m n s or s o n g s that are essentially the
" b a d g e s " o f different social groups. M a n y s o n g s o f initiation
are m o r e i m p o r t a n t as m a r k e r s of stages in ritual or as reinf o r c e m e n t s o r m n e m o n i c s o f lessons t h a n a s m u s i c a l experie n c e s ; w o r k s o n g s coordinate and ease l a b o r ; and a special
group o f b e e r songs can b e used t o voice complaints and m a k e
requests w h e n parties o f w o m e n t a k e gifts o f b e e r t o the
h o m e s o f their in-laws. A s i n w o m e n ' s pounding s o n g s , certain children's s o n g s , and s o n g s of protest, a m u s i c al frame w o r k c a n ritualize c o m m u n i c a t i o n in such a w a y that m e s sages m a y b e conveye d b u t n o c o u n t e r a c t i on i s t a k e n . Y o u d o
not " g o to p r i s o n " if you s a y it in m u s i c , and s o m e t h i n g m a y
be don e a b o u t y o u r complaint b e c a u s e it m a y be a w a r n i n g
of g r o w i n g public feeling.
It is tempting to define the utilitarian functions of V e n d a
music as those in which the effects of music are incidental to
the impact of the social situation, and the artistic as t h o s e in
which the m u s ic itself is the crucial factor in the experience.
T h e t e s t i m o n y of the high value attached to tshikona, their
national dance , and t h e apparentl y antimusical p e r f o r m a n c e
by a c k n o w l e d g e d experts does n o t contradict this a r g u m e n t
w h e n we see that it is the process of music m a k i n g that is
valued as m u c h a s , and s o m e t i m e s m o r e than, the finished
product. T h e value of music is, I believe, to be found in terms
of the h u m a n experiences involved in its creation. T h e r e is
a difference b e t w e e n music t h a t is occasional and m u s i c that
e n h a n c e s h u m a n c o n s c i o u s n e s s , music that is

simply for

having and m u s i c that is for being. I submit that t h e former


m a y be good c r a f t s m a n s h i p , but that the latter is art, no
matter h o w simple or comple x it sounds, and no m a t t e r under
w h a t c i r c u m s t a n c e s it is produced.
T h e m u s i c of tshikona expresse s the value of the largest
social group to which a V e n d a can really feel he b e l o n g s . Its

Fourteen-note

kalimba mbira

of

the Nsenga

of Zambia.

Two Venda girls play alto drums (mirumba) at the


domba initiation. They sway their bodies from side to
side, keeping a steady rhythm so that the drumbeat is
part of a total body movement.

A beer-drink at a headman's homestead.

The village of a Venda chief at Thengwe. The houses are occupied


by his wives, relatives, and councilors. The big tree slightly to
the left of center shades the khoro, meeting place of the council
and scene of music and dancing.

Masked dancer (muhwira) at the Venda girls' sungwi initiation.

A Venda novice performs a special ndayo movement at her


tshikanda initiation. Note the contrast in response between her two
companions and the married women running the proceedings.
Ngorrta dza midzimu, Venda dance of spirit possession. The
hunchbacked girl who is dancing in the arena will not be possessed
because she does not belong to this particular cult group. Those
who have been possessed wear a special uniform and shake
hand rattles.

Venda girls practice the first part of the tshigombela dance,


Venda girls dancing "solo" (u gaya) during the second part of
tshigombela
dance.

A trio on the large mbiras (mbila dza madeza).


A boy plays the small mbira (mbila tshipai).

Dende musical bow.

A duet on two mouth bows


(zwihwana, singular tshihwana).

A trio of three-holed transverse flutes


(zwitiringo, singular tshitiringo).

Boys' dilitili flute, made of an open


tube or river reed with a notched
embouchure and stopped with the
first finger at the distal end.

The phalaphala signal horn, made


from the horns of a sable antelope
or kudu.

Two men play the mbila mtondo xylophone; a third adds


extra notes.

The dance of the

Venda domba

initiation school.

A Venda team of tshikona pipe dancers from


a rural area during Easter vacation.

Johannesburg visits

A Venda minstrel (tshilombe) sings and entertains with puppets at


a beer-drink organized by a rotating credit association
(tshitokofela) in a rural area.

Solo Venda dancer leaping


during performance of pentatonic reed-pipe music
(tshikanganga or visa). This
style of dancing is called u
gaya, as in the second part of
rshigombela, and is distinguished from the communal
dancing (u tshina) in the
first part.

Novices at a Venda domba initiation, with their hair recently cut,


are led in song by the master of initiation, while his assistant
directs them to the crossbeam of the council hut, from which they
will hang upside down, like bats, as part of a lesson about
childbirth. Note the baby on the back of the mother playing the
bass drum.

MUSIC IN SOCIETY AND CULTURE

51

p e r f o r m a n c e involves the largest n u m b e r of people, and its


music incorporate s the largest n u m b e r of tones in a n y single
piece o f V e n d a m u s i c involving m o r e t h a n o n e o r t w o players.
From w h a t I h a v e said a b o u t shared experience s in V e n d a
music, it should be clear that tshikona is valuabl e and b e a u tiful to the V e n d a , not only b e c a u s e of the q u a n t i t y of people
and tones involved, b u t b e c a u s e o f the quality of t h e relationships that m u s t be established b e t w e e n people an d tones
w h e n e v e r it is performed. Tshikona music c a n be produced
o n l y w h e n t w e n t y or m o r e m e n b l o w differently tuned pipes
with a precision that depends on holding o n e ' s o w n part as
well as blendin g with o t h e r s , and at least four w o m e n play
different drums in p o l y r h y t h m i c h a r m o n y . F u r t h e r m o r e , tshikona is n o t complete unless the m e n also p e r f o r m in unison
the different steps which the d a n c e m a s t e r directs from time
to time.
T h e effectiveness o f tshikona is not a c a s e o f

MORE

BETTER : it is an e x a m p l e o f the production o f t h e m a x i m u m o f


available h u m a n e n e r g y in a situation that g e n e r a t e s t h e highest degree of individuality in the largest possible c o m m u n i t y
of individuals. Tshikona provides an experience of the b e s t of
all possible worlds, and the V e n d a are fully a w a r e of its value.
Tshikona,

the y

say,

is

Iwa-ha-masia-khali-i-tshi-vhila,

"the

time w h e n people rush to the scene of the d a n c e and leave


their pots to boil o v e r . " Tshikona " m a k e s sick people feel
better, and old m e n t h r o w a w a y their sticks and d a n c e . " Tshikona " b r i n g s peace to the c o u n t r y s i d e . " Of all s h a r e d experiences in V e n d a society, a p e r f o r m a n c e of tshikona is said to
be the m o s t h i g h l y valued: the dance is c o n n e c t e d with ancestor worshi p and state o c c a s i o n s , i n c o r p o r a t e s t h e living
and the dead, and is the m o s t universal of V e n d a music.
It is b e c a u s e m u s i c can create a world of virtual time that
G u s t a v M a h l e r said that it m a y lead to " t h e ' o t h e r w o r l d '
the world in which things are no longe r s u b j e ct to time and
s p a c e . " T h e B a l i n e s e speak o f " t h e other m i n d " a s a state o f

52

HOW

MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

being that can be reached through dancing and music. T h e y


refer to states in which people b e c o m e k e e n ly a w a r e of the
true n a t u r e o f their b e i n g , o f the " o t h e r s e l f " within t h e m selves and other h u m a n b e i n g s , and of their relationship with
the world aroun d them. O l d age, death, grief, thirst, h u n g e r ,
and other afflictions of this world are seen as

transitory

events. T h e r e is freedom from the restrictions of actual time


and c o m p l e t e absorption i n the " T i m e l e s s N o w o f the D i v i n e
S p i r i t , " the loss o f self i n being. W e often e x p e r i e n c e greater
intensity o f living w h e n our n o r m a l time values are upset,
and appreciate the quality r a t h e r than the length of time
spent doing something. T h e virtual time o f music m a y help
to generat e such experiences .
T h e r e is e x c i t e m e nt in r h y t h m and in the progressio n of
organized sound, in the tension and relaxations of h a r m o n y
or m e l o d y , in the cumulative evolution of a fugue, or in the
infinite variations on the t h e me of m o v e m e n t from and b a c k
to a tone center. T h e m o t i o n of music alone seems to a w a k e n
in our bodies all kinds of responses . A n d yet people's r e sponses to m u s i c c a n n o t be fully explained w i t h o u t s o m e reference to their experiences in the culture of which t h e notes
are signs and s y m b o l s . If a piece of music m o v e s a variety of
listeners, it is p r o b a b l y n o t b e c a u s e of its outwar d form but
b e c a u s e of w h a t the form m e a n s to each listener in terms of
h u m a n e x p e r i e n c e . T h e s a m e piece o f music m a y m o v e different people in the s a m e sort of w a y , b u t for different r e a s o n s .
Y o u can e n j o y a piece of plainchant b e c a u s e you are a R o m a n
C a t h o l i c , o r b e c a u s e you like the sound o f t h e m u s i c : you
need not h a v e a " g o o d e a r " to enjoy it as a C a t h o l i c , n o r
need you be a believer to enjoy it as music. In b o t h cases the
e n j o y m e n t depends on a b a c k g r o u n d of h u m a n experience.
Even if a person describes musical experiences in t h e technical language of music , he is in fact describing e m o t i o n a l
experiences w h i ch he has learned to associate with particular
patterns o f sound. I f a n o t h e r person describes his e x p e r i e n ce

MUSIC IN SOCIETY AND CULTURE

53

in the s a m e musical tradition, he m a y be describing a similar,


if not identical, e m o t i o n al e x p e r i e n c e . M u s i c a l t e r m i n o l o g y
can be a l a n g u a ge with w h i c h to describe h u m a n e m o t i o n a l
experience, j u s t as m e m b e r s h i p in t h e V e n d a p o s s e s s i o n cult
offers b o t h a certain type of experienc e and a w a y of talking
about it. T h u s , under certain conditions, the sound of music
m a y recall a state of c o n s c i o u s n e s s that has b e e n acquired
through processes o f social e x p e r i e n c e. W h e t h e r the effective
agent is the right social situation, as in the V e n d a possession
cult, or the right musical situation, as in the responses of two
similarly trained m u s i c i a n s, it is effective o n l y b e c a u s e of
associations b e t w e e n certain individual and cultural e x p e r iences.
I am sure that m a n y of the functions of m u s i c in V e n d a
society whic h I h a v e described will recall to y o u similar situations i n o t h e r societies. M y general argument h a s been that,
if the value of music in society and culture is to be a s s e s s e d , it
must be described in terms of the attitudes and cognitive
processes involved in its creation, and the functions and effects of the musical product in society. It follows from this
that there should be close structural relationships a m o n g the
function, c o n t e n t , and form of music. R o b e r t Kauffma n h a s
drawn my attention to a passage in L e R o i J o n e s ' s Blues

People ( N e w Y o r k : W i l l i a m M o r r o w ,

1963),

in whic h h e says

that the b a s i c h y p o t h e s is o f his b o o k depends o n u n d e r s t a n d ing that " m u s i c can be seen to be t h e result of certain attitudes, certain specific w a y s of t h i n k i n g about t h e world, and
only ultimatel y

about the ' w a y s ' in which m u s i c c a n be

m a d e " (p. 1 5 3 ) . I t i s e n o u g h that this should b e said and


accepted. B u t I think it is useful if the a r g u m e n t c a n be reinforced with d e m o n s t r a t i o ns of h o w it w o r k s out in practice .
T h i s is s o m e t h i n g that e t h n o m u s i c o l o g i s t s c a n do, a nd m o s t
of my w o r k during the past fifteen y e a r s h a s b e e n directed
toward

the

discover y

music and social life.

of

structural

relationships

between

Culture and
Society in
Music
M U S I C can express social attitudes and cognitive processes, but it is useful and effective only when it is
heard by the prepared and receptive ears of people w h o have
shared, or can share in some w a y , the cultural and individual
experiences of its creators.
M u s i c , therefore, confirms w h a t is already present in society and culture, and it adds nothing new except patterns of
sound. But it is not a luxury, a spare-time activity to be sandwiched between sports and art in the headmaster's report.
Even if I believed that music w a s , or should be, merely a
means of decorating social events, I would still have to explain
how the music of many composers can excite me although the
cavortings of their patrons are a bore. W h e n E. M. Forster
said, "History develops, art stands still," he w a s referring to
their subject matter, to the fact that history is about events
but art is about feelings. T h a t is w h y we can also say that
history dies but art lives, although art is a reflection of history.
I share the V e n d a view that music is essential for the very
survival of man's humanity, and I found it significant that as
a subject for discussion they generally greeted music more enthusiastically and with more erudition than history, though

54

CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN MUSIC

55

n o t less t h a n current politics. T h i s m a y h a v e b e e n partly a


response to my o w n b i a s , b u t I t h i n k it also reflected the
V e n d a c o n c e r n for life as a p r o c e ss of b e c o m i n g , rather t h a n
as a stage in e v o l u t i o n a r y p r o g r e s s.
We shall do well to l o o k at m u s i c in the s a m e w a y . A n d s o ,
before I w o r k b a c k to the surface pattern s of music from the
cultural and social processes to w h i c h I have reduced t h e m ,
b e f o r e I discuss the origins of m u s i c in culture and s o c i e t y , I
w a n t t o dispose o f two kinds o f evolutionar y a p p r o a c h t o
music h i s t o r y w h i c h are of no use in seekin g an a n s w e r to the
question, H o w musical i s m a n ? T h e y are useless chiefly b e cause they c a n n e v e r be proved. T h e first approach s e e k s to
understand the m e a n i n g and forms o f music b y speculating
about its historical origins in bird song , m a t i n g calls , and a
h o s t o f o t h e r reactions o f s o m e m y t h i c a l " p r i m i t i v e " m a n t o
his e n v i r o n m e n t . S i n c e the c h i e f sources of i n f o r m a t i o n for
this g u e s s w o r k h a v e b e e n , and can o n l y b e , the musical prac tices of living people, and a k n o w l e d g e of m u s i c ' s origins is
useful o n l y for understandin g these practices b e t t e r , the e x e r cise is clearly futile.
T h e s e c o n d k i n d o f e v o l u t i o n a ry approach i s c o n c e r n e d
with the d e v e l o p m e nt of musical styles as things in t h e m selves. It tends to a s s u m e t h a t there is a world h i s t o r y of
m u s i c , in w h i c h m a n b e g a n by using one or t w o tones and
then gradually discovered m o r e and m o r e tones and p a t t e r n s
of sound. It leads to such s t a t e m e n t s a s : " I n the g r o w t h of
great civilizations, m u s i c is the first of the arts to e m e r g e and
the last to d e v e l o p . " S u c h r e m a r k s usually ignore the fact that
our k n o w l e d g e of past music is often limited to w h a t literate
classes c h o s e t o recognize o r record o f such activities. S o m e
w h i t e m i s s i o n a r i es in the S i b a s a district, for i n s t a n c e , were
a s t o n i s h ed t h a t it could t a k e m o r e than six m o n t h s to learn
all there w a s to k n o w about V e n d a m u s i c b e c a u s e their ears
w e r e closed to the variety and c o m p l e x i t y of its sounds.
T h e a b s e n c e o f i n f o r m a t i o n o n m u s i c i n the records o f the

HOW MUSICAL IS

56

MAN?

elite does n o t m e a n that there was no good music in the lives


of ordinar y people ; n o r is the apparent simplicity of some
c o n t e m p o r a r y musical styles evidence that their m u s i c is a
survival from a stage in the h i s t o r y of world music. In 1 8 8 5 ,
A l e x a n d e r J o h n Ellis, the m a n w h o is generally regarded as
the

f a t h e r o f e t h n o m u s i c o l o g y , d e m o n s t r a t e d t h a t musical

scales are n o t natural b u t h i g h l y artificial, and t h a t laws of


acoustics m a y b e irrelevant i n t h e h u m a n organization o f
sound. In spite of his timely warning, there are still some
e t h n o m u s i c o l o g i s t s w h o write as if it were their t a s k to fill
in the gaps of musical h i s t o r y by describing the m u s i c al styles
of exoti c cultures. Even if t h e y do not say it in so m a n y
words, their techniques of analysis b e t r a y affection for an
evolutionary view o f music. M u s i c a l styles c a n n o t b e heard a s
stages in the evolution of music, as judged in term s of one
particular civilization's c o n c e p t s of music. Each style has its
o w n h i s t o r y , and its present state represents o n l y o n e stage
in its o w n d e v e l o p m e n t ; this m a y have followed a separate
and unique course, although its surface pattern s m a y suggest
c o n t a c t s with other styles. M o r e o v e r , even t h o u g h people are
s o m e t i m e s m o r e conservativ e a b o u t music than a b o u t other
aspects of culture, it is h a r d to believe that in s o m e parts of
the world there h a s been no musical innovation for thousand s
of years.
S p e c u l a t i v e histories of world music are a c o m p l e t e w a s t e
o f effort. Even i f w e k n e w h o w musical styles ha d changed
in the cultures which are cited as evidence of stages in the
development o f music, t h e k n o w l e d g e would b e o f o n l y e n c y clopedic interest. It would give us little or no insight into
h u m a n creativity in music unless we had corresponding evidence on the cultural and social e n v i r o n m e nt in w h i c h the
musical developments t o o k place. O n the o t h e r h a n d , i f cultural and social history is well d o c u m e n t e d , studies of music
history are b o t h possible and useful. T h e r e is a vast difference
b e t w e e n studies such as Paul H e n r y Lang's Music in Western

CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN MUSIC


Civilization,

Hugo

Leichtentritt's

Music,

History

and

57
Ideas,

and A l e c H a r m a n ' s and W i l f r i d M e l l e r s ' volumes on Man and


His Music, in w h i c h the origins of certain aspects of musical
style are sought in the social m o v e m e n t s and philosophical
c o n v e n t i o n s of the time, and studies that trace musical develo p m e n t in terms of m o r e tones to the o c t a v e , m o r e thirds to
the chord, and m o r e i n s t r u m e n t s to t h e o r c h e s t r a .
W h e r e , for i n s t a n c e , would our speculative music historian
place the V e n d a in his h i s t o r y of world m u s i c ? T h e r e are
mbiras that h a v e five-, s i x - , or s e v e n - t o n e scales, and sets of
reed pipes that use either five- or seven-tone scales. T h e m e l odies of songs m a y use a n y t h i n g from o n e to seven t o n e s ,
selected from various h e p t a t o n i c m o d e s . S o n g s that use five
tones m a y be b a s e d on a p e n t a t o n i c scale or on selections of
five tones from a heptatoni c m o d e (like the " O d e to J o y "
i n B e e t h o v e n ' s N i n t h S y m p h o n y ! ) . I f our m u s i c historian
gives the V e n d a t h e credit of producing the h e p t a t o n i c scale
t h e m s e l v e s and does not a s s u m e that they must h a v e b o r rowed it from a " h i g h e r " culture, I suspect t h a t he might
describe their m u s i c as being in a stage of transitio n from
p e n t a t o n i c t o h e p t a t o n i c m u s i c a fascinating e x a m p l e o f
musical evolution in action ! T h e only trouble about such a
description is that social and cultural evidence contradict s it.
For e x a m p l e , the V e n d a used a h e p t a t o n i c x y l o p h o n e and h e p tatonic reed pipes long b e f o r e they adopted the p e n t a t o n i c
reed pipes of their southern n e i g h b o r s , the Pedi, w h o in turn
say that the y adopted and adapted the h e p t a t o n i c reed pipe
music o f t h e V e n d a . A c c o r d i n g t o evolutionary theories o f
music h i s t o r y , the V e n d a should be going b a c k w a r d l i k e the
C h i n e s e , w h o selected a p e n t a t o n i c scale for their m u s i c although they k n e w and had used " b i g g e r and b e t t e r " s c a l e s !
It m a y be argued that I h a v e used o n e k i n d of speculative
history in order to throw out a n o t h e r , and that the stated
cultural origins of V e n d a and Pedi music m a y be no less ethnocentric an d inaccurate , as rationalizations of a s y s t e m , than

58

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

a concept of musical evolution that explains p a t t e r n s of sound


in a different w a y . To this o b j e c t i o n I would reply that in
studying musical s y s t e m s

am primarily

c o n c e r n e d with

historical relevance. Even if we k n e w e x a c t l y h o w t h e V e n d a


got tshikona, domba, and a h e p t a t o n i c scale (and I doubt if
we shall ever k n o w ) , and even if it were true t h a t the h e p t a tonic music ha d evolved from the pentatonic , it would n o t
c o n t r i b u t e m u c h to our understanding of the V e n d a musical
s y s t e m o r o f the development o f musicality i n V e n d a society .
I am interested in V e n d a music m o r e as t h e product of h u m a n
minds in V e n d a culture and society than as a stage in the
h i s t o r y o f world music.
In asking h o w musical is m a n , I am obviously c o n c e r n e d
with all aspects of the origins of music, but n o t with speculative origins, or even with origins which a foreign historian
thinks he can detect, but w h i c h are n o t recognized by t h e
creators o f the music. T h e origins o f music that c o n c e r n m e
are t h o s e w h i c h are to be found in the p s y c h o l o g y and in the
cultural and social e n v i r o n m e n t of its creators, in the a s s e m bly o f p r o c e s s e s that generat e the patterns o f sound. I f music
expresses attitudes, we should expect correlations b e t w e e n
the different attitudes and the patterns of sound with which
they are expressed.
To w h a t e x t e n t is music a " l a n g u a g e of e m o t i o n s , a k i n to
s p e e c h , " as D e r y c k C o o k e h a s claimed in The Language of
Music? T h e thesis m u s t be considered in the c o n t e x t in which
i t i s p r o p o s e d: European tonal music b e t w e e n 1 4 0 0 and 1 9 5 3 .
C o o k e h a s s h o w n that specific musical figures s e e e m to be
used again and again to c o n v e y similar feelings, an d that the
use of this kind of code is an essential feature of musical c o m munication. His a r g u m e n t goes a long w a y toward bridging
the gap b e t w e e n formal and expressive analyse s o f music,
and toward showing e x a c t l y h o w music can be described as
the expression of certain attitudes. For i n s t a n c e , he describes
the descending progression 5 - ( 4 ) - 3 - ( 2 ) - l (MINOR) as a figure

CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN MUSIC

59

"which has been much used to express an 'incoming' painful


emotion, in a context of finality: acceptance of, or yielding to
grief; discouragement and depression; passive suffering; and
the despair connected with death" (p. 1 3 3 ) . T h u s he compares
a phrase of Gibbons' madrigal " W h a t Is Our L i f e ? " with the
opening of the finale of T c h a i k o v s k y 's Pathetique S y m p h o n y :

Cooke's thesis impressed me at first because it seemed to make sense in terms of my own musical experience. For instance, I had noticed and felt the musical and expressive
similarity between the pleading melody in the "Recordare
Jesu Pie" of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem (see Example
1 0 ) and the figure with which Mahler accompanies the nostalgic words, "Ich sehne mich, O Freund, am deiner Seite die
Schoenheit dieses A b e n d s zu geniessen," in "Der Abscheid,"
the last song of D a s

Lied von

der Erde

(Universal

Edition,

sections 2 3 , 3 0 , and 6 3 t o the end) (see Example 1 1 ) . T h e


figure 1 - 3 - 4 - 5

(MINOR)

also opens the spiritual, " N o b o dy

K n o w s the Trouble I See" (see Example 1 2 ) . Same figure,


same kind of feeling. D e r y c k Cooke quotes other instances
of this figure and describes it as "an assertion of sorrow, a
complaint, a protest against misfortune" (Language of Music,
p. 1 2 2 ) .

Example 10

R e - c o r - da

re

J e - su

pi

e,

60

HOW MUSICAL IS MAN?

Example 11

Example 12

No-Lod-y knows the

trou-ble I

see, Lord,

No-bod-y knows the

trou-ble I

see.

Again, although I h a v e deliberately neve r read a n y a n a l y s e s


of M a h l e r ' s N i n t h and T e n t h s y m p h o n i e s b e c a u s e I first w a n t
to find out w h a t the music says to me, I react quite definitely
to t w o parallel sequences of intervals in their final m o v e m e n t s (in t h e case of the T e n t h , I refer to D e r y c k C o o k e ' s
performing v e r s i o n ) . First, in t h e twenty-third ba r of the last
m o v e m e n t of the N i n t h , t h e first violins play t h e t o n e s of a
descending scale, but in rising pairs of falling tones.

CULTURE

AND

SOCIETY

IN

MUSIC

61

Example 13

T h e n in the T e n t h , there is an ascending scale w h i c h is played


in descending groups of rising tones

(ba r 3 2 7 of the last

movement).
Example 14
Andante

I will make no attempt to express in words what I feel when


I hear this music, because Mahler explicitly stated that he
felt the need to express himself in music only when "indefinable emotions make themselves felt," and if they could have
been expressed in language he would have done so. I will
merely say that for me they express something about life and
death and man's struggle for fulfillment and spiritual peace.
T h e final chords of the Tenth seem to express ultimate resig-

62

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

n a t i o n w h e t h e r they w e r e written b y M a h l e r o r b y D e r y c k
Cooke!
N o w , h a v e I received t h e attitudes that p r o m p t e d M a h l e r
to c o m p o s e t h o s e n o t e s , or h a v e I reinterpreted t h e m in t h e
light o f m y o w n e x p e r i e n c e ? A n d does a n y o n e else feel a b o u t
t h e m in the s a m e w a y ? Am I out on a l i m b , like t h e n o v i c e s
in the tshikanda girl's initiation, listening to M a h l e r b u t n o t
hearing h i m ? Can a n y o n e else h e a r those n o t e s as I do, or as
M a h l e r did? Is t h e purpose of musical experience to be a l o n e
i n c o m p a n y ? I s there n o h o p e o f establishing c o m m o n r e l a tionships through music e x c e p t w h e r e there is a fairly specific
extramusical

program?

Could

"soul"

music

affect

Black

A m e r i c a n s if its forms were n o t associated with a w h o l e set


o f extramusica l experiences w h i c h B l a c k A m e r i c a n s s h a r e ?
I n spite o f the beautifully stated antiwar m e s s a g e o f B r i t t e n ' s
War Requiem, can all t h o s e w h o share his s e n t i m e n t s s h a r e
the intense m e s s a g e o f his m u s i c ? D o e s i t really m e a n t h e
s a m e to the R u s s i a n , English, and G e r m a n solo singers w h o
made the first recording o f the w o r k ? T o t h o s e w h o s h a re
aspects of B r i t t e n ' s cultural, social, and musical b a c k g r o u n d ,
the music m a y e n h a n c e the pity o f W i l f r e d O w e n ' s poetry
and create a greater h o r r or of w a r than could the poetry on its
own. For o t h e r s , the poetry m a y be a stirring e x p e r i e n c e , b u t
the music a b o r e . We c a n n o t say that they share t h e e x p e r ience o f the p o e t r y m o r e than that o f the music, b e c a u s e t h e y ,
like Britten and m o s t of his listeners, did n o t share O w e n ' s
ultimately fatal experience o f trench warfare. W e c a n o n ly s a y
that t h e y share the experience o f the c o n v e n t i on o f t h e p o e t r y
m o r e easily than the c o n v e n t i o n o f the music.
A l t h o u g h ' " m u s i c can reveal the nature of feelings with a
detail and truth that language c a n n o t a p p r o a c h " (to quote
S u s a n n e Langer, Philosophy in a New Key [ N e w Y o r k : M e n tor B o o k s , 1 9 4 8 ] , p. 1 9 1 ) , it is also tied to the culture in a w a y
in which t h e descriptive capacities of language are n o t . C o n sider the element s of British and European culture in the

music of Britten's War Requiemand, again, in this description I shall speak of the w o r k as it strikes me: I have not
read any commentaries on it. T h e v e ry first two bars of the
work set the stage for death, with the tolling of a bell and the
intoning of the opening words of the Requiem M a s s .
Example 15
Slow and solemn J = 42
(Lento e solenne)

46

Gong

Later, the sounds of boys' voices and an organ recall the hope
and innocence of childhood,
Example 16
[3]

Quick crotchets J=:]62


(Allegro)
f smooth

64

H O W MUSICAL IS MAN?

and brass instruments and bugle-call motifs recall warfare.

Example 17

Musical imitations of the sounds of shrapnel accompany the


words of Owen' s jaunty soldiers singing, "Out there we've
walked quite friendly up to Death." N o w it is the shrapnel
that sings aloft, but a few moments before, in the "Rex tremendae, majestatis," it w a s heaven. T h e military associations
of drums are reinforced when they are used to refer to the
firing of artillery.
Example 18

CULTURE'AND SOCIETY IN MUSIC

lift - ed

up,

thou long

black

65

arm,

B u t drums and trumpets m a y also t a k e us to h e a v e n and


divine j u d g m e n t in the " D i e s I r a e / ' and Britte n m a k e s a p o w erful c o n t r a s t b e t w e e n " T u b a m i r u m spargens s o n u m " and
" B u g l e s sang, saddening the evening a i r "

Example 19

66

HOW

MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

Example 20

the glorious trumpets of G o d , and then the bloody bugles


of man!
To someone w h o has been immersed in the culture of the
composer, the sounds Britten uses and the contrasts he makes
between them can be heart-rending and poignant. For one
whose school friends have been killed in action, it has the
same kind of effect as the contrasting photographs of cricket
fields, choirboys, rockets, and w a r which Peter Brook showed
at the beginning of his film of Lord of the Flies. In this case,

CULTURE?AND SOCIETY IN MUSIC

67

m y reactions t o the m u s i c m a y b e close r t o the feelings B r i t t e n


had w h e n h e w r o t e i t t h a n they w e r e i n the c a s e o f M a h l e r ' s
N i n t h and T e n t h s y m p h o n i e s . B u t h a v e B r i t t en a nd M a h l e r
really used a l a n g u a ge that is in a n y w a y akin to s p e e c h ?
C o m p o s e r s acquire characteristics o f style b y listening t o
t h e m u s i c of the past and present. B r i t t e n a c k n o w l e d g e s a
debt t o M a h l e r , and b o t h B r i t t e n and M a h l e r spent s o m e time
in the U n i t e d S t a t e s . B u t is there really a c o m m o n factor in
their use of t h e s a me figure in the War Requiem and Das Lied
von der Erde? A n d is it likely that the creators of " N o b o d y
K n o w s " would h a v e used the s a m e m u s i c a l l a n g u a g e a s B r i t ten and M a h l e r , w h e n it is clear (to m e , at a n y rate) that
spirituals are a development of A f r i c a n principles of m u s i c
m a k i n g r a t h er t h a n a n imitatio n o f t h e E u r o p e a n ? (For ins t a n c e , the b a s i c m e t e r o f " N o b o d y K n o w s " i s 3 + 3 + 2 , and
the apparently u n - A f r i c a n m e l o d y m a y h a v e b e g u n a s the
lower part of a characteristically A f r i c a n " f a l l i n g " m e l o d y ,
which was given the h a r m o n i c t r e a t m e n t that is typical of
A f r i c a n m u s i c and n o t n e c e s s a r i ly b o r r o w e d from Europe.)
J u s t as B r i t t e n assigns different m e a n i n g s to the sam e
t i m b r e in the c o n t e x t of a single w o r k , so the s a m e p a t t e r n
of m e l o d y m a y h a v e a variety of expressive m e a n i n g s , a nd in
fact it is this variety in the c o n t e x t of unity whic h m a y add to
the expressive p o w e r of music. In V i v a l d i ' s The Four Seasons
( O p . 8 ) , similar scales and arpeggios depict different s u b j e c t s
ranging from t h e staggering o f d r u n k e n peasant s i n " A u t u m n " to icy winds in " W i n t e r . " E v e n without a k n o w l e d g e of
the s o n n e t s that inspired the m u s i c , the m e a n i n g s of the s i m i lar musical figures are clearly different w h e n heard in t h e c o n text o f the w o r k . A g a i n , the m a r c h l i k e melodies o f M a h l e r ' s
T h i r d and S i x t h s y m p h o n i e s , and t h e M a r c h i n A c t 1 , scene 3
of B e r g ' s

Wozzeck, w h e n M a r i e is admiring t h e sergeant-

m a j o r , h a v e n o t h i n g to do with feelings about w a r. T h e i r


musical

an d

meanings.

dramatic

contexts

suggest

entirely

different

HOW MUSICAL

68

IS

MAN?

N o n e o f these musical m e a n i n g s i s absolute even w i t h i n the


same

European musical tradition, in whic h

t h e rules are

clearly stated and the s y s t e m of learning t h e m has b e e n similar for centuries. T h e y depend n o t o n l y o n the c o n t e x t o f the
w o r k , b u t also o n the musical c o n v e n t i o ns o f the t i m e . M u c h
h a s b e e n written about t h e use of musical figures to illustrate
ideas, especially i n t h e m u s ic o f J . S . B a c h . B u t t h e m u s i c o f
B a c h a nd H a n d e l c a n n ot be fully understood w i t h o ut refere n c e to the e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u ry view of the world, in which
aesthetic theories included " a complicated doctrine o f e m o tional expressio n going b a c k t o certain correlations o f r h y t h m
and melodic line with various e m o t i o n s " ( H u g o Leichtentritt ,
M u s i c , History and Ideas [ C a m b r i d g e , M a s s . ; H a r v a r d U n i versity P r e s s, 1 9 4 6 ] , p . 1 4 2 ) . For i n s t a n c e , F m a j o r was the
k e y of t h e pastoral idyll, and F-sharp major was a t r a n s c e n dental k e y : " H a n d e l ' s entire h a r m o n i c s y s t e m and style o f
m o d u l a t i o n s is based on the underlying m e a n i n g of the various k e y s " (ibid., p . 1 5 4 ) . S i m i l a r l y , i f n o r t h e rn Indian music
claims t o b e able t o b r i n g out " a n u a n c e o f sadness , o r o f
love . . . b y careful and i m p e r m a n e n t use o f the intervals
that

correspon d

with

these

emotions"

(Alain

Danielou,

Northern Indian Music [ L o n d o n : H a l c y o n P r e s s , 1 9 5 4 ] , 2 : 9 ) ,


it is b e c a u s e t h e music is heard and performed in the c o n t e x t
of Hindu culture and of a musical s y s t e m that is intricately
related to it.
T h e musical c o n v e n t i o n s o f t h e eighteenth c e n t u r y stand
b e t w e e n t h e G i b b o n s madrigal and the T c h a i k o v s k y s y m p h o n y to w h i c h I referred earlier. A n d so I find it h a r d to
accept that there has been a continuous musical tradition b e tween England in 1 6 1 2 and R u s s i a in 1 8 9 3 , in w h i c h certain
musical figures h a v e had corresponding emotional c o n n o t a tions. T h e o n l y justification for such an a r g u m e n t would be
that the emotiona l significance of certain intervals arises from
fundamental features o f h u m a n p h y s i o l o g y and p s y c h o l o g y .
If this is so, some relationships b e t w e e n musical intervals and

CULTURE
human

feelings

AND

ought

SOCIETY

IN

t o b e universal.

MUSIC

An example

69
from

Africa will be sufficient to question s u ch a t h e o r y . It is n o t


sufficient to dismiss the theory altogether, b e c a u s e it is p o s sible that V e n d a musical c o n v e n t i o n s h a v e suppressed

an

i n n a t e desire in V e n d a people to express their e m o t i o n s in a


specific, universal w a y .
Figure 6a s h o w s a V e n d a children's song in w h i c h small
variations in the m e l o d y are generate d by c h a n g e s of speech
tone. W h e n I first learned to sing it, the V e n d a told me that
I was doing well, b u t that I sang like a T s o n g a (their n e i g h bors to the s o u t h ) . I sang all word phrases to the m e l o d y of
the first, and I though t that my fault lay in the pitch of my
intervals. Eventually , w h e n I realized that the m e l o d y should
vary, t h e y accepte d my p e r f o r m a n c e as truly V e n d a even if I
deliberately sang out o f tune. T h e pattern o f intervals i s c o n sidered m o r e i m p o r t a nt than their e x a c t pitch, b e c a u s e in
certain parts of a melody t h e y are expected to reflect c h a n g e s
in speech t o n e . Figure 6b s h o w s a children's s o n g in w h i c h
the s p e e c h - t o n e pattern s of the first p h r a s e g e n e r a t e the b a s i c
melody,

and

rhythmic,

as

subsequent
well

as

variations

melodic,

in

words

variations.

bring

Such

about

rhythmic

c h a n g e s are s o m e t i m e s called agogic accents in o r t h o d o x


musical

analysis.

Variations

in

melody

and

rhythm

may

therefore indicate n o t musical preferences , but the incidental


c o n s e q u e n c e s o f c h a n g e s i n speech tone, which are t h e m selves g e n e r a t ed by the use of different words w h o s e sequence
i s generated b y the " s t o r y " o f t h e song.
Essential g e n e r a t i v e factors in t h e m u s i c of t h e s e and other
V e n d a s o n g s are therefore e x t r a m u s i c a l. Parts o f the melodies
are formal r e p r e s e n t a t i o ns o f p a t t e r n s o f speech t o n e , w h i ch
are also forma l and not n e c e s s a r i ly related to the m e a n i n g
and e x p r e s s i ve purpose o f t h e w o r d s . R e l a t i o n s h i p s b e t w e e n
the specific e m o t i o n a l c o n t e n t o f the words a n d t h e s h a p e o f
its associated m e l o d y m a y exist, b u t they would be c o i n c i dental.

HOW MUSICAL IS MAN?

70

1. M a - e - le - lei Vho-ne Vho Mu-tshi-nyl!

2. M a - e - le - le! Vha i - t s e - m e - l a - ' n f ?

3. M a - e - l e - le! Ndftshf ta - mba zwa-nga,

4. M a - e - le - le! Na mu-da-vhu wa-nga,

5. M a - e - l e - le! Nge- f

6. Ma-e - le - le! Nge- f

b a - m b e - 1 6 - ni,

L u - vu

vhu?

a - high speech tone a = secondary high


a falling high
a - low
+ - points where some might clap to the melody

6.
Parts of two Venda children's songs, illustrating
effects of changing speech tones on the patterns of melody.
FIGURE

some

T h i s does n o t m e a n that the V e n d a are u n m o v e d b y music,


or that they regard it as a m e r e e x t e n s i on of l a n g u a g e . T h e
treatment of a girls' tshigombela dance song illustrates this
very clearly . T h e t e n d e n cy is for the music to b e c o m e m o r e
musical as the p e r f o r m a n c e proceeds. Even in solo vocal music
like the children's s o n g s , the f o r m of melodies can be divided
into call and response sections , reflecting a social situation in
which s o m e o n e " s o w s " (-sima) a song, and other s " t h u n d e r
in response"(-buHme!) a m e t a p h o r derived from horticul ture. It is onl y in the call section of the songs that melodies
follow the speech-tone pattern s of words, and also the g e n eral rule that each syllable of a word m a y be a c c o m p a n i e d by
only o n e tone. If performers substitute for words various

CULTURE

AND

SOCIETY

IN

MUSIC

71

c o m b i n a t i o n s of p h o n e m e s such as ee, ah.ee, huwelele wee,


yowee, and so forth, they give t h e m s e l v e g r e a t er freedom of
musical expression. T h i s is i m p o r t a n t , b e c a u s e it is the part of
the shared experience o f m u s i c a l activity w h i c h m a y b e c o m e
t r a n s c e n d e n t al in its effect on individuals. In the development
of a tshigombela song during a p e r f o r m a n c e that m a y last
from ten to m o r e t h a n thirty m i n u t e s , the s t r a i g h t f o r w a rd call
and r e s p o n s e is elaborated int o a quasi-contrapunta l s e q u e n c e,
and words are a b a n d o n e d . D u r i n g the course of freer musical
expression, a variety of melodies c o m e out " o n t o p " b e c a u s e
in the e x c i t e m e n t of the dance the pitch of the girls' voices
rises, and w h e n t h e y c a n n o t reach a tone t h e y transpose it
down a fifth or an octave. T h u s , falling intervals m a y s o m e times express the feeling, " I c a n ' t reach the n e x t t o n e " !
T h e r e are

also

relationships b e t w e e n variations

in

the

social and e m o t i o n a l c o n t e n t of a tshigombela dance and the


form of t h e m u s i c , so that a formal analysis of different perf o r m a n c e s is also an expressive analysis. B u t unless

the

formal analysis b e g i n s as an analysis of the social situation


that generate s the music, it is m e a n i n g l e s s . O n e h a s o n l y to
listen to p e r f o r m a n c e s on an afternoon w h e n the girls are
few in n u m b e r and bored, and on a n o t h e r o c c a s i o n w h e n
there is a good turnout, an appreciative audience, and an
a t m o s p h e r e o f e x c i t e m e n t an d c o n c e r n , t o realize h o w and
w h y two p e r f o r m a n c e s o f t h e s a m e song c a n b e entirely
different in expressive p o w e r and in form. T h e n u m b e r and
quality o f variation s i n r h y t h m depend o n the ability o f the
d r u m m e r s and dancers , b u t it is n o t simply a m a t t e r of running

t h r o u g h the gamu t of standard patterns

which

they

k n o w . W h e n and h o w these variations are introduced i s w h a t


gives the music its expressiv e p o w e r ; and this depends on
the c o m m i t m e n t o f t h o s e p r e s e n t and the quality o f the
shared e x p e r i e n c e that c o m e s into b e i n g a m o n g p e r f o r m e r s ,
and b e t w e e n p e r f o r m e rs and audience.
I introduced D e r y c k C o o k e ' s t h e o r y o f the l a n g u a g e o f

72

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

music b e c a u s e , although I c a n n o t accept it, it is undeniabl y


t h o u g h t - p r o v o k i n g . I h a v e concluded my criticism with e x amples from V e n d a musi c in order to s h ow w h y an e t h n o musicological approach is n e c e s s a r y even in the study of
European m u s i c b e t w e e n 1 4 0 0 and 1 9 5 3 . C o o k e c a n n o t b e
faulted for c h o o s i n g a particular area of music, but, b e c a u s e
his t h e o ry is n o t general e n o u g h to apply to any culture or
society, it is automatically inadequat e for European music. It
is not

sufficiently c o n t e x t - s e n s i t i v e.

T o n a l music

between

1 4 0 0 and 1 9 5 3 c a n n o t be isolated as a thing in itself, especially if it is to be related to h u m a n emotions. T h e aesthetic


c o n v e n t i o n s o f the eighteenth century c a n n o t b e considered
apart from the experience of t h e social groups w h o were or
were n o t involved in them. If music serves as a sign or s y m b o l
o f different kinds o f h u m a n experience , its p e r f o r m a n ce m a y
help to c h a n n el the feelings of listeners in certain directions.
A c o m p o s e r w h o hopes to c o m m u n i c a t e a n y t h i n g m o r e t h a n
pretty sounds must be awar e of the associations tha t different sounds conjure up in t h e m i n ds of different social groups.
It is n o t simply a m a t t e r of expressing feeling by relating
sounds in the c o n t e x t of a single piece of m u s i c , as in B r i t t e n ' s
War Requiem. T h e principles of musical organization must
be related to social e x p e r i e n c e s , of which listening to and
performing m u s ic form o n e aspect. T h e minuet is n o t simply
a musical form b o r r o w e d from d a n c i n g : it h a s entirely different social and emotional associations b e f o r e and after the
French R e v o l u t i o n .
From a distance, the f o r m s , techniques, and building m a terials of m u s ic m a y seem to be cumulative, like a t e c h n o l o g i cal tradition. B u t music is n o t a b r a n c h of t e c h n o l o g y , t h o u g h
it is affected by technological developments. It is m o r e like
philosophy, which m a y also give a superficial impressio n of
being evolutionary. Each apparently new idea in m u s i c , like
a new idea in philosophy , does n o t really grow out of previously expressed ideas, though it m a y well be limited by

CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN MUSIC

73

them. It is a n e w emphasis w h i c h g r o w s out of a c o m p o s e r ' s


experience of his e n v i r o n m e n t , a realization of certain aspects
of the e x p e r i e n c e s c o m m o n to all h u m a n b e i n g s w h i c h seem
to h i m to be particularly relevant in the light of c o n t e m p o r a r y
events and personal experiences.
T h e m o s t i m p o r t a nt thing about a cultural tradition at any
time in its h i s t o r y is the w a y in w h i c h its h u m a n c o m p o n e n t s
relate to each other. It is in t h e c o n t e x t of these relationship s
that e m o t i o n a l experience s are h a d and shared. A r t i s t i c enj o y m e n t i s " b a s e d essentially upo n the reaction o f our minds
to f o r m " ( F r a nz B o a s , Primitive Art [ N e w Y o r k : D o v e r , 1 9 5 5
( 1 9 2 7 ) ] , p . 3 4 9 ) ; but the f o r m s are produced b y h u m a n minds
w h o s e w o r k i n g h a b i t s are, I believe , a s y n t h e s is of given,
universal s y s t e m s of operatio n and acquired, cultural p a t t e r n s
of

expression.

Since

these

patterns

are

always

acquired

through and in the c o n t e xt of social relationships and their


associated e m o t i o n s , the decisive style-formin g factor in a n y
attempt to express feeling in music m u s t be its social c o n t e n t .
If we w a n t to find the basi c organizing principles that affect
the shapes o f p a t t e r n s o f m u s i c , w e m u s t look b e y o n d the cultural c o n v e n t i o n s of a n y c e n t u r y or society to t h e social situations in which t h e y are applied and to which they refer.
T h e selection and use o f scales m a y b e the product o f social
and cultural processes that are n o t necessarily related to the
acoustical properties o f sound. I n V e n d a , the use o f p e n t a tonic, h e x a t o n i c , and heptatonic scales reflects a process of
social c h a n g e , in which different groups, with different m u s ical styles, h a v e b e c o m e incorporated into a larger s o c i e t y . It is
strange that even a sociologist should ignore similar social
processes in t h e development of t h e Europea n tonal s y s t e m . In
his

study of

The

Rational and Social

Foundations

of Music

(trans, and ed. D o n M a r t i n d a l e , J o h a n n e s R i e d e l , and G e r trude N e u w i r t h [ C a r b o n d a l e , 111.: S o u t h e r n Illinois U n i v e r s i t y


Press, 1 9 5 8 ] ) , M a x W e b e r claimed that the E u r o p e a n musical
s y s t e m w a s rationalized from within the tone s y s t e m : it was

74

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

c o n c e r n e d n o t with real distances on i n s t r u m e n t s , such as


equidistance b e t w e e n frets or flute h o l e s , b u t with h a r m o n i c
distances. " T h e a p p e a r a n c e o f theories dealing w i t h t h e diss o n a n c e s m a r k s the b e g i n n i n g o f t h e special musical developm e n t o f the O c c i d e n t " (p. 7 5 ) , b e c a u s e " d i s s o n a n c e i s the
b a s i c e l e m e nt o f chordal music , m o t i v a t i n g the progressio n
from c h o r d t o c h o r d " (p. 6 ) . W e b e r attributes this developm e n t to t h e scientific attitude that emerged at t h e t i m e of the
R e n a i s s a n c e . A l t h o u g h h e a c k n o w l e d g e s that t h e o r y follows
practice and that " m o d e r n chordal h a r m o n y b e l o n g e d to prac tical m u s i c l o ng b e f o r e R a m e a u and the encyclopaedist s p r o vided it with a theoretic b a s i s " (p. 1 0 3 ) , he does not go
further and s h o w h o w h a r m o n i c music arose out o f p o l y p h o n y , and that p o l y p h o n y w a s at first m o d al and distinguished from m o n o d y m o r e b y its r h y t h m than b y its tonal
relationships.
T h e p o l y p h o n y o f early E u r o p e an music i s i n principle not
unlike t h e p o l y r h y t h m o f m u c h Africa n m u s i c ; i n b o t h c a s e s ,
p e r f o r m a n c e depends on a n u m b e r of people holding separate
parts within a f r a m e w o r k of m e t r i c unity, b u t t h e principle is
applied " v e r t i c a l l y " to melodies in p o l y p h o n y , and " h o r i z o n t a l l y " t o r h y t h m i c figures i n p o l y r h y t h m . T h e source o f b o t h
techniques is surely in cultural c o n c e p ts and social activity,
such as dancing. T h e c h a n g e in E u r o p e an musical technique
from t h e m o n o d y o f p l a i n c h a n t t o p o l y p h o n y depended o n
m e n s u r a t i o n , o n the strict organization o f r h y t h m s o that
the different singing parts would fit. A n d m e n s u r a t i o n is the
c h i e f feature of dance m u s i c , w h i ch was a vital a c t i v i ty of
the p e a s a n t s . T h e medieval c h u r c h h a d allowed o n l y plainc h a n t , w h i c h w a s intended t o express the u n i t y o f society
within the f r a m e w o rk of a c h u r c h dedicated to G o d ; its style
was c o m p l e t e l y divorced from the regular r h y t h m s of secular
dancing and the unsophisticated " t o n i c - d o m i n a n t " relationships that o c c u r in lively pieces such as " S u m e r is i c u m e n
i n . " It is n o t surprising that the early m a s t e r s of p o l y p h o n y

CULTURE

AND

SOCIETY

IN

MUSIC

75

c a m e from t h e N e t h e r l a n d s an d E n g l a n d , w h e r e the peasant s


had b e c o m e free during the t h i r t e e n th and fourteenth c e n tries, respectively. As the p e a s a n t s ' political i m p o r t a n c e grew,
so their dance m u s i c b e c a m e i n c o r p o r a t e d in the m u s ic written
for the c h u r c h by professional c o m p o s e r s .
It is p o s s i b l e that the p r e d o m i n a n c e of thirds and s i x t h s in
the m u s i c o f J o h n D u n s t a b l e , and o f fourths i n the m u s ic o f
the Flemish c o m p o s e r s , m a y be explained as a l e g a c y from
the popular music of their societies. (In Africa today, societies
w h o sing in parallel m o t i o n s h o w preferences for certain
intervals.) A g a i n , the r e m a r k a b l e development o f p o l y p h o n i c
music in E n g l a n d during the sixteenth century m a y h a v e b e e n
stimulated a s m u c h b y the advent o f W e l s h m o n a r c h s and
their followers as by the m u s i c al invention of individual c o m posers in the first h a l f of the fifteenth c e n t u r y. W h e n the
T u d o r K i n g H e n r y V I I c a m e t o t h e throne i n 1 4 8 5 , h e reestablished W e l s h influence i n E n g l a n d ; and W e l s h popular
music ha d b e e n , noted for its p o l y p h o n i c technique since at
least the twelfth c e n t u r y.
A c o m p o s e r ' s style is " d i c t a t e d by the kind of h u m a n
beings and h u m a n e m o t i o n s " he " t r i e s to b r i n g into his art,
using the language element s o f his t i m e , " says S i d n e y F i n k e l stein in

Art and

Society

([New

York:

I n t e r n a t i o n al

Pub-

lishers, 1 9 4 7 ] , p . 2 9 ) . T h e influence o f popular culture i s


strong i n the w o r k s o f m a n y great c o m p o s e r s , w h o h a v e
striven to express t h e m s e l v e s, and h e n c e their society, in the
broadest t e r m s. L u t h e r a n chorales were deliberately derived
from " f o l k s o n g s , " and B a c h organized m u c h o f his music
round

t h e m . H a y d n , M o z a r t , and S c h u b e r t , in particular,

organized their m u s i c round the A u s t r i a n " f o l k " idiom. B a r tok, K o d a l y , J a n a c e k , C o p l a n d , and numerous o t h e r c o m posers of n a t i o n al schools h a v e found the greatest stimulus in
the sounds of their o w n societies . In the third and fourth
volumes of Man and His Music, and especially in The Sonata
Principle

(from

c.

1750)

(London:

Rockliff,

1957),

Wilfrid

76

HOW MUSICAL IS MAN?

M e l l e r s h a s s h o w n h o w d a n c e f o r m s , the tone and stress o f


the c o m p o s e r ' s o w n language, and particularly t h e melodies
of " f o l k " m u s i c , h a v e all played as vital a part in the process
of assimilation and creation as h a v e c o n v e n t i o n s of musical
style. H e has drawn attention t o t h e successive d o m i n a n c e o f
vocal and instrumenta l forms in the development of t e c h niques o f E u r o p e a n " a r t " music, and h a s linked these developm e n t s with c h a n g e s in t h e social order (Wilfrjd M e l l e r s ,
M u s i c and Society

[ L o n d o n : D o b s o n , 1 9 5 0 ] , pp. 8 1 , 1 3 2 ) .

Curt S a c h s h a s likewise discussed the influence o f s o c i e t i e s'


styles of dancin g on their melodies (in World History of the
Dance [Ne w Y o r k : W . W . N o r t o n , 1 9 3 7 ] , pp. 1 8 1 - 2 0 3 ) .
C h a n g e s in musical style h a v e generally b e e n reflections of
changes in society. For e x a m p l e , after about A.D. 1 2 0 0 in
Europe, k n i g h t s and other secular powers turned increasingl y
" t o the people, w h o s e popular style of singing they adapted to
their m o r e refined t a s t e "

(Leichtentritt, Music, History and

Ideas, p. 6 0 ) . In turning a w a y from the social d o m i n a n c e of


the c h u r c h , they also rejected its m u s i c . S i m i l a r l y , the various
styles of V e n d a music reflect the variety of its social groups
and the degree of their assimilation into the b o d y politic.
M u s i c a l p e r f o r m a n c e s are audible and visible signs of social
and political groupings in V e n d a s o c i e t y , and Figure 7 shows
their pattern in the social structure. M u s i c in the traditional
style is c o n t a i n e d in c o n c e n t r ic circles s y m b o l i c of V e n d a
houses and d a n c e patterns, and nontraditiona l m u s i c is in
rectangles, similar to the E u r o p e a n house designs that m a n y
educated people h a v e adopted. T h e initiation schools vhusha,
tshikanda, and domba are directly controlled by rulers, while
murundu

and

sungwi

are

privately

owned,

but

under

the

auspices of rulers and traditionally oriented. T o g e t h e r with


the possession dances (ngoma dza midzimu), w h i c h are held
by family cult groups with the permission of rulers, each of
these institutions is regarded very seriously and called ngoma
(literally, d r u m ) . O t h e r types of music m a y be referred to as

CULTURE/AND SOCIETY IN MUSIC

77

FIGURE 7 .
Diagram showing the relationships between musical and
social structure in Venda society. Compare with Figure 5.

78

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

a m u s e m e n t s (mitambo), b u t this does not m e a n t h e y are not


an i m p o r t a n t part of V e n d a social and political life. T h e
European-run c h u r c h e s c a m e and set t h e m s e l v es up in total
opposition to traditional V e n d a life, b u t schools and separatist churche s h a v e developed m u s i c that reflects t h e s y n c r e tism of their social life.
T h e variety and vigor o f V e n d a musical styles are the product of a political situation similar to that in A u s t r i a in the
late e i g h t e e n t h century, w h e n p r o m i n e n t families and princes
"rivalled each other in the e x c e l l e n c e of their private o r c h e s t r a s " (ibid., p . 1 7 3 ) . T h e diversity o f musical styles reflects a
diversity that underlies the apparent h o m o g e n e i t y o f V e n d a
culture and s o c i e t y , and h e n c e b o t h the historical p r o c e s s that
has b r o u g h t t h e m about, and their m e a n i n g in c o n t e m p o r a r y
life. T h e r e are o n l y two types o f politically regulated c o m munal

music

that

can

really

bring

traditionally

oriented

V e n d a together. T h e y are tshikona, the national d a n c e , and


domba, the premarital initiation dance , whic h used to be performed by y o u t h s and girls but is n o w performed almost
exclusively b y girls b e c a u s e m i g r a n t labor and the g r o w th o f
school education h a v e c h a n g e d the pattern o f V e n d a rural
life.
T h e m u s i c and dance of the domba initiation s c h o o l p r o vide an astonishin g illustration of the w a y in w h i c h formal
and expressive e l e m e n t s m a y be c o m b i n e d to p o r t r ay s y m b o l ically in music the essential t h e m e s of a culture. W h a t m a k e s
t h e m all the m o r e r e m a r k a b l e is that the process of creation
was almost certainly not self-conscious , but the f o r m s are
s y s t e m a t i c a l l y related t o their expressive purpose. T h e V e n d a
explain that domba h a s b e e n with t h e m for centuries, and
they h a v e m u c h to say on the functions of the initiation
school an d the b e a u t y and value of the c h i e f ritual dance.
T h e y m a k e n o c o m m e n t o n the form o f the dance and its
music, except to s a y that "domba is domba; it's an i m p o r t a n t
rite (ngoma)." A n d yet the m u s i c and dance depict an e s s e n -

CULTURE/AND

SOCIETY

IN

MUSIC

79

tial feature of adult life, and their regular p e r f o r m a n c e s y m bolize the i m p o r t a n c e o f m a r r i a g e , childbirth, and institutionalized m o t h e r h o o d .
On the surface, domba sounds like a regular piece of V e n d a
music in c a l l - r e s p o n se form, with p o l y r h y t h m i c a c c o m p a n i m e n t and musical development o f the response. T h e circular
form of the d a n c e is characteristically V e n d a , and with a lot
of girls in relatively small dancing grounds, it is not u n r e a s o n a b l e that they should hold eac h other. T h e m o v e m e n t has
b e e n w r o n g l y called " T h e P y t h o n D a n c e " i n illustrated j o u r nals and tourist b r o c h u r e s , in w h i c h it is cited as o n e of the
m o s t interestin g things a b o u t

the V e n d a p r e s u m a b l y b e -

cause it is performe d by a chain of almost n a k e d m a i d e n s .


A n d yet the d a n c e m o v e m e n t , the kind of musical developm e n t w h i c h the response is given, and the signals for the
b e g i n n i n g and t h e end of the d a n c e m o v e m e n t s are all generated b y the expressiv e functions o f the music. W h a t i s
m o r e , I could neve r h a v e discovered this if I had not attended
scores o f p e r f o r m a n c e s o f the dance i n different parts o f V e n da, recorded hundreds of the word-phrase s sung by the solo ist, noted the relationships a m o n g words, dance , and music ,
and learned the esoteric s y m b o l i s m of the school. I ha d to
i m m e r s e m y s e l f in V e n d a culture and society in order to
understand this product o f V e n d a minds.
T h e analysis of domba I present is derived from a c o m b i n a tion of different kinds of e t h n o g r a p h i c information. I do n o t
claim that it is the last word on the subject, b u t at least it is
logical and it arises out of the e t h n o g r a p h y . W h e n I b e g a n
the analysis, I ha d no idea h o w it would turn out, and I never
suspected that the formal and expressive element s would be
s o unified. M y conclusion s w e r e thrust o n m e b y the regularities and c o r r e s p o n d e n c e s that emerged from the material I
had collected in the field.
Domba is the last of a series of initiation schools that
prepare girls for marriage. A l t h o u g h there is m u c h emphasis

80

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

on sex and reproduction, the schools are n o t concerne d solely


with fertility. T h e y are designed to prepare girls for institutionalized

motherhood,

together

with

all

the

rights

and

obligations that go with it. T h e r e is evidence that the c o n t e nt


and form of th e school h a v e c h a n g e d over th e y e a r s , particularly since its " n a t i o n a l i z a t i o n " by t h e ancestors of t h e ruling
clans. In the past, w h e n domba was a ritual of t h e c o m m o n e r
clans, the emphasis on physical growth seems to h a v e been
stronger. T h e ruling clans have expanded t h e political significance of the initiation s c h o o l s, but the basically physical
orientation of the music and dance remains.
Each p e r f o r m a n c e of the d a n c e symbolize s sexual intercourse, and successive p e r f o r m a n c es symbolize the building
up of t h e fetus, for which regular intercourse is t h o u g h t to
be n e c e s s a r y . T h e music and the dance are n o t m e a n t to be
s e x y : they s y m b o l i ze the m y s t i c a l act o f sexual c o m m u n i o n ,
conception, the g r o w t h of the fetus, and childbirth. A f t er
three warning drumbeats , the voice of the male soloist, the
m a s t e r of initiation, " p i e r c e s the air like an a r r o w , " like a
phallus, and the girls reply w i t h a low, murmuring response.
T h e m a n ' s voice begins on what is functionally similar to a
d o m i n a n t in V e n d a tonality, and t h e girls' voices t a k e the
response t o the " t o n i c , " t h e point o f relaxation. T h r e e differently pitched drums enter in p o l y r h y t h m , two against three,
and the song is under w a y .
The

girls

are

being

symbolically

roused.

After

few

repeats of the basic melody, the m a s t e r sings " t h e river reed


u n w i n d s , " and the girls, w h o are in a line holding each other's
bodies, begin to step around the drums. T h e river reed and
the line of girls are b o t h phallic s y m b o l s , and the b e g i n n i n g
of the dance m o v e m e n t s y m b o l i z e s t h e entr y of the phallus.
T h e girls immediately begin quasi-orgastic singing w h i c h they
call khulo. As in t h e tshikona n a t i o n a l dance, h o c k e t technique
is employed. A f t e r several m i n u t e s , w h e n the m a s t e r sings the
word-phrase "gndu has stirred up your e n t r a i l s , " t h e girls

CULTURE, AND SOCIETY IN MUSIC

81

stop m o v i n g and lean o v e r t o w a rd the center o f t h e d a n c i n g


circle, s y m b o l i z i n g d e t u m e s c e n c e .
T h e r e is a fire in the center of the dancing p l a c e , w h i c h
m u s t b e k e p t alight t h r o u g h o u t the duration o f the s c h o o l .
Example 21

82

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

CULTURE/AND

Example 21 (continued)
.CHORUS

(" tivha khulo)

SOCIETY

IN

MUSIC

83

84

HOW MUSICAL IS MAN?

Example 21 (continued)

Alternative pattern of basic melody:


SOLO

CHORUS

T h e " w h i t e " a s h e s s y m b o l i z e the semen that i s considered


n e c e s s a r y for t h e g r o w t h o f t h e fetus. T h e s w i n g i n g b a s s
drum is called " t h e h e a d of t h e c h i l d " in the esoteric s y m b o l i s m of t h e school. At the b e g i n n i n g of domba, it lies on t h e
ground. A f t e r three or four m o n t h s (though s o m e t i m e s less,
it s e e m s ) , ther e is a c e r e m o n y at w h i c h the drum is " c o o k e d "
and then h u n g from t h e c r o s s b a r . T h i s i s like the m o v i n g o f
the child i n t h e w o m b , symbolize d b y the dance circle. T h e
s y m b o l i s m is n o t conclusive abou t t h e drums, but it seems
that their different b e a t s express t h e h e a r t b e a t s of father,
m o t h e r , and fetus.
O n the last n i g h t o f the initiation school, the girls d a n ce
with their h a n d s a b o v e their h e a d s , symbolizing t h e pains of

CULTURE/AND SOCIETY IN MUSIC

85

childbirth and a night of l a b o r. On the following m o r n i n g


they are stripped and w a s h e d , and dressed in their graduation clothes . T h e y are carried, like b a b i e s , o n t h e b a c k s o f
their " m o t h e r s " up to the ruler's courtyard, w h e r e they dance
domba for the last time as n o v i c e s . T h e n c e f o r t h t h e y are
ready

for m a r r i a g e

and

for

fuller participation in V e n d a

society. O n e function o f the m u s i c an d dance w a s t o c r e a t e


a b a b y s y m b o l i c a l l y , and, as if to reinforce this, the b a s s
drum is r e m o v e d from the c r o s s b a r for the final rites.
T h e r e is an i m p o r t a n t relationship b e t w e e n the m u s ic of
domba and of tshikona, which

reflects the function of the

t w o types of m u s i c in V e n d a society. A complet e set of


reed pipes is called mutavha. T h e w o r d refers to the set and
n o t to the n u m b e r of tones to an o c t a v e . T h e sam e word is
used to refer to a set of k e y s on the mbira and t h e x y l o p h o n e .
H o w e v e r , n a m e s are given to the n o t e s in such a w a y that
their relationships within the o c t a v e and their musical functions are recognized. T h e c h i e f t o n e of a set of h e p t a t o n i c
reed pipes is called phala, and the tone an o c t a v e a b o v e it is
called phalana, or " l i t t l e phala." T h e

tone

a b o v e phala is

called thakhula, the " l i f t e r , " b e c a u s e it leads the m e l o d y b a c k


down o n t o the c h i e f tone. (It is functionally like a leading
note in E u r o p e a n music.) Every tone h a s a c o m p a n i o n t o n e , a
fifth b e l o w . T h i s is n o t a device limited to tshikona: it is
implicit in every V e n d a m e l o d y b a s e d on h e p t a t o n i c m o d e s .
T h e c o m p a n i o n t o n es in a p e n t a t o n i c scale differ b e c a u s e of
the spacing of t h e intervals, but the basically social principle
that a t o n e m u s t h a v e a c o m p a n i o n t o n e still applies, and it
m a y b e e x p r e s s ed explicitly i n the " h a r m o n i e s " improvised
b y other singers.
In i n s t r u m e n t a l music the interval of a tritone is permitted,
b u t in vocal m u s i c it is avoided as a chord. An interesting
contrast exists b e t w e e n tshikona and the khulo of domba, in
which girls sing with their voices almost the s a me pattern
that m e n play o n their reed pipes (see Figure 8 ) . T h e per-

86

H O W MUSICAL IS MAN?

mitted tritone is n o t in the same position in the pattern of


tshikona (c"I f%" in 8 a ) as it would be in the pattern of khulo
(second chord in 8 b ) , if it were not avoided. T h i s is evidence
that khulo is not a simple transposition of tshikona: if it
were, the avoided tritone would appear, as in tshikona, in the
(a) TSHIKONA

(c)

(b) KHULO

(d)

8. Illustration of the transformation process by which


khulo is related to tshikona, and summary of modes and basic
chord sequence.
(a) The upper tones of tshikona, transposed down a semitone.
(b) The basic pattern of khulo for girls' voices.
(c) Transposition of tshikona to the same pitch as khulo. Note the
I natural and the position of the tritone.
(d) Transformation of tshikona, rewriting d" as phala instead of
a". Note how the position of the tritone differs from tshikona in
8c, but agrees with khulo in 8b.
(e) The three modes used in tshikona and khulo, rewritten without
accidentals.
(f) The harmonic basis of khulo. The sequence of chords also fits
the tshikona pattern, regardless of the different modes used.
Note: the figures indicate the number of semitones in the intervals
of the modes.
FIGURE

CULTURE AND SOCIETY IN MUSIC

87

penultimate, and n o t in the s e c o n d chord. Khulo i s , rather, a


t r a n s f o r m a t i o n that is generate d by t h e different function of
the music. T h u s the c o m p a n i o n tones of the m e n ' s tshikona (B
i n 8 a , 8 c , and 8 e ) h a v e b e e n selected a s the chie f m o d e o f the
girls' khulo, for which a further set of c o m p a n i o n tones h a s
been taken

(C in

8 b , 8d,

and 8 e ) .

It is

as if

tshikona

embodies within its mutavha a m a l e and a female m o d e , and


the m a l e m o d e h a s been c h o s e n for the m e n ' s music and the
female m o d e for t h e girls' m u s i c . B o t h are united by their
c o m m o n relationshi p to a single basi c h a r m o n i c progression
( 8 f ) . N o t i c e that in t h e h a r m o n i c progression there is a shift
of tonal power from phala (d" in 8 c , 8 e , and 8f) to thakhula
(e" in 8 c , 8 e , and 8 f ) , and t h e n b a c k to phala. T h e relationship b e t w e e n the chords is determined by the fact that in the
tshikona pattern every tone h a s t w o c o m p a n i o n t o n e s t h e
first a fifth b e l o w and the s e c o n d a fifth above. T h u s d"/g and
e"la' are functionally " s t r o n g e r " chords than d"la' and e"lb'
(see Figure 9 ) .

Harmonic Progression

9. Diagram of the harmonic and tonal progressions of


tshikona and khulo, showing how the power of phala (d") and
thakhula (e") alters as they change their companion tones. The
rectangles symbolize shifts of tonality, and the changing thickness
of the "wedges" illustrates the decrease and increase of the tonal
power of phala and thakhula.
FIGURE

88

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

In spite of their different t i m b r e and tempi, the musical


affinity of tshikona and khulo o u g h t to be apparent even to
one w h o h a s n o k n o w l e d g e o f V e n d a culture. T o a certain
extent t h e m u s i c speaks for itself. B u t , although t h e general
nature of the relationship is clearly audible, the precise w a y
in which this musical relationship h a s b e e n achieved c a n n o t
possibly be derived from a study of the n o t e s alone. T h e
analysis m u s t b e g in with the role of music in V e n d a society
and culture (see Figures 5 and 7 ) , so that we c a n see h o w
patterns of culture and society h a v e emerged in the s h a pe of
h u m a n l y organized sound.

Soundly
Organized

Humanity
f | N T H E F I R S T C H A P T E R I stated that, i f w e w a n t t o
H I know h o w musical man is, w e must b e able t o describe
exactly w h a t happens to any piece of music. In the second and
third chapters I have tried to show w h y we shall never be
able to do this until we understand what happens to the
human beings w h o make the music. M u s i c is a synthesis of
cognitive processes which are present in culture and in the
human b o d y : the forms it takes, and the effects it has on
people, are generated by the social experiences of human
bodies in different cultural environments. Because music is
humanly organized sound, it expresses aspects of the experience of individuals in society.
It follows that any assessment of human musicality must
account for processes that are extramusical, and that these
should be included in analyses of music. T h e answers to many
important

questions

about musical

structure m a y not be

strictly musical. W h y are certain scales, modes, and intervals


preferred? T h e explanation m a y be historical, political, philosophical, or rational in terms of acoustical laws. W h a t comes
next when a certain musical pattern has been played? Is the
next tone determined by the logic of the melodic pattern,

89

HOW

90

MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

or by a m o r e g e n e r a l rule relating m e l o d y to p a t t e r n s of
speech tone, a s i n V e n d a m u s i c ? W h y s h o u l d a p a t t e r n b e
r e p e a t e d at a certain p o i n t ? W h y s h o u l d it be r e p e a t e d at all?
M u s i c o l o g y m u s t be a b l e to a n s w e r these q u e s t i o n s if it is to
e x p l a i n w h a t is g o i n g on in m u s i c ; b u t I b e l i e v e that it w i l l
not succeed in a n s w e r i n g g e n e r a l questions a b o u t m u s i c until
it r e c o g n i z e s the peculiarities of different m u s i c a l s y s t e m s .
E v e n the d i s c o v e r i e s o f s y s t e m a t i c m u s i c o l o g y m a y a p p l y o n l y
to the m u s i c a l traditions of s y s t e m a t i c m u s i c o l o g i s t s a n d to
the p e r c e p t u al faculties t h a i h a v e b e e n d e v e l o p e d i n their
o w n cultures.
I w i l l reinforc e this point w i t h reference to f o u r of the
children's

songs

included

in

my

book,

Venda

Children's

Songs ( J o h a n n e s b u r g : W i t w a t e r s r a n d U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s , 1 9 6 7 ) .
T h i s w i l l s h o w h o w a n a n a l y s i s o f their s o u n d a l o n e i s
inadequate

and

misleading.

We

will

consider

the

songs

( E x a m p l e s 2 2 - 2 5 ) first a s " p u r e " m u s i c , then a s s o u n d o r g a nized in a p a r t i c u l a r cultural a n d social context.


Example 22

Fottlo s e e m s to be b a s e d on ten h a i r - n o te beats d i v i d e d b}


the m e l o d y into 4 4 - 4 + 2 , a n d i n c o r p o r a t i ng thirty w o r d
s y l l a b l e s w h i c h are g r o u p e d into threes a s l + l - ) - 2 e i g h t !
notes. O n e can i m a g i n e s e v e r a l i n g e n i o u s e x p l a n a t i o n s of th(
metrical structure of the s o n g , w h i c h m a y or m a y not b<

correct; b u t the V e n d a w h o p e r f o r m it are c o n s c i o u s of a


single e x p l a n a t i o n , w h i c h i s a s s i g n e d b y its cultural context .
Potilo is a c h i l d r e n ' s s o n g (luimbo Iwa vhana) in the s u b c a t e g o r y of c o u n t i n g s o n g s (nyimbo dza u vhala): on e a c h halfnote beat, a finger is g r a s p e d a n d c o u n t e d, from the left little
finger to the t h u m b , and then t h r o u g h from the right t h u m b
to the fourth finger, w i t h a clap of the h a n d s on the tenth
half beat.
Example 23

T h e s e c o n d s o n g , Nde' ndi ngei thavhani, u s e s five tones


a n d is b a s e d on repetitions of f o u r dotted q u a r t e r n o t e s . In
this c a s e , w e w i l l consider n o t the m e t e r but the c h a n g e s i n
the m e l o d y . A g a i n , a " p u r e l y " m u s i c a l a n a l y s i s w i l l n o t d o ,
b e c a u s e o f the V e n d a s y s t e m o f relationship s b e t w e e n speec h
tone a n d m e l o d y . T h e tonal s e q u e n c e at the b e g i n n i n g of
each p h r a s e v a r i e s f r o m G E D t o C E D and C D , a n d there
are different p a t t e r n s in later repetitions of the b a s i c m e l o d y .
T h i s m a y b e h e a r d a s m e l o d i c v a r i e t y that i s b a l a n c e d and
p l e a s i n g to the ear, b u t it is n o t c o n c e i v e d m u s i c a l l y . It is a
c o n s e q u e n c e of c h a n g e s in the s p e e ch tone of the different
w o r d s , w h i c h i n turn are g e n e r a t e d b y the " s t o r y " o f the
s o n g (see a l s o F i g u r e 6 ) . T h e f o r m o f the s o n g i s d e r i v e d
from a social m o d e l , so that the v a r y i n g call and the u n c h a n g -

92

HOW

MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

ing r e s p o n s e reflect a situation in w h i c h a soloist w o r k s


w i t h a c h o r u s . T h u s , s p e e c h - t o n e c h a n g e s are reflected in the
first, but not the s e c o n d , section of e a c h p h r a s e , so that in the
p e r f o r m a n c e of a s i n g le p e r s o n there is a c o n d e n s a t i o n of a
social situation w h i c h children w i l l encounte r w h e n t h e y g r o w
up and p a r t i c i p a t e in l a r g e r social g r o u p s .
Example 24

T h e third s o n g also u s e s five t o n e s , but a different a r r a n g e men t o f five t o n e s. N o t i c e the p a t t e r n E G C E , s i m i l ar t o that


in Potilo, C E A C . T h i s m i g h t be called a f a n f a r e p a t t e r n ; b u t
b u g l e s a n d f a n f a r e s are i r r e l e v a n t in the context of traditional V e n d a culture. A g a i n , the first part of the m e l o d y is
like the call of c a l l - r e s p o n s e f o r m , a n d there are m i n o r v a r i a tions of m e l o d y d e p e n d e n t on c h a n g e s in s p e e c h tone. T h e
s a m e principle s a p p l y in the fourth song> w h i c h uses s i x tones
and also h a s the " f a n f a r e " pattern C E A C .

Example 25

SOUNDLY ORGANIZED HUMANITY

SOLO

93

CHORUS

3.

Se - se

4.

Fha - la

ha

tshi

bva -'flu?

Mu - kwa - I

Vhu - t w a - na - mba.

vho

kwa - ya

vha

vhti - ya.

It could be argued that t h e s e four songs represent stages


of musical evolution from a four-tone nucleus E D C A . It is
possible to a n a l y z e t h e m j u s t as musical p a t t e r n s , in terms of
the iteration of tones and their c o n v e r g e n c e on tone centers,
the

rhythmic

reinforcement

of

tones,

tonic-dominant

to-

nality, p a t t e r n s of melodic relaxatio n and tension, and so on.


If you treat these melodies as things in themselves , as " s o n i c
o b j e c t s , " w h i c h is t h e kind of approach I am o b j e c t i n g to, you
can w o r k out several different a n a l y s e s . T h i s procedure is
very c o m m o n i n a n a l y s e s o f E u r o p e a n music and m a y b e o n e
o f the reason s w h y musical j o u r n a l s are s o full o f c o n t r a d i c tory e x p l a n a t i o n s o f the s a m e m u s i c . E v e r y o n e disagrees h o t l y
and stake s his academic reputation on what M o z a r t really
m e a n t i n this o r that b a r o f o n e o f his s y m p h o n i e s , c o n c e r t o s ,
or quartets. If we k n e w e x a c t l y w h a t went on inside M o z a r t ' s
m i n d w h e n h e w r o t e t h e m , there could b e o n l y o n e e x p l a n a tion.
If we a n a l y ze the four s o n g s as music in culture, it seems
that we can explain t h e m w i t h o ut resort to a r g u m e n t s about
musical evolution or the merits of alternative a n a l y s e s . Fur-

94

HOW MUSICAL IS MAN?

thermore, it is n o t n e c e s s a r y to c o n c o c t a theory that the


songs are part of a musical Cradus by which children prepare
for adult m u s i c , like Carl Orff's Music for Children. T w o of
the first s o n g s that small children were singing in 1 9 5 6 - 5 8
were t h e f o u r - t o n e Potilo and the six-tone Ndo bva na tshidongo ( E x a m p l e s 2 2 and 2 5 ) . T h e y were the m o s t popular
children's s o n g s , they b e l o n g e d to classes of s o n g s that are
sung by b o y s and girls together, and they were generally
learned b e f o r e certain t w o - or three-tone songs that a c c o m panied g a m e s children rarely played at an early age. S o c i a l
factors tend to regulate the age at which V e n d a children
learn the s o n g s , and the fact that o n e has four t o n e s , and
others h a v e five, six, or seven t o n e s , h a s little to do with the
learning process. It is the total pattern of the music and its
associated situations which are m o r e significant than the
n u m b e r of tones used in songs. Children learn these s o n g s as
they learn l a n g u a g e , as c o m p l e t e ideas, and n o t gradually by
musical progression.
T h e children's songs are t h e first music V e n d a children
learn, in the s e n s e of actively performing music. T h e y are
not the first musi c they h e a r , w h i c h is m o r e likely to be the
music of t h e national dance (tshikona), the premarital initiation dance (domba), or the m a n y b e e r songs that will assail
their ears as t h e y are strapped to their m o t h e r s ' b a c k s . O t h e r
music t h at V e n d a b o y s h e a r and play is the musi c of the
b o y s ' d a n c e (tshikanganga) and a series of associated reedpipe dances for t h e pentatonic pipes (nanga dza lutanga).
Tshikona, the national dance, is played on different sets of
heptatonic pipes. As I pointed out in t h e second and third
chapters, it is the m o s t i m p o r t a n t V e n d a m u s i c ; and there
is a close relationship b e t w e e n its musical form and its e x pressive purposes. T h e music of tshikona is such that if y o u
ask a V e n d a to sing it, he m a y give o n e of several p o s s i b l e
versions (see Figure 1 0 ) . He m a y e v e n attempt to give a m o r e
graphic representation in which snatches of vocal p h r a s e s

SOUNDLY/ORGANIZED HUMANITY

95

10. Different ways in which the Venda may sing tshikona,


their national dance for reed pipes and drums. The figures indicate
the number of semitones in each interval. D and are the nearest
equivalents to a scale that the Venda sing: singers do not complete
the octave, but pause on the seventh tone or repeat the pattern.
The names of one octave of reed pipes are given. Tshikona is here
transposed down a minor third.
FIGURE

a c c o m p a n y an imitation of the pipes. All these variations , and


m a n y o t h e r s , can be drawn from the tshikona patter n (see
Figure 1 1 a ) . All are t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s that are accepted b y the
V e n d a as tshikona. Figure 11 also s h o w s h o w three of the
children's s o n g s ( E x a m p l e s 2 2 , 2 4 , and 2 5 ) m a y b e derived
from the

tshikona p a t t e r n : the recurrence of the " f a n f a r e "

patterns suggests strongl y that the relationship is n o t an


imaginary creatio n o f the music analyst . Besides, o n o n e o c c a sion a group of V e n d a b o y s actually converte d

Thathatha

(Example 2 4 ) into tshikona, a b a n d o n i n g the words for sounds


that are said to represent t h e sound of reed pipes, fhe, fhe,
fhe.

96

HOW MUSICAL

Pattern of Ndo boa na tshidongo

IS MAN?

(Example 25)

1 1 . Relationship between the melodies of three Venda


children's songs and the music of tshikona, only part of which is
given, transposed down a minor third.
FIGURE

Similarly, the song Nde' ndi ngei thavhani (Exampl e 2 3 ) is


related to t h e pattern of Mutshaini (see Figure 1 2 a ) , w h i c h is
o n e o f t h e p e n t a t o n ic reed-pipe melodies. T h e relationship o f
a four-tone song Nandi Munzhedzi (see Figure 1 2 c )

to an-

other reed-pipe m e l o d y , Mangovho (see Figure 1 2 b ) , s h o w s


h o w that s o n g is not related to tshikona, as is Potilo

(see

Figure l i b ) , although b o t h use the same t o n e s . W h a t reveals


their relationshi p is the pattern of their melodies. T h u s o n e
four-tone s o n g is derived from a pentatoni c model and another is derived from a h e p t a t o n i c model. T h e principles of
t r a n s f o r m a t i o n are the s a m e , and t h e musical results are
similar at the surface level, bu t their basic conceptual models
are different. T h i s is w h y I maintained above that t h e total
pattern of a m e l o d y m a y be m o r e significant than t h e n u m b e r
o f tones used. A n apparently e l e m e n t a r y product m a y conceal
a comple x process, and vice versa.
T h e r e are m a n y o t h e r s o n g s that are related to tshikona and

SOUNDLY/ ORGANIZED HUMANITY

12. Relationship between two Venda children's songs


two pentatonic reed-pipe melodies played by youths and boys
4 in Figures 5 and 7).
FIGURE

97

and
(No.

to the b o y s ' reed-pipe dances , as I h a v e d e m o n s t r a t ed in my


b o o k . M y point i s that formal musicological analysis m a y
b e c o m e inadequate and even irrelevant as soon as the s o n g s
are analyzed in relation to o t h e r items of V e n d a musi c and
in terms of the V e n d a music s y s t e m , and also in relation to
the social " o r i g i n s " o f that s y s t e m . T h e children's s o n g s are
t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s of musi c that children m u s t h a v e heard and
will a l m o s t certainly p e r f o r m later in their lives. T h e y h a v e
b e e n condensed by a process of ellipsis n o t unlike t h at w h i c h
occurs in the early speech of children. Instead of imitating a
d o w n w a r d - m o v i n g , often heptatonic pattern o f m e l o d y , t h e y
exhibit a n e w type of pattern, which happens to suit the m o r e
limited r a n g e o f children's voices.
T h e processes o f creation wer e p r o b a b l y u n c o n s c i o u s ; and
it is even possible that the s o n gs w e r e originally c o m p o s e d by
children. B u t i f they were n o t , and t h e y are n o w learned b y
conscious imitation rathe r than by o s m o s i s , there w a s a time
w h e n they wer e c o m p o s e d, and the t r a n s f o r m a t i o n process
used was similar in principle to that which relates the pattern of tshikona to the khulo of domba, as discussed in c h a p ter 3 (see Figure 8 ) . T h e i m p o r t a n t point h e r e is tha t the
principles of the creative process canno t a l w a y s be found in
the surface structures o f the music, and m a n y o f the g e n e r a -

HOW MUSICAL

98

IS

MAN?

tive factors are n o t musical. For i n s t a n c e , I also s h o w e d h o w a


b a s i c m e l o d y m a y be restructured to suit c h a n g e s

in t h e

speech-tone patterns o f words (see Figure 6 ) . E v e n V e n d a


children are able to set entirely n e w strings of words to an
existing m e l o d y in a w a y that is recognized as c h a r a c t e r i s t i c ally V e n d a (see page 6 9 ) , a l t h o u gh they receive n o f o r m a l
instruction and t h e rules of the s y s t e m can be derived o n l y
from a c o m p a r a t i v e analysis of m a n y different s o n g s . C r e ativity in V e n d a music depends on the use and t r a n s f o r m a t i o n
of the b a s i c

conceptual

models

that

generat e its

surface

s t r u c t u r e s ; and b e c a u s e these models are acquired u n c o n sciously as part of the maturatio n p r o c e s s , I do not t h i n k that
they can be used really creatively by s o m e o n e w h o is n o t
deeply involved in V e n d a society .
In o t h e r words, the rules of V e n d a music are not a r b i t r a r y ,
like the rules of a game . In order to create n e w V e n d a m u s i c ,
you must be a V e n d a , sharing V e n d a social and cultural life
from early childhood. T h e technical resources o f V e n d a music
m a y n o t s e e m very great to o n e a c c u s t o m ed to E u r o p e a n c l a s sical music, and the b a s i c rules of c o m p o s i t i on could p r o b a b l y
be

learned

from

study

of

recordings

and

of

my

own

analyses. B u t I am convinced t h a t a trained musicia n could


n o t c o m p o s e m u s i c that was a b s o l u t e l y n e w and specifically
V e n d a , and a c c e p t a b l e as s u c h to V e n d a audiences, unles s he
had b e e n b r o u g h t up in V e n d a society. B e c a u s e t h e c o m p o s i tion of V e n d a m u s i c depends so m u c h on b e i n g a V e n d a , and
its structure is correspondingly related to that condition of
being, it follows that an analysis of the sound c a n n o t be
conceived apart from its social and cultural c o n t e x t . T h e
music o f the four songs could h a v e b e e n analyzed i n t e r m s o f
their n o t es o n l y , but such a n a l y s e s would not h a v e revealed
the deep structures o f the m u s i c , t h e processes b y w h i c h t h e y
were created in the c o n t e x t of V e n d a society. A c o n t e x t sensitive analysis turns out to be m o r e general, b e c a u s e it
explains the music of the children's songs according to a

SOUNDLY ORGANIZED HUMANITY

99

s y s t e m that applies to o t h e r items of V e n d a music, a n d in


terms of their respective social functions . T h a t is, the social
and

e x p r e s s i ve

relationships

between

the

function o f

the

children's s o n g s and the different reed-pipe dance s in V e n d a


society is reflected in their f o r m a l, musical relationships.
A n a l y s e s o f music are essentially descriptions o f s e q u e n c es
of different kinds of creative a c t : t h e y should explain the
social, cultural, p s y c h o l o g i c a l, a n d musical e v e n t s in the lives
of individuals and groups t h a t lead to

the production of

organized sound. At the surface level, creativity in m u s i c is


expressed chiefly in musical c o m p o s i t i o n and in p e r f o r m a n c e ,
in the organization of n e w relationships b e t w e e n sounds or
n e w w a y s of producing t h e m . C o n c e r n for the sound as an
end in itself, or for the social m e a n s to the a t t a i n m e n t of that
end, are t w o aspects o f m u s i c a l creativity that c a n n o t b e
separated, and b o t h seem to be present in m a n y societies.
W h e t h e r the e m p h a s i s is on h u m a n l y organized sound or on
soundly organized h u m a n i t y , on a tonal e x p e r i e n c e related to
people or a shared experience related to tones, the function of
music is to reinforce , or relate people m o r e closely to, certain
experiences w h i ch h a v e c o m e to h a v e m e a n i ng in their social
life.
M u s i c a l creativity c a n b e described i n t e r ms o f social,
musical,

and

cognitive

p r o c e s s e s.

In

two o t h e r

published

analyses of over o n e hundred V e n d a s o n g s , I h a v e drawn up


six sets of rules that explain their patterns of sound. T h e first
set, " s o c i a l and cultural f a c t o r s , " b e g i n s with t h e rule 1.0.0.
" M u s i c is performed as part of a social s i t u a t i o n . " T h i s m a y
seem absurdly o b v i o u s , but it is a n e c e s s a r y prelude to m o r e
c o m p l e x rules that explain musical patterns as products of
their social a n t e c e d e n t s . T h e n e x t four sets are b a s i c a l l y
m u s i c a l : " T e m p o , m e t e r, a n d r h y t h m , " " S p e e c h t o n e and
m e l o d y , " " H a r m o n y and t o n a l i t y , " and " M u s i c a l develop m e n t " ; and t h e last i s c o g n i t i v e : " T r a n s f o r m a t i o n p r o c e s s e s . "
T h e s e rules are c l u m s y and provisional, and t h e y are i n a d e -

HOW MUSICAL IS

100

MAN?

quate b e c a u s e they a s s u m e a w o r k i n g k n o w l e d g e of V e n d a
culture and society. I shall n o t discuss t h e m further, b u t I
w a n t to suggest h o w and w h y such rules could be generalized
and refined in terms of a unified t h e o r y of cognition, s o c i e t y,
culture, and creativity.
First, let me outline certain theoretical a s s u m p t i o n s. Emile
Durkheim,

in

The

Elementary

Forms

of

the

Religious

Life

( [ L o n d o n : A l l e n and U n w i n , 1 9 6 8 ( 1 9 1 5 ) ] , p . 4 4 7 ) argues that


society is " n o t a nominal bein g created by reason, b ut a
s y s t e m of active f o r c e s . " I believe that b e h a v i o r is an integral
part of an a n i m a l ' s c o n s t i t u t i o n; tha t h u m a n b e i n g s are not
infinitely p l a s t i c ; and that we shall learn m o r e about musi c
and h u m a n musicality if we l o o k for basi c rules of musical
b e h a v i o r which are biologically, as well as culturally, conditioned and

species-specific. It seems to me t h at w h a t is

ultimately of m o s t i m p o r t a n c e in music c a n n o t be learned like


other cultural s k i l l s : it is there in the b o d y , waiting to be
brought

out

and

developed,

like

the

basic

principles

of

language formation . Y o u c a n n o t really learn to improvise, but


this does n o t m e a n that improvisation i s random. T h e m a n
w h o does it is n o t i m p r o v i s e d : all aspects of his b e h a v i o r are
subject to a series of interrelated, structured s y s t e m s , and,
when he i m p r o v i s e s, he is expressing these s y s t e m s in relation
to the reactions he picks up from his audience. S i m i l a r l y ,
married V e n d a w o m e n do n o t relearn the musi c of domba
every four or five y e a r s , w h e n a n e w school is set u p : they
relive a social situation, and t h e right music emerges w h e n
that experience is shared under certain conditions of individuality in c o m m u n i t y .
T h e rules of musical b e h a v i or are not arbitrary cultural
c o n v e n t i o n s , and techniques of musi c are not like developments in t e c h n o l o g y . M u s i c a l b e h a v i o r m a y reflect varying
degrees of consciousness of social forces, and the structure
and function of music m a y be related to basic h u m a n drives
and to the biological need to m a i n t a i n a b a l a n c e a m o n g them.

SOUNDLY ORGANIZED HUMANITY

101

If the V e n d a perform c o m m u n a l musi c chiefly w h e n their


s t o m a c h s are full, it is not simply to kill time. If drives of
cooperation, reproduction, and exploratio n are o v e r l o o k e d in
the pursuit of self-preservation, the h a r m o n y of nature is
disturbed.

M a n c a n n o t b e satisfied with h a v i n g : h e must

also b e , and b e c o m e . But neithe r can he b e , w i t h o u t having.


W h e n the V e n d a are h u n g r y , o r b u s y w o r k i n g t o

avoid

hunger, they do n o t h a v e the time or energy to m a k e m u c h


music. N o r do they imagine that music might in s o m e magical
w a y alleviate their hunger, a n y m o r e than their rain m a k e r s
expect rain to fall before they h a ve seen the insects w h o s e
m o v e m e n t s precede it. T h e music is in them, b ut it requires
special conditions to emerge. I suggest that the V e n d a m a k e
music w h e n their s t o m a c h s are full because, c o n s c i o u s l y or
u n c o n s c i o u s l y , they sense the forces of separation inherent
in the satisfaction of self-preservation, and t h e y are driven
to restore the b a l a n c e with exceptionally cooperative and e x ploratory b e h a v i o r. T h u s forces in culture and societ y would
be expressed in h u m a n l y organized sound, b e c a u s e the chief
function of musi c in society and culture is to p r o m o t e soundly
organized h u m a n i t y b y e n h a n c i n g h u m a n c o n s c i o u s n e s s .
In the third chapter I suggested that m a n y formal c h a n g e s
in European music c a m e a b o u t as a result of a t t e m p t s by
c o m p o s e r s t o m a k e people m o r e awar e o f social d i s h a r m o n y
and inequality. M u s i c a l creativity was thus a function of c o m p o s e r s ' attitudes to the separation of people in societies which
should h a v e b e e n fully cooperative. In much t h e s a m e w a y ,
we m a y say that the thematic relationships of tshikona and
the V e n d a children's songs express corresponding social relationships. Tshikona s y m b o l i z e d the largest society k n o w n to
the V e n d a in the p a s t ; and b e c a u s e the oppression of apartheid restricts t h e m in the larger society of w h i c h they are
painfully a w a r e , this traditional society still r e m a i n s the largest in w h i c h they can m o v e a b o u t w i t h c o m p a r a t i ve freedom.
Tshikona is universal b o t h in c o n t e n t and in f o r m : e v e r y o n e

HOW MUSICAL IS MAN?

102

attends it; it epitomizes the principle of individuality in c o m m u n i t y (like a B a c h chorale, it is interesting for all p e r f o r m ers, in c o n t r a s t to the average h y m n a c c o m p a n i m e n t w h i c h
reduces altos and tenors to slaves of sopranos and b a s s e s ) ;
and its musical structure incorporates the m o s t i m p o r t a n t
features of V e n d a music. It is a shared experience, b o t h s o cially and musically.
V e n d a children's

songs

are

also universal,

rather

than

parochial, in that every V e n d a child is expected to sing s o m e


of t h e m and their performanc e is n o t limited to a cult group
or social clique. T h u s it is n o t surprising to find musical relationships

between

tshikona

and

th e

children's

song s

that

parallel their social relationships. In the c o n t e x t of V e n d a


social and musical life, t h e children's songs can be seen as
" c o n t r a s t i n g on the surface but identical in s u b s t a n c e , " as
Rudolph R e t i ha s described s o m e great w o r k s of music in
his

book,

The

Thematic

Process

in

Music

([London:

Faber

and Faber, 1 9 6 1 ] , p . 5 ) .
It is tempting to see the basic musical form of t h e m e and
variation as an expression of social situations and social forces
transformed according to pattern s of culture and the state of
the division of l a b or in society. T h u s the essential differences
b e t w e e n musi c in one society and a n o t h e r m a y be social and
n o t musical. If English music m a y seem to be m o r e c o m p l e x
than V e n d a musi c and practiced by a smaller n u m b e r of
people, it is b e c a u s e of the c o n s e q u e n c es of the division of
labor in society , and n o t b e c a u s e the English are less musical
or their music is cognitively m o r e c o m p l e x . T h e r e are n ot
m o r e or less things for an individual to learn in different
societies, and in the c o n t e x t of each culture they are no t
basically m o r e or less difficult. T h e r e are m o r e or fewer different fields in which to learn. It is neithe r easier n o r m o r e difficult to be a B u s h m a n than an A m e r i c a n . It is different.
As a result of the division of l a b or in society, s o m e people
must do things for others. If I were a B u s h m a n I would h a v e

SOUNDLY/ORGANIZED HUMANITY

103

m a d e my o w n clothes and I w o u l d hunt for my o w n f o o d : I


would really be an individual in a w a y no A m e r i c a n c a n b e .
( A m e r i c a n s w h o opt out and live a folksy or Utopian life are
not really escaping the division of l a b or in their society.
B e c a u s e o f the protection o f the larger society they enjoy a n
easy life that has almost n o t h i n g in c o m m o n with the lives of
peasants and t r i b e s m e n w h o c a n n o t afford the luxuries they
take for g r a n t e d , and they t r y to avoid the p r o b l e m s of
collective

responsibilit y

with

which

the

more

extensiv e

division of l a b o r presents them.)


In any s o c i e t y , cultural b e h a v i o r is learned ; although the
introduction of new skills m a y represent an intellectual b r e a k through, t h e learning of accumulate d skills does n o t present
essentially different or m o r e difficult tasks to the m e m b e r s of
different cultures. If there is a p a t t e rn to the difference, it is
that A m e r i c a n s h a ve t o learn m o r e a b o u t less. T h i s m e a n s
that they m u s t learn less t h a n the B u s h m e n a b o u t s o m e
things. P r o b l e m s in h u m a n societies begi n w h e n people learn
less about love, b e c a u s e love is t h e basis of our e x i s t e n c e as
h u m a n b e i n g s . K i e r k e g a a rd h a s expresse d this in the following w o r d s :
One generation can learn much from another, but that which is
purely human no generation can learn from the preceding generation. In this respect every generation begins again from the beginning, possessing no other tasks but those of preceding generations
and going no further, unless the preceding generation has betrayed
itself and deceived itself. . . . No generation has learned how to
love from another, no generation begins at any other point than
the beginning, and no subsequent generation has a shorter task
than the generation which preceded it [Fear and Trembling (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1 9 3 9 ) , pp. 1 8 3 - 8 4 ] .
T h e hard task is to love, and m u s i c is a skill that prepares
m a n for this m o s t difficult task . B e c a u s e in this respect every
generation has t o b e g i n again from t h e b e g i n n i n g , m a n y c o m posers feel that their task is to w r i t e new music n o t as if they

104

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

were designing a n e w model of a u t o m o b i l e , b u t as if they


were assessing t h e h u m a n situation in w h i c h n e w a u t o m o b i l e s
are m a d e and used. T h e t a s k o f designing n e w a u t o m o b i l e s i s
basically a technical and c o m m e r c i a l p r o b l e m that m a y be
c o m p a r e d to writing incidental musi c in t h e style of T c h a i k o v s k y , M a h l e r , or D e b u s s y . Provided a p e r s o n is b r o u g h t
up in a certain social class, w i t h adequate e m o t i o n a l opportunities, writing musi c i n t h e style o f T c h a i k o v s k y could b e
learned w i t h o u t great effort and carried on from o n e generation to a n o t h e r , like m a n y o t h e r cultural skills. A l t h o u g h a
c o m p o s e r m i g h t h a v e the greatest respect for T c h a i k o v s k y ' s
music, i f h e wer e aware o f and c o n c e r n e d w i t h t h e c o n t e m p o r a r y t a s k o f bein g h u m a n and w a n t e d t o say s o m e t h i n g
about it in his music, he could n o t reproduce that sort of
music in a society w h o s e t a s k s are different from T c h a i k o v s k y ' s . ( S t r a v i n s k y ' s Le Baiser de la Fie m a y h a v e b e g u n
as a r e h a sh of T c h a i k o v s k y , bu t it turns out as pure S t r a v i n s k y , and essentially a n e w w o r k . ) T h u s if a c o m p o s e r w a n t s
to produce musi c that is relevant to his c o n t e m p o r a r i e s , his
chief p r o b l e m is n o t really m u s i c a l, t h o u g h it m a y s e e m to h i m
to be s o : it is a p r o b l e m of attitude to c o n t e m p o r a r y societ y
and culture i n relation t o t h e b a s i c h u m a n p r o b l e m o f learning
to be h u m a n . M u s i c is n o t a l a n g u a ge that describe s t h e w a y
society s e e m s to b e , but a m e t a p h o r i c a l expression of feelings
associated with t h e w a y society really is. It is a reflection of
and r e s p o n s e to social forces, and particularly to t h e c o n s e quences of the division of l a b o r in society.
S o m e music expresses t h e actual solidarity o f groups w h e n
people c o m e together and produce patterns of sound that are
signs of their group a l l e g i a n c e s; and other m u s ic e x p r e s s es
theoretical solidarity w h e n a c o m p o s e r brings t o g e t h e r patterns o f sound that express a s p e c ts o f social experience. J u s t
as diverse social groups in, s a y , V e n d a

societ y m a y be

b r o u g h t together by a p e r f o r m a n c e of their nationa l d a n c e , so


i n a n industrial society c o n t r a s t i n g patterns o f soun d m a y b e

SOUNDLY ORGANIZED HUMANITY

105

b r o u g h t together by a c o m p o s e r throug h the single idea, and


corresponding t h e m a t i c unity , of a s y m p h o n y . J u s t as a V e n d a
chief said to m e , " Y o u shall h e a r the finest p e r f o r m a n c e
i m a g i n a b l e of our national d a n c e : I will call to my capital
every available player i n the district," s o M a h l e r said, " T o
write a s y m p h o n y m e a n s , to m e , to construct a world with
all the tools of t h e available t e c h n i q u e . "
R e l a t i o n s h i p s b e t w e e n formal and expressive analyses of
music ca n be established even in m a t t e r s such as the quality
of creativity, an issue that c o n s t a n t l y occupies musicologists
and critics. In recent y e a r s, creative ability has b e e n assessed
in terms of a c o m p o s e r ' s ability to produce t h e m a t i c unity
with expressive contrast, and the impressive studies of H e i n rich S c h e n k e r , R u d o l p h R e t i , H a n s Keller, A l a n W a l k e r , and
others h a v e tended to stress that this m a y often be an u n c o n scious process. For e x a m p l e, A l a n W a l k e r has s h o w n h o w the
themes o f T c h a i k o v s k y ' s Fourth S y m p h o n y spring from the
opening " f a t e t h e m e , " w h i c h th e c o m p o s e r recognized intuitively as t h e g e r m of the entire s y m p h o n y (A Study in Musical Analysis

[London:

Barrie and Rockliff, 1 9 6 2 ] ,

pp.

116-

2 6 ) . M a n y critics h a v e dismissed this s y m p h o n y a s poorly


constructed on the grounds that its thematic material is n o t
treated as it ought to be according to the c o n v e n t i o n a l rules
o f s y m p h o n i c construction. T h e w o r k could b e described a s
an intellectual leap forward, in tha t T c h a i k o v s k y was led to a
new way of w o r k i n g out s y m p h o n i c f o r m ; and it is interesting that t h e musical c o n s e q u e n c e s o f this basically h u m a n
achievement
though

are

poorly

appreciated

understood

by

intuitively
the

by

closed

lay
minds

audiences,
of

some

musical e x p e r t s.
T h e theories o f Rudolp h R e t i and his followers m a t c h well
with recent research that h a s s h o w n that the ability to think
creatively and to c o n s t r u ct n e w forms is a function of personality. C r e a t i v i t y requires b r e a d t h o f view, o r w h a t M i l t o n
R o k e a c h calls an " o p e n m i n d , " and the ability to synthesize

106

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

is a critically i m p o r t a n t factor. People with open m i n d s , w h o


are low in e t h n o c e n t r i c i s m , reveal a c o m p r e h e n s i v e cognitiv e
organization, w h i c h is potentially m o r e creative tha n the n a r rower cognitiv e organizatio n e x h i b i t e d b y people with closed
minds. (I should add that surface e t h n o c e n t r i c i s m should n o t
always be t a k e n as evidence of real e t h n o c e n t r i c i s m . For
e x a m p l e , i n S o u t h A f r i c a the

surface e t h n o c e n t r i c i s m o f

b l a c k s w h o see a form of B l a c k P o w e r as the o n l y m e a n s of


regaining their land and freedom is very different from the
e t h n o c e n t r i c i s m o f the whites w h o oppose them.)
T h e r e is evidence w h i c h suggests that, although h u m a n
creativity m a y appear to be the result of individual effort, it
is in fact a collective effort t h a t is expressed in t h e b e h a v i o r of
individuals.

Originality

may

be

an

expression

of

innate

exploratory b e h a v i o r with the accumulate d materials of a


cultural tradition; and the ability to synthesize, w h i c h is often
said to distinguish genius from talent, m a y express t h e c o m prehensive cognitive organization that is generated by e x p e rience of the relationships that exist b e t w e e n the social groups
w h o use and develop the techniques of the tradition. If this
is s o a n d I am convince d that it is truedifferences in
cultures and d e v e l o p m e n t s in t e c h n o l o g y are the result of
differences n o t o f intellect, but o f h u m a n organization. I f the
whites o f S o u t h Africa seem t o perform bette r than the
b l a c k s , or the rich and elite of a c o u n t r y seem to perform
better than the poor or the m a s s e s , it is not b e c a u s e they or
their p a r e n t s are cleverer or h a v e a richer cultural h e r i t a g e : it
is b e c a u s e their society is organized in such a w a y t h a t they
have better opportunities to develop their h u m a n potential,
and c o n s e q u e n t l y their cognitive organization. If intelligence
tests devised by m e m b e r s of a certain class s h o w p o o r perf o r m a n c e by the m e m b e r s of a n o t h e r class in a theoretically
" o p e n " s o c i e t y , we should first as k jus t h o w open the society
is and consider to what degree its class divisions m a y inhibit
the c o g n i t i ve development of its less fortunate m e m b e r s .

SOUNDLY ORGANIZED HUMANITY

107

C h a n g e s and d e v e l o p m e n ts in culture and s o c i e ty are a


function o f population g r o w t h and o f people's r e l a t i o n s h i p s
and attitudes w i t h i n given p o p u l a t i o n s . G r e a t e r productivit y
h a s b e e n achieved b y larger groups o f people involve d i n
joint enterprises. In such c a s e s , an i n c r e a se in t h e division of
labor is d y n a m i c a l l y productive, b u t o n l y w h e n it is n o t also
a division of people. T h e i n t e r a c t i on of minds developed
under different conditions is a stimulus to i n v e n t i on in a
n e w , shared situation, provided that t h e situation really is
shared. If a shared situation b e c o m e s static or formalized, or
disintegrates a l t o g e t h e r, it follows that creativity will tend to
dry up, and it will b e c o m e i n c r e a s i n g l y hard for m e m b e r s of
a society to adapt to the c h a n g e s that must result inevitabl y
from the birth, life, and death of its individuals. It s o m e times h a p p e n s

that

r e m a r k a b l e cultural d e v e l o p m e n t s

can

t a k e place in societies in w h i c h m a n ' s h u m a n i t y is p r o g r e s sively abused, restricted, and disregarded. T h i s is b e c a u s e


cultural d e v e l o p m e n t can r e a c h a stage w h e r e it is a l m o s t
m e c h a n i c a l l y s e l f - g e n e r a t i v e b ut o n l y in certain fields and
for a limited time. T h e h i s t o r y of m a n y civilizations h a s
s h o w n that a society and its culture m a y u l t i m a t e ly collapse
b e c a u s e o f h u m a n alienation. T h e m a c h i n e runs d o w n w i t h o u t
the only p o w e r that can c h a n g e it, the creative force that
springs

from h u m a n s e l f - c o n s c i o u s n e s s.

This is

why

the

V e n d a stress that " m a n i s m a n b e c a u s e o f his asociation s with


other m e n , " and reinforce their b e l i e f with music. W h e n
t h e y s h a r e the e x p e r i e n c e of an invisible conducto r in their
drumming and singing and pipe playing , they b e c o m e m o r e
a w a r e o f s o c i e t y ' s s y s t e m o f active f o r c e s , and their o w n c o n sciousness is e n h a n c e d .
M u s i c c a n n o t c h a n g e societies, a s can c h a n g e s i n t e c h n o l o g y a n d political o r g a n i z a t i o n. It c a n n o t m a k e people act
unless t h e y are already socially and culturally disposed to
act. It c a n n o t instill b r o t h e r h o o d , as T o l s t o y h o p e d , or a n y
other state or social value. If it can do a n y t h i n g to people,

108

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

the b e s t that it can do is to confirm situations that already


exist. It c a n n o t in itself generate t h o u g h t s that m a y benefit or
h a r m m a n k i n d , as some writers h a v e s u g g e s t e d; b u t it can
m a k e people m o r e a w a re o f feelings that t h e y h a v e experienced, or partly experienced, by reinforcing, n a r r o w i n g or
expanding their consciousnes s in a variety of w a y s . S i n c e
music is learned in these k i n d s of c o n t e x t , it is c o m p o s e d in
the s a m e spirit. A person m a y c r e a t e music for financial gain,
for private pleasure, for e n t e r t a i n m e n t , or to a c c o m p a n y a
variety of

social

events,

and he need n o t e x p r e ss

overt

concern for the h u m a n condition. B u t his music c a n n o t escape


the s t a m p of the society t h a t m a d e its creator h u m a n , and
the k i n d of music he c o m p o s e s will be related to h i s con sciousness of, an d c o n c e r n for, his fellow h u m a n b e i n g s . H is
cognitive organization will be a function of his personality .
N o w t h o s e w h o are c o n c e r n e d w i t h m u s i c o l o g y and e t h n o musicology m a y be disappointed, b e c a u s e I seem to suggest
that there are no grounds for comparing different musical
s y s t e m s ; t h e r e i s n o possibility o f a n y universal t h e o r y o f
musical b e h a v i o r , and n o h o p e o f cross-cultural c o m m u n i c a tion. B u t if we consider our o w n experiences , we m u s t realize
that this is n o t in fact so. M u s i c can transcen d t i m e and
culture. M u s i c that was e x c i t i n g to the c o n t e m p o r a r i es of
M o z a r t and B e e t h o v e n is still exciting , although we do not
share their culture and society. T h e early B e a t l e s ' s o n g s are
still exciting although the B e a t l e s h a v e unfortunatel y b r o k e n
up. S i m i l a r l y , s o m e V e n d a s o n g s that must h a v e b e e n c o m posed hundreds of years ago still excite the V e n d a , and they
also excit e m e . M a n y of us are thrilled by koto m u s i c from
J a p a n , sifar m u s i c from India, C h o p i x y l o p h o n e m u s i c , and
so on. I do n o t say that we receive the music in e x a c t l y the
same w a y as the players (and I h a v e already suggested that
even the m e m b e r s of a single culture do not receive their o w n
music in the s a m e w a y s ) , b u t our o w n experiences suggest
that there are s o m e possibilities of cross-cultural c o m m u n i c a -

SOUNDLY ORGANIZED HUMANITY

109

tion. I am c o n v i n c e d that t h e e x p l a n a t i o n for this is to be


found in the fact that at the level of deep structures in music
there are e l e m e n t s that are c o m m o n to the h u m a n p s y c h e ,
although t h e y m a y n o t appear in the surface structures .
C o n s i d e r the m a t t e r of " f e e l i n g in m u s i c , " w h i c h is often
i n v o k e d to distinguish t w o technically correct p e r f o r m a n c e s
of the s a m e piece. T h i s doctrine of feeling is in fact b a s e d on
the r e c o g n i t i on o f the e x i s t e n c e and i m p o r t a n c e o f deep struc tures in music. It asserts that m u s i c stands or falls by virtue
of w h a t is h e a r d a n d h o w people respond to w h a t t h e y hear
" i n the n o t e s , " b u t it a s s u m e s that the surface relationships
b e t w e e n t o n e s w h i c h m a y b e perceived a s " s o n i c o b j e c t s " are
o n l y part o f o t h e r s y s t e m s o f relationships .

B e c a u s e the

a s s u m p t i o ns are n o t clearly stated and are o n l y dimly understood, t h e a s s e r t i o ns b e c o m e all the m o r e d o g m a t i c and are
often clothed in t h e languag e of an elitist sect. T h e effect of
this confusion on musically c o m m i t t e d people can be traumatic, and t h e musicall y inclined m a y be discouraged a l t o gether.
W h e n , as a b o y , I m a s t e r e d a technically difficult piece of
piano m u s i c , I w a s s o m e t i m e s told that I played w i t h o u t
feeling. As a result of this I tended to play m o r e loudly or
aggressively, or to fold up altogether . It seeme d as if an
assault w a s b e i n g m a d e on my integrity as a person, rather
than o n m y t e c h n i c a l ability. I n fact, m y " u n f e e l i n g " p e r f o r m ance w a s the result o f inadequate, hit-or-miss technique s o f
teaching in a society w h o s e educational theory w a s founded
on a confused doctrine relating success to a c o m b i n a t i o n of
superior i n h e r i t a n c e , hard w o r k , and m o r a l integrity. A s n o b b i s h distaste for technical e x p e r t i s e , t e c h n o l o g y , and " m e r e "
craftsmanship

discouraged

attention

to

basic

mechanical

p r o b l e m s unless t h e y were w r a p p ed up in an aura of m o r a l i ty


a s w a s t h e diligent practice o f scales and a r p e g g i o s . T h e
V e n d a attitude t o w a r d playing well is essentially technical
and not ego-deflating. W h e n the r h y t h m o f a n alto drum i n

110

HOW MUSICAL IS

MAN?

domba is n o t quite right, the player m a y be told to m o v e in


such a w a y t h at h e r b e a t is part of a total b o d y m o v e m e n t :
she plays with feeling precisely b e c a u s e she is s h o w n h o w to
experience the physical feeling of m o v i n g with h e r instrum e n t and in h a r m o n y with the o t h e r d r u m m e rs and dancers.
T h e r e is no suggestion that she is an insensitive or inadequate
person. W h a t is a c o m m o n p l a c e of V e n d a musical instruction
seems to be a rarity in " m y " society.
So often, the expressive purpose of a piece of m u s ic is to
be found t h r o u g h identification w i t h the b o d y m o v e m e n t s
that generated it, and these in turn m a y have their origins, in
culture as m u c h as in the peculiarities of an individual. T h e r e
are so m a n y different tempi in the world of n a t u re and the
b o d y o f m a n tha t music h a s endless possibilities o f physical
coordination with any one o f t h e m , o r several o f t h e m t o gether. W i t h o u t this kind of coordination, which c a n be
learned only b y endless e x p e r i m e n t a t i o n, o r m o r e quickly b y
direct aural transmission, there is little possibility t h at music
will be felt. W h e n we k n o w the associated dance step, we
should be t h o u g h t of as
1 - 2 - 3 - 1 2 3 , 1 2 3 1 - 2 - 3 - , o r 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 , o r whatever. I t m a y b e
n e c e s s a r y to slow dow n o n e ' s b r e a t h i n g in order to " f e e l " a
piece of K o r e a n music, w h o s e unique elegance and refinement
are hard for a European to appreciate. A similar control of
the b o d y m a k e s it easier to catch the innigster empfindung
o f B e e t h o v e n ' s P i a n o S o n a t a , O p . 1 0 9 , last m o v e m e n t . J u s t
b r e a t h e s l o w l y , relax the b o d y completel y and p l a y a n d the
empfindung

comes

through

the

body.

It is

no

longer

an

elusive, m y s t e r i o u s T e u t o n i c quality!
O b v i o u s l y the most deeply felt performanc e of a n y piece
of music will be that which approaches m o s t closely t h e feelings of its creator w h e n he b e g a n to capture the force of his
individual experienc e with musical form. S i n c e this experience
m a y often begin as a r h y t h m i c a l stirring of the b o d y , it may
be possible for a performer to recapture the right feeling by

SOUNDLY/ORGANIZED HUMANITY

111

finding the right m o v e m e n t . Is it surprising, then, that m a n y


people a b a n d o n m u s i c b e c a u s e t h e y c a n n o t play w h a t the y
feel, or c a n n o t feel w h a t they p l a y ? By creating a false dichoto m y b e t w e e n the deep and surface structures o f m u s i c , m a n y
industrial societies h a v e taken a w a y from people m u c h of the
practice and pleasure o f m u s i c m a k i n g . W h a t i s t h e use o f
teaching a pianist to play scales and arpeggios according to
s o m e didactic s y s t e m , and then e x p e c t i ng him to feel the
piano music o f M o z a r t , B e e t h o v e n , C h o p i n , D e b u s s y , and
R a v e l by a separat e effort of the will, or the e m p l o y m e n t of
s o m e m y s t e r i o u s spiritual a t t r i b u t e ? Exercise of the finger
muscles is o n e thing, but the scales and arpeggios of a c o m poser's m u s i c will perhaps be felt m o s t deeply w h e n the y are
played accordin g to his s y s t e m . T h a t is, if you find out by
feeling for it h o w D e b u s s y m i g h t h a v e held his h a n d s and
b o d y w h e n he played the piano, y o u m i g h t get a better feeling for his music. Y o u m i g h t find that you could play the
music with feeling without h a v i n g to be i m m e n s e l y " d e e p . "
In fact y o u w o u l d be profoundly deep, b e c a u s e y o u would
b e sharing the m o s t i m p o r t a n t thing a b o u t music, that w h i c h
is in the h u m a n b o d y and w h i c h is universal to all men . It
would be m y s t e r i o u s o n l y in so far that we do n o t understand

w h a t h a p p e n s in the

r e m a r k a b l e bodies

all h u m a n

b e i n g s possess. It would not be m y s t e r i o u s in the sense of


b e i n g s o m e t h i n g for o n l y a c h o s e n few.
Perhaps there is a h o p e of cross-cultural understanding
after all. I do n o t s a y that we can e x p e r i e n ce e x a c t l y the s a m e
thoughts associated with bodily e x p e r i e n c e ; but to feel with
the b o d y is p r o b a b l y as close as a n y o n e can ever get to
resonating with a n o t h e r person. I shall not attempt to discuss
the issue of musical c o m m u n i c a t i o n as a physiological p h e n o m e n o n ; b u t if m u s i c b e g i n s , as I h a v e suggested, as a
stirring of the b o d y , we can recall the state in which it was
conceived b y getting into the b o d y m o v e m e n t o f the music
and so feeling it very nearly as the c o m p o s e r felt it. S o m e

112

HOW MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

m a y be f o r t u n a t e enough to be able to do this intuitively;


but for m o s t people it will be easier if t h e n o t e s of m u s ic are
regarded as the product of cognitive , physical, and social
processes.
I woul d like to consider again t h e e x a m p l e s of tshikona
and t h e children's songs. I am no longer satisfied w i t h t h e
analysis I gave in Venda Children's Songs. I tried to explain
musical p h e n o m e n a as expressions of social s i t u a t i o n s ; b u t I
no longer consider this to be sufficiently general. For e x a m p l e ,
the use of t h e terms call and response implies a socially derived musical form, rather t h a n seeking a basic structure
from which b o t h responsorial form and s o l o - c h o r u s / l e a d e r follower social situations m a y be derived. S u p p o s e we look
at the social, musical, e c o n o m i c , legal, and other s u b s y s t e m s
of a culture as t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s of basic structures that are
in the b o d y , i n n a t e in m a n , part of his biological e q u i p m e n t ;
then we m a y h a v e different explanation s for a lot of thing s
that we h a v e t a k e n for granted, and we m a y be able to see
correspondences b e t w e e n

apparently

disparate element s in

social life. For e x a m p l e , t h e following relationships m a y be


t r a n s f o r m a t i o n s of a single structure : c a l l / r e s p o n s e , t o n e /
c o m p a n i o n tone , t o n i c / c o u n t e r t o n i c , i n d i v i d u a l / c o m m u n i t y ,
c h i e f / s u b j e c t s , t h e m e / v a r i a t i o n , m a l e / f e m a l e , and s o forth.
E t h n o m u s i c o l o g y is in s o m e respects a b r a n c h of cognitive
a n t h r o p o l o g y . T h e r e seem to be universal structural principles
in music, such as t h e use of mirror forms (see E x a m p l e 1 6 , for
i n s t a n c e ) , t h e m e and variation, repetition, and b i n a r y form.
It is always possible that these m a y arise from e x p e r i e n c e of
social relations or of the natural w o r l d : an u n c o n s c i o u s c o n cern for m i r r o r forms m a y spring from the regular experience
of mirro r forms in nature, such as observation of t h e two
" h a l v e s " o f the b o d y . I f different aspects and fields o f h u m a n
b e h a v i o r are analyzed in this way , we m a y hav e a n e w view
of h u m a n societies and h u m a n " p r o g r e s s , " and a n e w concept
of the future of m a n , which is m o s t important.

S O U N D L Y / O R G AN I ZED

HUMANITY

113

T h e evolution o f t e c h n o l o g y and a n i n c r e a s e i n the size


o f societies c a n n o t t h e n b e t a k e n a s signs o f the evolution o f
culture i n

general , o r o f m a n ' s intellectual p o t e n t i a l.

An

A f r i c a n " f o l k " s o n g i s n o t n e c e s s a r i l y less intellectual t h a n


a s y m p h o n y : the apparent simplicity of sound produced m a y
conceal c o m p l e x p r o c e s s es o f g e n e r a t i o n ; i t m a y h a v e b e e n
stimulated by an intellectual leap forward in w h i c h its c o m poser saw b e y o n d t h e b o u n d a r i es of his culture and w a s able
to invent a powerful n e w for m to express in sound his vision
of the unlimited possibilities of h u m a n development. As a
h u m a n a c h i e v e m e n t , this would b e m o r e significant t h a n t h e
surface c o m p l e x i t y of a c l a s s r o o m s y m p h o n y produced in the
c o n t e x t of a t e c h n o l o g i c a l ly advanced society, and so c o m parable to an original m a s t e r p i e c e . A n d , like a s y m p h o n i c
m a s t e r p i e c e , it m i g h t survive b e c a u s e of its musical quality
and w h a t it m e a n s to critical listeners.
T h r o u g h the o p e r a t i o n s o f the b r a i n , three orders o f c o n sciousness are w o r k i n g at the s a m e time in o n e p e r s o n ' s
body:

the universal,

a u t o m a t i c c o m p l e x i t y o f the n a t u r a l

w o r l d ; group c o n s c i o u s n e s s , w h i c h has bee n learned t h r o u g h


t h e shared e x p e r i e n c e o f cultural l i f e ; and individual c o n s c i o u s n e s s , w h i c h m a y transcend the boundaries o f group
c o n s c i o u s n e s s w h e n an individual uses or develops areas of
b a s i c a u t o m a t i c c o m p l e x i t y w h i c h h a v e n o t b e e n explored b y
his society. I use the term " g r o u p c o n s c i o u s n e s s " deliberately,
b e c a u s e I regard the m o r e generalized " s o c i a l c o n s c i o u s n e s s "
as an a s p e c t of individual c o n s c i o u s n e s s . T h e r e is an i m p o r tant difference b e t w e e n a n individual's " n a t u r a l " a w a r e n e s s o f
a n y m a n n e x t to h i m as a h u m a n n e i g h b o r , and his " c u l t u r a l "
a w a r e n e s s o f n e i g h b o r s a s people w h o speak certain l a n g u a g e s
or b e l o n g to certain races, c l a s s e s , or creeds. B e c a u s e h u m a n
beings

are

p h y s i o l o g i c a l ly

parts

of

the

natural

world,

doubt if t h e y c a n create a n y t h i n g w h o s e principles are not


already

inherent

in

the

system

of

automatic

complexity

t o w h i c h t h e y b e l o n g . C o m p u t e r s , radios, X - r a y p h o t o g r a p h y ,

114

HOW

MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

and television are in a sense no m o r e t h a n e x t e n s i o n s and


props t o m a n ' s i n b o r n p o w e r s o f calculation, t e l e p a t h y , sensory diagnosis ,

and

c l a i r v o y a n c e.

Inventions

may

be

de-

scribed as purposeful discoveries of situations that are already


possible by m e a n s that already exist. I would m o d i f y t h e
hypothesis
through

t h a t " m a n m a k e s h i m s e l f " b y s u g g e s t i n g that

the

centuries

of

cultural

achievement

man

has

extended h i m s e l f in the world, and h a s developed the e x p r e s sion o f his c o n s c i o u s n e s s o f the world. H e h a s devised e x p e r i m e n t s i n living that m a y help h i m b e t t e r t o b e w h a t h e
already is. I am n o t claiming that cultures in t h e m s e l v e s are
genetically inherited, but that t h e y are generate d by p r o cesses that are acquired biologically and developed throug h
social i n t e r a c t i o n .
A n analysi s o f the deeper p r o c e s s es o f V e n d a musical
b e h a v i o r suggests that s o m e i n n a t e capacities are as n e c e s sary as are experience s of learning for realizing even e l e m e n tary musical ability , let alone e x c e p t i o n a l musical ability. T h e
most c o n v i n c i n g evidence of i n n a t e creative capacities is to
be found in the w a y s the V e n d a apply themselves to n e w
experiences of sonic order, and in the processes t h a t h a v e
generated different features of their musical tradition and
c o n s t a n t l y g e n e r a t e the variations within that tradition. T h e
V e n d a adoption and adaptation of European music is testim o n y t o the u n c o n s c i o u s , creative application o f musical
processes. T h e so-called " m i s t a k e s " i n their singing o f E u r o pean m u s i c m a y s o m e t i m e s be due to inadequate learning
facilities, b u t t h e y m a y also b e intentional . T h e V e n d a are
able to imitat e c h r o m a t i c intervals or sharpene d leading notes
or European c h o r d s e q u e n c e s ; but t h e y generally prefer to
create rather than imitate, and t h e y c h o o s e to i g n o r e t h e s e
European features or even i m p r o v e on t h e m n o t b e c a u s e
they are b o u n d t o learned pattern s o f b e h a v i o r , b u t b e c a u s e
there are deeper processes at w o r k in their m u s i c m a k i n g ,
which inspire a creative adaptation of the n e w sounds t h e y

SOUNDLY/ORGANIZED HUMANITY

115

hear. I am n o t arguing that particular musical s y s t e m s are


i n n a t e , b u t t h a t s o m e o f the p r o c e s s e s that g e n e r a te t h e m m a y
be i n n a t e in all m e n and so species-specific. S i m i l a r evidence
o f creativity m a y b e found i n V e n d a children's s o n g s , m a n y
o f w h i c h m a y h a v e b e e n c o m p o s e d b y children. T h e i r structures suggest a creative use of features of the musical s y s t e m
which

extends

beyond

technique s

that

might

have

b e en

learned in s o c i e t y . I do not see h o w the deeper, a p p a r e n t l y


u n c o n s c i o u s p r o c e s s e s o f g e n e r a t i o n could h a v e b e e n taugh t
or learned in s o c i e t y except t h r o u g h a w h o l e complicate d
process o f relationships b e t w e e n i n n a t e potentialities and t h e
realization of t h e s e in culture t h r o u g h social i n t e r a c t i o n.
If we study m u s i c in the w a y s I h a v e suggested, we o u g h t
t o b e able t o learn s o m e t h i n g a b o u t structures o f h u m a n
interaction in general by w a y of the structures involved in
the creatio n o f m u s i c , and s o learn m o r e a b o u t the inne r
n a t u r e o f m a n ' s m i n d . O n e o f the a d v a n t a g e s o f studying
music is that it is a relatively s p o n t a n e o u s and u n c o n s c i o u s
p r o c e s s . I t m a y represent the h u m a n m i n d w o r k i n g w i t h o u t
i n t e r f e r e n c e , and therefor e o b s e r v a t i o n o f musica l structures
m a y reveal s o m e o f the structural principles o n w h i ch all
h u m a n life i s b a s e d . I f w e can s h o w exactl y h o w musical
b e h a v i o r (and , p e r h a p s, all aspect s o f h u m a n b e h a v i o r i n
culture) is g e n e r a t e d by finite sets of rules applied to an
infinite n u m b e r o f variables, w e shall learn n o t o n l y w h a t
aspects o f musical b e h a v i o r are specifically m u s i c a l, b u t also
h o w and w h e n these rules and v a r i a b l e s m a y be applied in
o t h e r kinds o f h u m a n b e h a v i o r .
B y learnin g m o r e a b o u t the a u t o m a t i c c o m p l e x i t y o f the
h u m a n b o d y , w e m a y b e abl e t o prove conclusively that all
m e n are b o r n w i t h potentially brilliant intellects, or at least a
very high degree of cognitive c o m p e t e n c e , and that the source
of cultural creativity is the c o n s c i o u s n e s s that springs from
social

c o o p e r a t i o n and

loving i n t e r a c t i o n .

By

discovering

precisely h o w m u s i c is created and appreciated in different

116

HOW

MUSICAL

IS

MAN?

social a n d cultural c o n t e x t s , a n d p e r h a p s e s t a b l i s h i n g that


m u s i c a l i t y is a u n i v e r s a l , species-specific characteristic, we
can s h o w that h u m a n b e i n g s are e v e n m o r e r e m a r k a b l e than
w e p r e s e n t l y b e l i e v e them t o b e a n d not j u s t a f e w h u m a n
b e i n g s , b u t all h u m a n b e i n g s a n d that the m a j o r i t y o f u s
l i v e f a r b e l o w o u r potential, b e c a u s e o f the o p p r e s s i v e n a t u r e
o f m o s t societies. A r m e d w i t h this vital i n f o r m a t i o n a b o u t
the m i n d s o f m e n , w e can b e g i n t o discredit f o r e v e r the m y t h s
a b o u t the " s t u p i d i t y " of the m a j o r i t y a n d the s u p p o s e d l y
" i n n a t e " selfishness and a g g r e s s i v e n e s s o f m a n , w h i c h are
p e d d l e d all the time b y p e o p l e w h o u s e t h e m t o j u s t i f y the
coercion of their f e l l o w m e n into u n d e m o c r a t i c social s y s t e m s .
In a w o r l d in w h i c h a u t h o r i t a r i a n p o w e r is m a i n t a i n e d by
m e a n s of s u p e r i o r t e c h n o l o g y , a n d the s u p e r i o r t e c h n o l o g y is
s u p p o s e d to indicate a m o n o p o l y of intellect, it is n e c e s s a r y
to s h o w that the real s o u r c es of t e c h n o l o g y , of all culture, are
to be f o u n d in the h u m a n b o d y a n d in c o o p e r a t i v e interaction
b e t w e e n h u m a n b o d i e s . E v e n falling i n l o v e m a y b e m o r e
significant as a c o g n i t i v e a c t i v i t y in w h i c h learne d c a t e g o r i e s
are r e a l i g n e d , than as an e x e r t i o n of the s e x o r g a n s or a
h o r m o n a l reaction. In a w o r l d s u c h as o u r s , in this w o r l d of
cruelty a n d exploitatio n i n w h i c h the t a w d r y a n d the m e d i o c r e
are p r o l i f e r a t e d e n d l e s s l y fo r the s a k e of financial profit, it is
n e c e s s a r y to u n d e r s t a n d w h y a m a d r i g a l by G e s u a l d o or a
B a c h P a s s i o n , a sitar m e l o d y f r o m India or a s o n g f r o m
Africa,

Berg's

Wozzeck or

Britten's

War Requiem,

Balinese

gamelan or a C a n t o n e s e o p e r a , or a s y m p h o n y by M o z a r t ,
Beethoven,

or

Mahler, may

be

profoundly

necessary

for

h u m a n s u r v i v a l , quite apart f r o m a n y merit t h e y m a y h a v e a s


e x a m p l e s of c r e a t i v i t y and technical p r o g r e s s . It is also n e c e s s a r y to e x p l a i n w h y , u n d e r certain c i r c u m s t a n c e s, a " s i m p l e "
" f o l k " s o n g m a y h a v e m o r e h u m a n v a l u e than a " c o m p l e x "
symphony.

THE LATE JOHN BLACKING w a s professo r o f social a n t h r o p o l o g y

at the Q u e e n ' s Universit y of Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 1 9 7 0


he w a s a p p o i n t e d professor of a n t h r o p o l o g y at Western M i c h i gan University, w h e r e he first taught courses in a n t h r o p o l o gy
and ethnomusicology in 1 9 7 1 .
Born in England on October 22, 1928, he was educated at
S a l i s b u r y C a t h e d r a l a n d S h e r b o r n e s c h o o l s , w h e r e h e received his early musical training. D u r i n g a period of c o m p u l sory military service, h e w a s c o m m i s s i o n e d i n H.M. C o l d s t r e a m G u a r d s a n d spent the y e a r 1948-49 i n M a l a y a . H e
learned the M a l a y l a n g u a g e and, w h i l e on military operation s
i n the j u n g l e , v i s i t e d s e t t l e m e n t s o f the S a k a i a n d S e n o i
tribesmen w h o lived there. T h e s e experiences , together with
m a n y e n c o u n t e r s with Malay, C h i n e s e , a n d Indian p e o p l e a n d
their cultures, c h a n g e d the direction of his career a n d forced
a g r a d u al reassessment of his o w n culture and its values.
I n 1 9 5 3 , Dr. B l a c k i n g graduate d from K i n g ' s C o l l e g e , C a m bridge, with a b a c h e l o r ' s d e g r e e in social anthropology. During the s u m m e r o f 1 9 5 2 , h e h a d studied e t h n o m u s i c o l o g y a t
the M u s e e de l ' H o m m e , Paris, under Andre Schaeffner.
An appointment

as Government Adviser on Aborigines in

M a l a y a lasted six d a y s , until he w a s dismissed after a disagreement with General Sir Gerald Templer in N o v e m b e r
1 9 5 3 . Thereafter, he did some anthropological research, taught
at a secondary school in Singapore, broadcast on Radio M a laya, accompanied Maurice Clare on a concert tour, returned
to Paris for piano lessons in June 1 9 5 4 , and went to South
A f r i c a as musicologist of the International Library of A f r i c a n
Music.
He worked with D r . H u g h T r a c e y on recording tours in
Zululand and Mozambique, and transcribed and analyzed
music in the library's collection. During 1 9 5 6 - 5 8 he undertook fieldwork among the V e n d a of the Northern T r a n s v a a l ,
and in 1 9 5 9 he w a s appointed lecturer in social anthropology
and Africa n government at the University of the W i t w a t e r s rand, Johannesburg. He w a s awarded his doctorate by the
university in 1 9 6 5 , and at the end of the year appointed professor and head of the department. In 1 9 6 5 , he w a s also visiting professor of African

M u s i c at Makerere University,

Kampala. In 1 9 6 6 , he was appointed chairman of the A f r i c a n


Studies Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand,
and at the end of 1 9 6 9 he left South Africa.
Dr. Blacking has carried out ethnomusicological fieldwork
among the G w e m b e T o n g a and N s e n g a of Z a m b i a , and in
parts of U g a n d a and South A f r i c a , as well as anthropological
research in and around Johannesburg. He is the author of
many publications on V e n d a initiation rites and music and on
the relationship between the patterns of music and culture.
A m o n g his publications
Nsenga

music,

African

Girl,

musicological
Society.

Black
Venda

Analysis,

are two

Background:
Children's
and

long-playing records
The

Songs:

Process

and

Childhood
A

of

of

South

Study

in

Ethno-

Product

in

Human

HOW MUSICAL IS MAN?


John Blacking
How Musical Is Man? explores the role of music in society and
culture, and of society and culture in music. T h e author, an
anthropologist and ethnomusicologist, draws examples from
Western music and from the music of the Transvaal Venda people.
" N o matter h o w respected the author is for his ethnomusicological
research, he is first and last a h u m a n i s t . . . T h e philosophy bloss o m s forth as facilely here as melodies c a m e from Mozart' s
imagination. A l w a y s lucid and frequently informal, Blacking
m o v e s through techniques of music analysis to aesthetic concepts,
and from there through the social sciences . . . This slender v o l u m e
should certainly be required reading for every academically
oriented musicologist and performer. T h e music e x a m p l e s will be
no barrier to those w h o are not music readers, but they are as
provocative as the t e x t . " C h o i c e
" T o u c h e s upon s o m e important issues and involves a variety of
disciplinesmusicology, ethnomusicology, musical analysis,
aesthetics, anthropology, music education and the sociology of
m u s i c . . . . Stimulating from a variety of points of view."African
Studies
" T h i s b o o k invites us profoundly to revise the notions we generally hold about the role of music in society. It contains observations
of great interest about the place of musical praxis in the general
education of m a n k i n d . . . . A passionate,
Times

Literary

Supplement

JESSIE AND JOHN DANZ LECTURE SERIES

T h e late J o h n Blacking w a s professor of


Q u e e n ' s University of Belfast.
A c c o m p a n y i n g audio cassette Venda Music is available
University of Washington Press
Seattle and

London