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Review Reviewed Work(s): Venda Children's Songs: A Study in Ethnomusicological Analysis by John Blacking Review by: David Rycroft

Source: Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council, Vol. 1 (1969), pp. 245-248

Published by: International Council for Traditional Music Stable URL: Accessed: 12-04-2017 22:04 UTC

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devices; formal structure; scale, mode, duration tone, and subjective tonic; melodic meter, tempo, and durational values; accompaniment;

and with other remarks. There is no denying the thoroughness and objectivity with which Merriam has examined this material, but to this reviewer it appears an arduous, time-consuming method of ar- riving at conclusions that are fairly obvious from a cursory examina-

tion. With the infinite corpus of music of the world's peoples awaiting

study and with the dearth of trained ethnomusicologists to do the

work, one asks if a less time-consuming method might not produce

comparable results without the sacrifice of scientific standards. In

describing the melodic level of the shaman's songs, Merriam states, "In

the formula 87:7: the level difference is thus -8o," but he fails to

explain how he arrives at this formula. Charts II and III (pp. 340-

341) list respectively ascending and descending intervals in percent-

ages by semitones but contribute little to an understanding of the music.

Study of the songs in notation and as recorded by the author himself

(Flathead Indian Music, Folkways Record FE 4445) will reveal more

information about the music in less time than the charts. One questions the validity of generalized labels for use categories, such as "Love Songs

- Vocal" (pp. 184-193), when the individual songs present such a

variety of patterns. The value of the book lies primarily in the section

devoted to the enthnography of Flathead music, an approach that

places music in its social and cultural context and examines its vital

function in the life of the people. Twenty-nine excellent photographs of musical instruments, singers,

and dancers by Mrs. Merriam, four appendixes, an extensive bibliog-

raphy, and an index add to the value and usefulness of the book.

Willard Rhodes

Blacking, John. Venda Children's Songs: A Study in Ethnomusicolog-

ical Analysis. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press,

1967. 210o pp., illus., R5.50.

IN this excellently produced volume Professor Blacking has provided

the most comprehensive treatment so far accorded to a single category

of songs of any southern African people. One hundred eighteen pages are devoted to musical transcriptions and annotated texts of fifty-six children's songs from the Venda people of northern Transvaal, whose

vocal music has until now been neglected. A preliminary chapter,

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"The Background to the Analysis of the Songs," briefly discusses some

basic definitions and concepts of Venda music and gives an authorita-

tive account of certain aspects of the cultural context and social func-

tions of the material. The author is well qualified to expound upon

this, having spent twenty-two months in the field between 1956 and


Being the major part of a doctoral thesis, the content of the book

adheres fairly strictly to the limits set by its title. The Venda category of children's songs, nyimbo dza vhana, is confined to items sung collec-

tively (or recited metrically) by children themselves. It apparently excludes songs sung to children by adults, such as lullabies, and songs

occurring in folk tales. A full outline coverage of Venda music has not been attempted. Having initially decided that the music of the

children's songs "did not sound like typically Venda music," Dr. Black-

ing has selected from the broad context of Venda music and culture

mainly those aspects which did seem to have direct bearing on his

material. He says very little about any other categories of Venda song,

since they appeared to him to be unrelated. But tonal affinities with

certain forms of Venda instrumental music are traced in later chapters.

Musical and textual treatment of the children's songs is clear and efficient. Having made recordings and direct studies of several per-

formances of each item, the author provides here a "standard" version

of each song (or a limited number of common variants) - a "gen-

eralized norm" representing what he claims to have been "intended by the performers" - rather than giving detailed transcriptions of minutiae found sporadically in individual renderings. Almost all the songs are monophonic. It is not immediately clear whether the two

apparently simultaneous parts in song no. 41 (p. 109) represent quasi- parallel "harmonic" performance or merely two possible monophonic variants. But later on (p. 168), we are told that the two melodies are

regarded as "harmonic equivalents" in such cases and may be sung

either together or independently.

The general absence of an antiphonal basis in these songs seems to contrast strikingly with the prevalence of antiphony and polyphony among some neighboring southern African peoples, but Dr. Blacking makes no comment on this point. Simple antiphony (without over-

lap) does in fact occur in two of the songs, nos. 54 and 55, but the

fixed response is of minimal duration. It hardly seems likely that Western equal-tempered intervals should

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have been used throughout by all Dr. Blacking's Venda children, but

he leaves us entirely in the dark concerning exact pitch values. In

the songs themselves this is perhaps excusable since pitches are gen- erally inexact and inconstant in purely vocal music, particularly that of children. But where he later makes detailed comparisons with the instrumental scales and modes of reed flute ensembles, some discus- sion of their exact tuning, or even generalized norms, would seem to

be called for. P. R. Kirby, in his Venda reed flute transcriptions

published in 1934, at least added plus and minus signs above certain


An understanding of the words in children's songs is apparently

of much importance to the Venda. Dr. Blacking considers that a stu

of the texts could be of value to a student of Venda culture or histo

but he does not embark here on an extensive discussion of textual con-

tent. An appendix contains interesting analyses of the relationship of

speech-tone to melody in nine of the songs. After individual treatment of the songs, there are two chapters de-

voted to their structural analysis, particularly concerning rhythm,

melody, and tonality. It seems surprising that rhythmic hand clapping does not accompany the children's songs, although clapping is common

with adult songs. The results of Dr. Blacking's controlled experiments

to determine underlying rhythmic concepts are of considerable interest

- affinities with central rather than southern African cultures seem

to be reflected. But such possible intercultural connections are no

pursued since they are no doubt regarded by the author as beyond the scope of the present study.

For the majority of songs under consideration, Dr. Blacking traces

tonal relationships to one of two categories of Venda instrumenta music: the heptatonic music of the tshikona national dance, playe

by ensembles of single-note bamboo flutes, and the pentatonic tshikan-

gauga dance music, played by boys on single-note flutes of river reed. A final brief chapter, "The Cultural Analysis of the Music,

mainly reiterates claims of the relationship between children's songs

and Venda reed flute music.

The moral that such music must be studied within its context in

order to be understood is pressed home repeatedly, supported by suit-

able allusions to Levi-Strauss and Alan Merriam. Why must authors

nowadays feel they have to tell us they are studying "music in culture"

and insist that this is such a bright new technique? Perhaps Henri

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Junod's Les Chants du BaRonga (Lausanne, 1897) is long overdue

for reprinting: he contextualized his southeastern African material pretty adequately, apparently without any thought that it could be

treated otherwise - or that his readers would expect anything less. I

do not wish to conclude on this note, however, or to cast a shadow on

my earlier praise for the main substance of Dr. Blacking's book. It

breaks quite fresh ground and whets one's appetite for further install-

ments on other aspects of Venda music, including its relationship to

the music of other African peoples, which nobody could be better

qualified to provide than Dr. Blacking.

David Rycroft

Borris, Siegfried. Musikleben in Japan in Geschichte und Gegenwart:

Berichte, Statistiken und Anschriften. Kassel: Bairenreiter Verlag,

1967. 246 pp., illus., DM 18,-.

PROFESSOR BORRIS is a musicologist whose domain is music education

and pedagogy. He teaches at the Academy of Music in West Berlin

and is the author of the very interesting Beitr ige zu einer neuen Musik-

kunde (5 vols., Berlin, 1947). While he never endeavored to enter the sphere of enthnomusicology, the German Music Educators Union in-

duced him to do research which, with the help of various grants,

turned into field work of a rather special type. The resulting book was

written in collaboration with Detlef Foljanty and Professors Takeshi

Inoue, Saburo Moroi, and Naohiro Fukui.

In the preface, Borris tells of the increasing musical contacts be-

tween Japan and Germany, particularly in music education, musi-

cology, musical documentation, and music publishing. While it has

been fairly easy for the Japanese to become informed about German

musical activities, their German colleagues - publishers, music dealers,

musicians, managers, and others interested in musical conditions in

Japan - have been unable to do likewise. This book is written to

fill that gap and consequently aims at giving as much information as possible on every aspect of musical life in Japan.

Borris prepared a questionnaire covering thirty-two clearly defined

spheres of musical activity in order to produce an accurate, compre- hensive survey of past and present musical life in Japan. He felt the

need to approach the experts personally with his queries since he found

existing Japanese literature - including the Japanese Music Year

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