Browse Domains

While each of the case studies provides a rich overview of the ecosystem of a specific genre, it is equally worthwhile to read across the case studies ‘horizontally’. Because of the way the case studies were organised, this gives an interesting cross-section of music education across nine music genres, for example, or any of the other domains below.

Vietnamese ca tru

Learning ca trù has typically involved an apprenticeship of some years with a master-musician, generally a relative. During the decades of decline this method of transmission was largely broken and today ca trù clubs represent the primary means for the intergenerational transmission of ca trù outside the traditions of family apprenticeship. There is no set structure for the educational activities of ca trù clubs, but generally group immersion in the genre – where musicians can perform and get formal or informal advice and opinions by other enthusiasts –encourages learning and development.

In one club (Ca trù Thăng Long), which this study followed in some detail, private lessons are given for the students but most of the teaching takes place during group rehearsals for some of the clubs regular performances. During rehearsals, peer learning and teaching is common. Singing and playing in the club are always taught aurally. This specific club is unusual insofar as it puts in considerable effort to teach its young students additional skills to help them make a living as musicians in Vietnam.

At the moment ca trù is not taught at any of Vietnam’s Academies of Music and musicians generally expressed concerns that frequent use of sheet music and set composition rather than aural learning and improvisation over framework melodies would be harmful to the genre. Although tentative suggestions have been made to incorporate ca trù in the Academy curriculum, at the present time and in a foreseeable future clubs and family apprenticeship remain the most important learning institutions for ca trù.


Australian Aboriginal yawulyu/awelye

Yawulyu/awelye ceremonies are not explicitly taught, and there are no institutional places of learning. Learning mostly occurs holistically through participation in performance. Concern was expressed by all generations about the difficulties younger people experience in learning. Many elders believe that young people have difficulty in learning because they do not have regular access to the country to which the ceremonies relate. Knowledge about their ceremonies can only be passed on to women by certain categories of kin (e.g., their father’s sisters). Another constraint on intergenerational transmission may be the learner’s shame and fear of making mistakes in this important domain of knowledge. While writing was not traditionally used, some younger learners make use of written song texts in association with audio and video recordings to facilitate private study. Lack of full competency in traditional languages is another factor threatening intergenerational transmission. Various government and community institutions may sponsor bush trips and other opportunities for learning and teaching yawulyu/awelye on an ad hoc basis.

Hindustani music (India)

Learning classical music in India is firmly based on the concept of dedicated hard work in a close association between master and disciple referred to as ustad-shahgird by Muslims, but best  known by the Hindu term  guru-shishya-parampara. This system of transmission, which is surprisingly replicated in only a few other aspects of Indian society (most notably spirituality, as it does in a number of other cultures in Asia and beyond to different degrees), is built on profound respect and even awe of the learner for the teacher as an embodiment of knowledge. While such an approach is at odds with egalitarian approaches to learning and teaching, it stands to reason: the guru does not only serve as the holder of the keys to skills, creativity and innovation within the boundaries of the tradition, but also holds in his or her memory the entire library of musical material handed down.

In its most intense form, guru-shishya-parampara is a holistic, ‘total immersion’ approach: the student often lives with the master, becomes part of the family, and slowly absorbs not only the repertoire and technique, but also the underlying values, attitudes and behaviour that come with being a Hindustani musician (Neuman, 1990, pp. 30-58). Slawek describes the relationship as “of a spiritual nature. The guru is likened to a god, and the disciple must fully submit to him” (1987, p. 2). As a result, it is a potentially high-yield, high-risk relationship.

Guru-shishya-parampara remains the format for training Hindustani musicians (Schippers, 2007). There are no self-taught musicians of any significance in North India, and mature musicians proudly refer to the musical lineage through their gurus, while others go through great trouble to construct a venerable lineage by connecting their predecessors to a particular gharana (style school): “Whether a musician is considered great, good, or even mediocre, he will (in the absence of anyone else) establish  – so to speak – his credentials as a musician on the basis of whom he has studied with and whom he is related to” (Neuman, 1990, p. 44).

Increasingly criticised as being anachronistic, too authoritarian, and prone to power abuse, the challenges regarding this system are well documented. While court patronage, providing a stable physical and economic basis for musicians, formed a highly conducive context for the guru-shishya-parampara system, the contemporary life of musicians travelling and needing to seek concerts and teaching engagements to survive is much less so. In addition, students and scholars have signalled the vulnerability of the system to careless teaching, lack of career support, or even various forms of abuse by gurus who have difficulty living up to the ideal of this rich and complex relationship. This constitutes a particular risk with students who are not part of a family tradition.  Be that as it may, guru-shishya-parampara has proven effective in preparing generations of musicians for the stage, and to date no viable alternative for this system has emerged in formal educational environments.

Balinese gamelan (Indonesia)

In Bali, music and dance are learnt implicitly alongside extensive explicit learning and teaching activity. Many children have their first learning experiences through being with or near older children or adults during rehearsals or performances. Jegog musician I Ketut Suwentra, from Jembrana, confirmed this when he stated that ‘I just heard my father . . . (he) never taught me’ (IKS), an experience in learning also mentioned by I Dewa Berata, from Pengosekan: ‘my father would be rehearsing and I would be beside him’ (IDB). There is an expectation that all members of the community can and will participate in religiously contextualised performances of music and dance, so opportunities for children to learn through observation at and contribution to religious events is normal and regular. Explicit teaching of music and dance, while it takes place in some school programs, is for the most part delivered by teachers at village level – teachers set up their own classes or are employed by a village, part of a village, or a music group – the outcomes of which include the ability to perform for religious events, entry in a lomba (performance contest), performance in public events (e.g. a festival), tourist performances (on a paid basis), or production of a recording (CD or DVD) (McIntosh, 2006).

Teachers are usually performers in their own right, or performers who have ceased public appearances. Cokorda Ngurah Suyadnya, from Ubud, who runs a wide range of music and dance performing groups, commented that he uses many teachers, but always tries to utilise local musicians, especially those from within his groups. Some teachers have academic qualifications (mostly from ISI), but this is a minority – there is a strongly held belief that academic qualifications are not necessary for being a good musician and teacher, and a stand-off exists between academically qualified musicians/teachers and village trained ones. One teacher, I Wayan Mandra, from Sanur, commented that ‘the desire to learn is important . . . so that the pieces of my childhood are not forgotten . . . . (and) music from the past can be passed on’ (IWM). While this gives the impression of robustness of teaching and learning, some musicians note that various types of Balinese music are not as easily or strongly taught/learnt. For example, dalang I Made Gender Sukadana commented that the learning of wayang kulit was problematic as ‘just a few people (learn) . . . . because (this) is not popular now, not strong . . . . (there is) too much choice, television . . . a long time ago wayang is very strong . . . now it is changed (and) it can be difficult now to find a dalang’ (IMGS). Similarly, I Dewa Berata commented that ‘(young people) might think gamelan is not modern, so by the time they are teenagers they are more interested in pop music . . . in villages this is very apparent’ (IDB). There is no formal system of music teacher training, rather musicians move from being learners/performers into the role of teacher as necessary. In the case of gamelan teaching, it is usual for a teacher to be able to play all the parts in a gamelan so that these can be modelled for members of a group. Teachers are often expected to be the creators of new pieces/dances for the group/s they are teaching.

Strongly reified teaching practices exist, which are learnt (in what seems to a subliminal way) by students through participation, and are subsequently used by them when they take up teaching. This means that successful teaching methods are emphatically in place and are perpetuated, even if this is implicit and not made explicit. Tangible aspects of learning and teaching, such as ability to perform, are balanced by strong ideological systems linking music and dance intangibly to religious and social beliefs and practices, and to a sense of group ethos. I Dewa Berata noted this as an outcome of teaching/learning: ‘teaching gamelan is important not only for teaching how to pay a particular piece, but there are many positive aspects that I’ve experienced, like the feeling of unity and learning how to accept different attitudes, so that different people . . . . can all come together as one’ (IDB).

Ewe percussion (Ghana)

In southern Eweland learning music continues to follow an informal process that is completely aural/oral, without the use of notation, recordings, tablature, or learning aids of any kind. Instead of lessons, all of the artists interviewed followed a long period of immersion into the music by paying their dues— attending thousands of funerals, ceremonies, and festivals during their childhood where they assisted the older artists by playing one of the supporting parts during a performance. Musicians in Eweland continue to believe that they were chosen for a musical life due to the se (individual destiny) given to them by God, as well as due to the cultural inheritance they received from their ancestors.

The Ewe musicians we interviewed for this project believe that musical ability comes from a combination of the talent (aɖaŋu) bestowed on them by God/Destiny (Mawu/Se) and the talent inherited from their ancestors (tɔgbuiwo/mamawo). Grand Drummer Jean Gamadi expresses this commonly held sentiment in his own words, “In Africa, here, an azagunɔ is someone born into it, with a spiritual talent given by Se (Destiny)” (Jean Gamadi). Having an aɖaŋu (spiritual gift) that is recognized by the community is central to becoming a respected musician. Grand Drummer Kwadzo Tagborlo elaborates further on this concept in his interview, “If you are not born with the talent of drumming you can never become a great drummer. Those that had to study drumming, and those born with it, are of a different class” (Kwadzo Tagborlo). Tagborlo’s statement distinguishes between those who had to spend years studying the music (including outsiders and members of the national folkloric companies) from those who have been bestowed with a divine talent for music. A comment by Grand Drummer Richard Tuwornu connects divine talent with ancestral talent: “God sends us into the world with different abilities. If you are given singing, you will come down and be a singer, if you are given drumming, then you will come down and be a drummer. It all comes from the ancestral talents of one’s clan” (Richard Tuwornu). Musicians sometimes speak of being “caught” by the spirit of one of their ancestors, which forces them into a life of music. Grand Singer Afaxoe Ameno addresses this succinctly in his interview, “My musical work began due to the ancestral talent given to me to be a singer. When it caught me, I followed it” (Afaxoe Ameno). In discussions about their musical talents, our respondents all moved between the concepts of destiny and ancestral heritage, indicating that they are interrelated— for example, one’s ancestors may bestow the ability to sing, but one’s individual destiny could be marked for mediocrity.

Apart from a shared sense of divine talent and their initial exposure to music, the paths of those who specialize in drumming, singing, or dancing are different.  Many drummers report that in their toddler years their earliest attempts at drumming were playing on ganugui, a homemade drum constructed from a discarded metal can covered with a lid or plastic bag. Youngsters carry the ganugui around the town, beating it with a pair of sticks cut from tree braches in imitation of the drummers they have seen playing at local music events. When a prospective drummer progresses to adolescence, they will be given the opportunity to play the bell or one of the support drums. There is no formal lesson or instruction, they are expected to watch a brief demonstration and then be able to start playing immediately. There is often a period of thirty minutes to an hour at the start of each music event where a group of beginners and less talented musicians will be given a chance to play. This opening period of music, while people are assembling for the event, serves as the main ‘practice’ time for prospective drummers. While there are many music genres circulating in the community, many of the artists report beginning with a specific genre, which allowed them to grasp the larger performance dynamics of Ewe music forms. At some point during the pre teen years, an acolyte will be given the chance to start learning the response drums. In most ensembles there will be two or three response drummers, so there is room for a talented youngster to sit down on one of the drums and start learning the response parts by observing the other two experienced players. Through their teenage years a response drummer will continue to learn the music visually and aurally, observing their fathers, uncles, and older brothers playing the lead drum while they sit next to them playing the response parts. By the time a drummer reaches twenty or so, they will be given a chance to play one of the lead drums during the opening period of an event, and increasingly, during part of the main musical activity. Emmanuel Agbeli speaks about learning at his father’s side until “it came to a point that I could play the master drum when he was not there” (Emmanuel Agbeli). Speaking about his own evolution as a drummer, Donné Amegble says, “I started playing the Agbadza asiʋui (a response drum), then my uncle (Kwadzo Tagborlo) showed me how they play the sogo (lead drum) in Agbadza. After that my study of the drum was complete” (Donné Amegble).

Mexican mariachi

Musical knowledge in the mariachi tradition had been historically transmitted through the generations in an informal aural context, independent from formal educational activities in schools. These informal educational settings have involved important non-musical motivations for learning, such as the expression of a community’s identity and cultural knowledge. Yet with the recent institutionalization of mariachi music in Mexico and in the United States, along with the powers of globalization, the teaching-learning process has entered new domains of education that include formal and non-formal methods of transmission and teaching, which are best considered as supplements to the vital informal learning processes.

The demand for multi-skilled mariachi musicians in Mexico’s professional ensembles after the mid-20th century fueled the need for non-formal and formal mariachi music education. To compete on a professional level, musicians were encouraged to know music theory, sing a broad repertoire in ways that were vocally strong and musically accurate, and have high quality performance skills on their instrument.

The changing landscape of mariachi music transmission has offered opportunities for new learners. In many cases, one may learn to perform the genre outside the nuclear and extended regions in which it originated.

Western opera

Professional training for opera singers (at the centre of the art-form and therefore of this investigation) is undertaken in Conservatoria or University Schools of Music. The important role of an individual vocal teacher cannot be underestimated. Voice training is built around a master-apprentice relationship rare in undergraduate training in other disciplines. Students with some experience are as careful to select appropriate teachers as teachers are to select promising students. The voice is a fragile instrument, and inappropriate teaching can have a deleterious effect. One-to-one lessons are much more expensive than other forms of undergraduate teaching, and while this has, until very recently, been accepted as a sine qua non for potential performers of Western Classical Music in all its forms, it creates financial challenges for institutions: most Schools of Music and Conservatoria are heavily dependent upon support from benefactors or from their university. In the case of opera, the financial challenge is magnified when opera productions are presented. The opportunities for trainee opera singers to perform in opera may be limited by these considerations.

The effectiveness of training is disputed in the profession. Three years is commonly deemed insufficient, and graduate study or an internship with a professional company is considered by many to be vital. In the modern age it is necessary to have more than vocal talent: stagecraft is essential, and being good-looking is a definite asset.

The training establishments are clearly producing more opera singers than are likely to obtain full-time professional employment. This is the result of a combination of factors: the dreams of aspiring singers, the need of the profession to admit for training singers whose voices have not yet fully developed, and the need of educational establishments to show they have a high percentage of graduates from their courses. Competition to sing roles in professional companies is fierce. Many self-identified opera singers have very few opportunities to share their skills.

Amami Island music (Japan)

As a form of traditional vernacular music that circulated in a predominantly oral culture prior to the modernisation of Amami from the early 1950s on, shima-uta repertoire and performance skills were communicated through processes of performance, familiarisation, imitation and feedback (between performers and between performers and listeners) in social/familial contexts. Developments of the form emerge from subsequent performer refinement, embellishment and/or innovation. While written accounts documenting the social practice of music-making in the pre-War era are minimal, semi-formal tutelage appears to have occurred in either (extended) family contexts and/or between accomplished and promising aspirant performers. There is no evidence that such tutelage was in any way systematised, nor that any forms of notation were used to transmit repertoire and styles and techniques of performance. Rote learning and subsequent personal interpretation and embellishment appear to have been prevalent. Due to the difficult nature of internal mobility in Amami (outlined above), pre-War performers tended to be confined to particular localities and to have performed highly localised repertoires. This situation changed significant due to the impact of the War years, US occupation and Japanese modernisation.

So, while traditionally shima-uta performance skills and repertoire were transmitted and developed in local community contexts, in recent decades this pattern has been replaced almost entirely by formal educational operations ranging from voluntary tuition, in (some) local contexts, to prestigious private training operations based in metropolitan centres run by renown (and usually veteran) performers. This has led to a degree of standardization of musical approaches and repertoire which has significantly shifted the eco-system, supporting a less fluid and diverse set of musical practices.

Korean SamulNori

Where local percussion bands typically espoused a benign teaching agency through egalitarianism or communitarianism, and where itinerant troupes are reported to have had more formalized apprenticeship systems, samulnori’s emergence in 1978 came after much music training had been institutionalized across Korea with the expansion of school, college and university music programmes. The founding quartet first offered workshops on Wando Island off Korea’s southern coast in 1981, and from 1987 onwards taught camps in Japan and Korea, culminating with the establishment of a training institute in 1994. They developed notations that met nationalistic requirements, fixing Korean identity at the centre of practice. This was done by revisiting a court notation from the fifteenth century and turning its vertical columns through 90 degrees to become horizontal systems, by removing what samulnori musicians perceived to be Eurocentric metric indicators and by substituting a Taoist-derived tripartite idea that divides a single rhythmic pattern (changdan) length into units and sub-unit beats. A system of circles of different sizes to prescribe strikes and the amplitude of strikes was devised to avoid quarter/crotchet and eighth/quaver notes. SamulNori also developed an aesthetic based on breathing and movement, rooted within a Korean dance concept of ‘motion in stillness’ but applied to give unity in performance through the embodiment of a circular method known as ‘hohŭp’.

The teaching method is contained within a series of workbooks, and couples to model performances of canonic pieces on a set of key recordings. Starting in 1989, regular festivals have been held, the Samulnori kyŏrugi, that reflect the standardization of the system of teaching and learning. Attracting groups from Korea and abroad, and although the requirements of individual festivals have differed, SamulNori festivals judge appropriate performances of appropriate repertory that maintain appropriate aesthetics.

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