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Ethnomusicology is a sophisticated field of study which seeks to understand the musical experience of the human through the whole world. Although it had only started as a formal academic study very recently, much earlier amateur roots could be even traced back to the 18th century. The term ethnomusicology had undergone many changes. From the simple German word Musikologie (in the 1880s) to ethnomusicology (in the 1950s). These changes reflected changes of concepts and attitudes. Time passed, so did the names and ideas, although certain fundamental ideas have still remained untouched throughout the centuries.
Many early amateur studies were carried on for example in the Age of Enlightenment, when Jean Jacques Rousseau presented the Dictionnaire de Musique in 1768, which included samples of non Western music (European folk, North American Indian and Chinese music) with the aim of discussing the spirit of the age. Some world travellers were also being interested in 'exotic music', such as Arab music by Guillaume André Villoteau (1809 and Raphael Kiesewtter (1842) and of Japanese music by Francis Taylor Piggott (1893).
On the other hand, academic pursuits of comparative musicology have a history of just over a hundred years. It had officially started when the Viennese scholar Guido Adler wrote 'Umfang, Methode und Ziel der Musikwissenschaft' in 1885. Adler states that the primary aim of comparative musicology is to compare the physcological and aesthetic factors of different people's music from all around the world.
Comparative musicology used to help many scholars on preserving the "exotic", non Western forms and sounds. With the help of the invention of the phonograph by Thomas Edison in 1877, the musicologist could now go on the spot and record, transcribe and then analyse the music. A good number of studies during the late 19th and early 20th century were performed among the indigenous American Indians. Many American musicologists, like Alice Cunningham Fletcher, who worked with the Omaha Indian Francis La Flesche, becoming feared that their native music could easily vanish, performed recording sessions on the spot, in order to preserve Indian music. In fact, many American studies which were carried on during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were much more practical and included much more fieldwork than the studies held by the first generations of ethnomusicologists who often carried on their studies in the academy.
Comparative musicology was also performed in order to compare different exotic musics with each other and with classical Western music. Helen Heffron Roberts, a student of the anthropologist Franz Boas, claims that comparative musicology "deals with exotic musics as compared with one another. . ." (Roberts, 1936 p. 233). Sometimes it was also performed in order to preserve the exotic music, as Willi Apel defines it, "the study of exotic music" and sometimes it was also performed in order to display the superiority of Western music, in fact, Willi Apel defines comparative musicology as "the study of exotic music" (Apel, 1969).
In addition to this, in his classical book 'The Study of Ethnomusicology', Alan P. Merriam dictates that in its younger ages, comparative music was a study that often focused on the geographical area in which the music is to be studied. Thus, in his book, he makes a reference to Benjamin Gilman and W. V. Bingham in order to support his argument. The former says that the study of exotic music includes mainly of primitive and oriental forms (1909), and the latter includes the music of Dalmation peasants (1914). Marius Schneider continues to solidify Merriam's argument by saying that ethnomusicology should be the comparative study between all non-European musics (1957). Merriam argues in his book that the problem with comparative musicology was that it wasn't being carried on as a process of study, but holding in mind the music's geographical area under scrutiny. "The emphasis is placed upon where rather than upon how or why . . ." (Merriam, 1980 p. 5). He states that if it is the case, ethnomusicology is not so really different from musicology, as the techniques are somehow similar to each other's.
Ethnomusicologists now started to broaden their idea about ethnomusicology. Alan. P. Merriam, shows again how new geographical areas were now being included in the ethnomusicoligists' repertoire and thus the importance of the geographical area under scrutiny was now being declined. Thus Kolinski put the idea that "it is not so much the difference in the geographical areas under analysis as the difference in the general approach which distinguishes ethnomusicology from ordinary musicology" (Kolinski, 1957 pp. 1,2).
Eventually, the term "comparative musicology" started to be found rather inappropriate. In a study in 1950, the Dutch scholar Jaap Kunst advocated the new term "ethnomusicology", with the idea that this study is not to be focused on the geographical area of the music but on the music of the races of man. Although having claimed this, he was a bit restrictive in his own definition as his study excluded Western and popular music. On the other hand, with the help of this Dutch study, Kunst was now able to project a clear definition of the difference between comparative musicology and ethnomusicology.
Helen Myers, in his book "Ethnomusicology" seems to have accepted Jaap Kunst's idea. He states that in an organisational meeting of the new founded "Society for Ethnomusicology" in 1955, the founder of the organisation, David McAllester, reports that the study should not focus on the music under scrutiny, nor the geographical area in which it held, but should widen its scope to a new methodology. In this meeting, McAllester reports that the new term "ethnomusicology" is more suitable to the field, as the study of ethnomusicology is not limited to any "primitive" music but should further to new great dimensions.
Although ethnomusicology now tended to differ from comparative musicology, it still was identified as a study of nonWestern music. Some ethnomusicologists, such as List argues that the importance of the new field is now stressing on music based on oral traditions and that its major concert is that music of oral tradition. Wachsmann also dictates that ethnomusicology is a study on the music of outside own's culture. He argues that normally, the ethnomusicologists has a culture different of that being scrutinized. This argument seems to be rather plausible, as Asian and American ethnomusicologists are still called ethnomusicologists and many times they do study the music of their own.
But then, in 1955, Mantle Hood was firstly known to report that "the ethnomusicologist is a research scholar, and he aims primarily at knowledge about music" (Hood, 1957 p. 2). This clearly defines that the primary aim of ethnomusicology should be on the geographical area being studied, nor on the creator of it, but it should be on having music as its goal of study. Bruno Nettl continues with this idea and even extend it into a further scope by saying in his book 'The Study of Ethnomusicology' that "ethnomusicologists are supremely interested in music as a component of culture" (Nettl, 2005 p. 8). This shows that music must be studied in culture, as a major component of culture.
The change of term of "comparative musicology" to "ethnomusicology",paralleled changes of concepts of ethnomusicology. Between the 1950s and early 1970s, ethnomusicologists were divided into two categories, the first one, being anthropologically trained, focused on the "cultural" context of music, and the second one, being more musically trained than the former, used to focus on the music itself. The former was led by Mantle Hood, and the latter by Alan. P. Merriam. The anthropological camp often criticised and disguised the other group, claiming that they could not understand music without looking down to it from the cultural context. The other group also often looked at those with the anthropological background as music "amateurs". Merriam solidifies his point and continues to greatly emphasis on the cultural context later on in 1975 when stating that "music is culture and what musicians do is society" (Merriam, 1975 p. 57).
Now, ethnomusicologist were almost sure that musics of different cultures could not be compared with each other, as every culture has its own concepts and meanings. During the 1960s, scholars continued to reject the previous concept of comparison. In 1966, John Blacking claims that the sounds of music of a particular culture could not be compared with other sounds of a different culture, as they are different results of different cultures. In a similar way, Mantle Hood, in 1969, also agrees with Blacking and even Alan P. Merriam, stating that earlier studies of comparative musicology used to approach ethnomusicological studies with insufficient data of cultural knowledge. Thus fieldwork was now constantly growing rapidly and performed first hand, rather than collecting already existent recordings.
The nature of ethnomusicology has now been transforming consistently. The two opposing groups were now merging together in a one whole and coherent group. During the 1970s and 1980s, the musicological and anthropological approaches had taken their polar extremes and moved to a rather fused one. Rather than crushing each other, musicology was now helping the ethnomusicologist to thoroughly understand the cultural context of a performance within its symbolic meanings. The importance of the coherence of a performance as a whole has increased. The idea of studying a piece of music has shifted to an idea of studying a process of a collection of pieces or performances. George List also points out that ethnomusicology also studies the kinetic activities occurring in a musical performance. The ethnomusicologist also studies the making and playing of musical instruments so that he could gain a greater understanding of the different aspects of the music.
Bruno Nettl also argues in his book "The Study of Ethnomusicology", that historical musicology or simply "musicology", is somehow connected to ethnomusicology, but it only misses one thing that ethnomusicology has. It is fieldwork. In his book, Nettl explains how the concept of fieldwork had changed from the "armchair" research of the early 1900s, primarily intended to present more evidence in one's study, into the fieldwork of the 1960s and today's.
Fieldwork continued to mature especially in the from the 1980s. It even became a major component of ethnomusicology. Bruno Nettl solidifies this argument in "The Study of Ethnomusicology" by saying that fieldwork is a "sine qua non of the ethnomusicologist's own style of life and study" (Nettl, 2005 p. 9). This simply means that fieldwork is an important component of ethnomusicology. Now, fieldwork contains a lot of hands on work, and very often, the ethnomusicologist need to learn or master this foreign language of music in order to understand the community's musical language. In fact, Mantle Hood introduces the term "bi musicality" in 1960, and he claims that it consists of a stay in that particular field of a year or more.
Finally, ethnomusicologists tend to be very involved in the community which they are studying. In order to obtain good results in his study, he must obtain as many data as possible. But in order to do so, the researcher must be accepted by the community. There must be a reciprocal relationship between the researcher and the musician or community the researcher is studying. This research must be a benefit to both parties. Sometimes the music of the community is made available to a wider audience, and maybe documented as well, thus the music of this community is preserved, and could also serve as a poor income for the poor community.
Bruno Nettl classifies ethnomusicologists as egalitarians. He states that "they become attached to cultures which they study and with which they identify themselves, they have special loves, obligations toward the musics they regard as ethnic or family heritage" (pg 14). The ethnomusicologist, from nature, once he begins to integrate in a community's culture, he could unconsciously start to identify the community's culture as "beautiful", or "intelligent". It is an ethnomusicologist's basic instinct. Nettl claims that an ethnomusicologist might start to try to impart the music of that particular culture to other people. He presents the idea that an ethnomusicologist might impart an intercultural understand to other communities. Maybe to his own community, or could be not. Nettl admits that although this concept is not a "must" in order to become an ethnomusicologist, he argues that "there are few ethnomusicologists who do not share them" (Nettl, 2005 p. 15).
After many years of transformation, this field of study, still, has some fundamental issues. The first one is about having fieldwork as the main focal point of ethnomusicological research, and most ethnomusicologists collect their own material for transcription and finally analysis. An other important issue is that the most common field to study is the non Western land. It remains like a hallmark of ethnomusicology. Interestingly, ethnomusicologists still prefer the Western notation for transcription purposes. The top and most strong fundamental issue that is accepted by all ethnomusicologists, is the combination and matching of the cultural setting with the musical setting, in order to come up with the final product: to see, understand and value our neighbour musics and therefore to understand the global community more intimately.