So I’m in the middle of “Among the Jasmine Trees: Music and Modernity in Syria” by Jonathan Holt Shannon who’s one of the leading experts on Arabic music (from an academic standpoint).
What I’m really struck by is the story, and I hear and read this time and time again, of the issue of Modernization and Westernization in non-Western countries’ music. Whether it’s the Congress of Cairo debating whether to institutionalize it’s indigenous musics alongside Western Classical Music; or China creating orchestras with folk and traditional instruments modeled after Western Orchestras; or Azerbaijan’s attempt at creating a hybrid of its native mugham style and Western Opera (called Mugam Operas); the list goes on and on and the music gets transformed.
In the case of Syria (according to Shannon) the “high art” Arabic music seems to be a template for cultural authenticity that seems to be recognized by even the layperson, as well as the Arabic Pop Artists in the country. This is the general idea with regards to all and any “Art Musics” including Western Classical Music (though no where near to the same degree here in the US as maybe in Europe). What is really striking, and Shannon notes this, is that everyone seems to be able to say when something is not authentic (or maybe “inauthentic”) to a much higher degree than could they say what is actually “authentic.”
I’m being deliberately vague because this book and all the research I’ve been doing the past few weeks is flooding me with all kinds of new ideas about the idea of music and how it is used, abused, and constructed or re-constructed for consumption. I’ve already started another wiki-glossary (more for my benefit) focusing just on terminology, concepts, musical jargon, and commentaries of the Middle East. No, really it’s just focusing on Arabic and Ottoman (mostly Turkish) musical cultures. Far too much already to digest much less having to include Persian and non-Turkic Ottoman musics.
The more I learn about music, the more I realize how little about music I really know. And that’s a good thing, because it means I still have tons to learn, right?