because we Westerners seem to feel the need of making what is heard more comprehensible by "phrasing" it some way or other

Portrait Beethovens mit der Partitur zur Missa Solemnis
Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis (1820) by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781–1858)

As I’m sorting through some heady ethnomusicological material, I came across in a note, some remarks by Jaap Kunst:

Jaap Kunst, after recommending ethnomusicologists transcribing exotic meodies to use bar-lines ‘for the sake of legibility…where the rhythm seems to call for’ them, observes ‘No doubt one will frequently feel, when tackling the same phonogram some days later, an inclination to distribute the bar-lines differently.  The reason for this is the fact that accentuation in the music of many exotic peoples is much weaker than that in Western music; in some cases this accentuation is put into it by the investigator, because we Westerners seem to feel the need of making what is heard more comprehensible by “phrasing” it in some way or other.’ (Kunst, 40.)

I learn this lesson everytime I go folk dancing – and while Kunst overstates the weaker accentuation (though I think he’s talking about strong downbeats here given the context of where this note appears in the text I’m reading) it’s remarkable how much you can easily get a feel for the accentuation(s) when you actually learn how to dance the steps that go to folk dance tunes.  Sometimes just having a visual cue, like a video, can be enough of reinforcement of the rhythmic accents.

This goes back to remarks I’ve made about mis-pronouncing music obviously.   As one of my groups tries to ease it’s way into a more Greek/Mediterranean type setting we’re going to have to sort through some of those music pronunciation issues.

Maybe we’ll even pick up some Ancient Greek tunes along the way.


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