Saturday, May 26, 2007

Whose ethnomusicology?

I had mentioned the insider-outsider conflict with regards to Indian Philosophy from an abstraction point of view.Again when it comes to music, the word ethnomusicology would always cause a distinct discomfort in my mind.It somehow used to make me feel that it is used from the perspective that the West alone has a classical tradition and other music systems are essentially ethnic as in primitive, folksy, tribal etc.I have read statements from the late Prof.T.Viswanathan talking of similar reactions The primary problem here was the assumption of Western musicology as "Musicology" and other systems as "Ethnomusiclogy".Today most scholars and researchers have come to terms with the idea that Western musicology is Western ethnomusicology as is Chinese ethnomusicology or South Indian ethnomusicology.Leaving alone the problems and politics of etymology aside, what does ethnomusicology have to offer for indigenous practitioners and researchers? Lawrence Witzleben in a paper titled 'Whose ethnomusicology?' discusses the two fundamental questions ,Is ethnomusicology as understood and practiced in the US and Europe suitable for the needs of non-Euroamerican scholars ? How can we reconcile the universalistic ideals of ethnomusicology as an academic discipline with the specialized needs,established scholarly conventions of a particular culture and its musics? He adds a beautiful dimension to the insider-outsider perspective normally understood as unidimensional.

What is all too easily forgotten is that "insider" and "outsider" are multiplex and relative perspectives. Every researcher is an insider in some respects and an outsider inothers: a "cultural insider" exists at many levels of specificity (ethnicity, language, dialect; country, region, village, or neighborhood of one's origin),as does a "musical insider" (general music knowledge, performer or theorist, knowledge of a specific instrument or tradition, level of performanceskill). In addition, each individual has a unique combination of attributes which connect them to or distance them from a particular topic, group,or individual: these include gender, age, religion, economic or class background,education, and political orientation. Even in an ethnomusicologyprogram whose purpose is to train "emic" researchers (in the broad sense of "Chinese people studying Chinese music"), insider/outsider issues are still highly relevant, as the people and traditions studied are in some respects inevitably "the other."

Again when it comes to articles on musicology I find this cultural acclimatization a difficult barrier to cross.For instance, if you read an article by a typical South Indian performing musician/ scholar in the age range between (50-80) say on some compositional aspect of Tyagaraja's music you will soon be reading a huge paragraph on the 9 kinds of bhakti and the emotional states of Tyagaraja.This inherent esotericism would certainly baffle an outsider (in the country/cultural sense).Similarly there are brilliant articles by indigenous North Indian musicologists who frequently indulge in polemics.I have read an article on Dhrupad where in the middle of nowehere a huge diatribe against Pandit Bhatkhande and his That classification was launched. This is not to say that the scholarship of the West is all propriety and sobriety but there is an academic discipline which prevents these.Of course the situation in Indian universities today might be different but I am talking about the pool of research articlescurrently available across journals and publications.