16 February 2004

Morobe Field Diary, June 1976: Naive Ethnomusicology

It's Sunday and Friday nite I was expecting to get into town (or leave for town, which means getting in Saturday morning). A bunch of people from the Kui, Siboma and Paiawa church circuit [or parish?] have to go build a house for a big church meeting in September of the Lae or Morobe Parish [or circuit?] so they will use the [M.V.] Sago to carry all and drop them on the way to town, do their business (and me do mine) and pick them up on the way back. So I'm writing letters like mad to mail when I get into town.

The church service reminded me to write something about the music. All songs are in Yabêm and the words are in a hymnal without the notes, only marks indicating repetition [where to repeat]. Some of the songs are translations from German standards and are immediately recognizable from their steady beat, be it fast or slow (usually quite plodding), as it proceeds, Westernly from bar to bar. The others are local compositions with the author's name and place at the bottom and these are recognizable by a rhythm that goes from crescendo to crescendo. They usually build up slowly on the men's voices which carry the low tones [pitch] and gradually pick up the women who usually trail a bit behind the men and carry the crescendo to its peak in high tones [pitch] and at a much greater amplitude since all voices are contributing. The men then beat the women to the beginning of the next cycle, the song often carried by just one person at first then by more and more till the next crescendo peak. So one is a bar and staff rhythm, the other a crescendo to crescendo rhythm. Thus endeth my first attempt at ethnomusicology.

UPDATE: Recommended reading for specialists: Mission and Music: Jabêm Traditional Music and the Development of Lutheran Hymnody, by Heinrich Zahn [1880-1944]. Translated by Philip W. Holzknecht. Edited by Don Niles. Boroko: Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, 1996.

"This entire work is a fitting tribute to one of the little-recognized--but hardly "unsung"--heroes in the development of Jabêm music and literature." --Oceanic Linguistics 36 (December 1996) (Read full review)

"[Zahn's] feeling for context almost makes him a contemporary of the sociologically oriented ethnomusicologists of today such as for example Thomas Turino." --Oceania Newsletter 21 (September 1998) (Read full review)

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