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Pamela R folk process: tune evolution? (169* d) RE: folk process: tune evolution? 27 Dec 15

Thanks for all the advice. Above all I hope I've conveyed that I consider myself ignorant on the subject of tunes much less tune evolution, and my purpose here is to learn something, not to propound anything!

So with all due humility, to respond to just a few points --

Regarding Steve Shaw's point on ornaments:
I am not sure we disagree, perhaps only semantically. Your analogy is apt. If we wanted to determine the relationships among (vertebrate) species, a great place to start would be to compare their skeletons. Obviously a skeleton is not a whole living creature, but by simplifying the problem to just comparing skeletons, we're likely to find some broad and fundamental relationships right away. Then we could look at pigmentation and behaviour and other factors that skeletons fail to capture, and learn even more. Occasionally the skeletons will totally fool us, and then we'll find that out. The idea of successive approximation isn't guaranteed to work, but it's often very productive. Following that analogy, I wasn't suggesting that such a stripped down melodic structure (let's call it a skeleton) would be a song. I was just speculating that it might be one fundamental aspect that could be isolated conceptually for purposes of analysis. There must be a reason ornaments are called "ornaments", to distinguish them from other aspects of the melodic structure. I concede that it might be the case that removing ornamentation is impossible, or that it's impossible to trace the divergence of variants without considering ornaments. My hunch was that tune-skeletons would be instructive to analyze, but you may well know more than I do about that.

Regarding Leenia and Jack's teaching advice:
Rest assured, the digression into "computational ethnomusicology" is meant to be a discussion among us here, not a topic for my class! I am an experienced university professor, I have taught this class before (analyzing lyric variants), and I would never get into all this theory with Freshman. It is indeed sufficiently interesting and new to them to learn what traditional folk songs are like, and to think about the fact that things like writing, recording, broadcasting, global communication, copyrighting, etc, are relatively new and have had an impact on what songs are like and how songs exist within a culture.

I'm pretty solid on the text-based content of the class at this point, so I thought it might be a good time to expand my own knowledge and think about generalizing the concept (of change through oral transmission) to the tunes as well. Most of the students have no knowledge of music theory and no ability to read or write music or play any instrument, so clearly any treatment of tunes within the class would have to be in such broad strokes as to be obvious to the untrained ear. In fact I consider my own ability to read music and my knowledge of music theory to be rudimentary at best. The point of my original question was to learn more about what scholars have said on the matter, and see if I can find any examples that are sufficiently clear and accessible that they are worth touching on in perhaps one lecture in the class. Beyond that I wouldn't be qualified nor would the students be prepared. But I like to read/think significantly deeper than I teach.

As I said, the full blown theory problem I brought up would not be at all appropriate for Freshmen, but more appropriate to a student doing a PhD in the field, precisely because of all the complexities you mention, and at least as many subtleties on the computational side. Neither my Freshman students, nor I, intend to do a PhD on the subject, so I'm well aware that I'm not going to solve this problem through armchair philosophy. I just thought I might learn something by trying to think about it, and it might be interesting to discuss how someone might approach it from the tools of my own field (which you could call computational biology). Apologies, sincerely, if I've stepped on toes by treading outside my professional boundaries by speculating on the idea.

Anyway, you've all given me a lot of leads that will keep me busy between now and when my class begins in April, and if I don't get anywhere with it by then, I'll just stick with the text-based material as usual.


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