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Gibb Sahib The Oral Tradition (36) RE: The Oral Tradition 24 Oct 17


Not sure what "THE" oral tradition is. There is oral/aural transmission, which is [nearly?] always involved when it comes to acquiring music.

I'm an ethnomusicologist, from the USA, who spent a solid decade working on music traditions of the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. (I still work on, it, but I'm much less intensely engaged at the moment.) That was a situation where some of the traditions I was dealing with were more-or-less entirely aurally transmitted. The participants learned the music only through direct contact with others. For instance, the drumming genres I studied were widespread across the region, however, each regional and even family group that practiced them had a somewhat different way of doing it because they mainly interacted with each other (in their area, in their extended family or tribe) and less infrequently encountered other practitioners. Note that all these people were considered professionals, who performed music for pay. They were specialists and would be insulted if in anyway one suggested they were amateurs or practicing a "folk version" (?) of something. They WERE the tradition. I never felt any need to describe what they were doing as "folk"; it was a music tradition that happened to be transmitted entirely aurally.

Anecdotally: I studied drumming through the observation of a wide range of folks across the region, though I had a primary teacher in the form of a man who never learned reading/writing of any sort, and was rarely exposed to TV or recordings. My primary teacher and his cohort were probably the greatest influence on my own style of performance. Once, when visiting a group of practitioners from a different area and playing for them, an individual who had some broad experience throughout the region correctly identified the "accent" in my playing and guessed the area in which I was based.

The musicians at that time did not have access to internet or camera phones, etc. Now, I believe that many in the younger generation do, and performances have been posted to YouTube, etc. Soon I will return to the site of research and I'll be interested to see if/how the access to these media has had an effect on their traditions.

Even in the past, without interaction with media, the Punjabi musicians sometimes had a sense that some parts of their tradition were being "forgotten," while at the same time, individuals were creating new forms that, with recent decades, had caught on and spread. One cause of "forgetting" was economics: Up and coming musicians who had perhaps not learned "all" of the tradition found that certain items worked just fine to cover a range of activities for which they were paid. Unless some conscientious elder implored a youngster to learn a certain item purely for the value of knowing it as part of the tradition, the youngster might only bother with a reduced set of items needed or a less-nuanced way of playing so long as it served them economically. On the other side, because non-musicians with comparatively ignorant of the tradition, a professional might make up something new that suited his fancy and passed it off as "traditional" to bourgeois patrons, who were none the wiser and assumed everything musicians did was traditional. If this was effective, others in that creator's social sphere might adopt the item and it would spread, perhaps "replacing" alternative, older items. Note as well that these musicians' repertoire was very resistant to being transcribed and disseminated by people in the society who were more "literate." Such people lacked the skills to transcribe (or "collect"?) the items, and even if they did, what they might write down had nowhere to go -- no audience.


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