Canadian Musician - July-August 2022 - Page 46

ARSENAULT FROM PIXABAY this . These are solo passages near the end of a movement in a concerto ( think of a vocal run leading into the final big chord ). Classical composers would often leave this section completely unwritten , allowing us as the performer to improvise freely . It ’ s important to note that after Beethoven wrote the cadenza for “ Emperor ,” it became common practice for composers to compose and include cadenzas in their scores , but the role of improvisation still remained essential in classical music for ornamentations and other sections like arias and preludes .
As a performer during this era , it was important to understand what was expected during these parts of the performance . There were certain ornamentations , vocal runs , rhythmic figures , etc ., that were popular at the time , and as a performer , it was their job to understand what was appropriate given the musical context . It would be similar to a metal guitar player showing up for a jazz gig . The metal guitar player may be very skilled at improvising , but they may not be familiar with the repertoire of ornamentations , scale choice , or rhythmic figures in the context of a jazz gig . Needless say , that metal player may not be able to pull it off .
These two elements of performer interpretation are crucial to a musical performance and there is very little in the language of a musical score that can be used to convey this . In fact , as you may have already come across yourself , many music scores will include text at the top of the page , such as “ lamenting ” or “ happily .” This text outlines the emotion of the piece in hopes of guiding the performer ’ s interpretation in the right direction .
Language Barrier Where this language ’ s limitations become even more pronounced is when western
46 CANADIAN MUSICIAN music historians and ethnomusicologists attempt to notate non-western art music . Western notation was designed to describe western art music , but when it is used to describe microtonal music or experimental music , the limitations of this notation system become even more pronounced . Many ethnomusicologists have spent their careers
“ There just isn ’ t enough depth in vocabulary to properly capture the complex musical experience . It ’ s like a very primitive language attempting to explain a profound life experience .”
transcribing music from around the world by listening to recordings or live performances and attempting to translate the audio into western notation . Things can quickly get complicated in this process . How does one notate the full nuances of a performance by Pakistani virtuoso singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan , where he may approach the fourth note of a raga by sliding to that note from a few microtones below ? How does one notate the many different risha plucking techniques of Iraqi oud player Munir Bashir ? The scores that arise from these transcriptions are still roadmaps that can be followed when listening to a recording or performance but , because they are describing music that they were not designed to , these scores often contain even less information than western art music scores .
A great example of this would be the work of Béla Bartók . In addition to being known as an accomplished composer , he spent much of his career recording and transcribing traditional Hungarian folk songs . These songs come from a rich background of complex rhythmic structures and microtonal intonations that don ’ t adhere to the rules of western music theory . As a result , Bartók ’ s transcriptions of these songs often don ’ t include key signatures and rarely , if ever , include time signatures . These transcriptions sometimes include little arrows above certain notes to indicate pitches or intonations that don ’ t fit into our equal temperament tuning . Furthermore , for purposes of analysis , Bartók would transpose all of these songs to G . This allows us to visually compare these songs much easier , but it further removes the transcription from the original songs . While these transcriptions are useful tools for comparative analysis for people who may not be familiar with the Hungarian folk tradition , the western musical score lacks the vocabulary to properly describe this music tradition . What we are left with is an even more vague roadmap of the original performance .
Oral Tradition vs . Written Traditions The reason that these transcriptions tend to be vague or complicated is that there is an imposition of western art music traditions onto non-western music . Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Munir Bashir didn ’ t learn their repertoire and technique from sheet music . They learned music through an oral tradition that was passed down to them .
Oral traditions like these are based on the mimicry of a teacher or guru , where the student will listen to and mime their teacher for years before they start performing themselves . This way of learning and teaching music isn ’ t without its own flaws . Obviously , without writing things down or recording compositions , this music is susceptible to changes over the course of generations and , if the tradition is not practised or passed down , some repertoires and techniques may die off . This is a very real issue in areas that have experienced war . Syria is a more recent example of such a place . There is a very rich musical tradition in Syria with roots that claim heritage to the extremely influential Andalusian court music in the ninth to twelfth century . This Syrian music tradition is slowly dying after many years of war — a war that has stopped musicians from playing and passing on their musical heritage . It ’ s truly tragic .
Where oral music traditions succeed , at least in comparison to written traditions , is their ability to convey more information from teacher to student . The elements of performer interpretation mentioned above are built into the pedagogy of many of these