And so it begins…

Today we begin the great textbook review. I decided to start with Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World’s Peoples Shorter Version, 3rd edition (2009). Jeff Todd Titon is the general editor and each chapter is written by a different author. This “review” series will address the content of the textbooks, but I also wanted to include a bit of info regarding buying the book, different formats it’s available in, etc. This is more to cover practical information for (future) teachers. I am assuming (dangerous) that we’re all past the point where this would be a textbook in a class we’re taking. Of course the info will change over time, so this is just a (admittedly rather long) snapshot of what’s available now.

worlds of music

Worlds of Music shorter version is geared toward non-music majors and so is less musically technical, removes long descriptions of analysis and transcription, and is, overall, a shorter version (really Heather, no! Tell us more!). The first edition of Worlds of Music was published in 1984 and covered North American Native America, the blues, Africa, “peasant music” from Eastern Europe, and South India. Many of the authors featured in the first edition continue to update the chapters in the current 3rd edition. This presents some interesting issues that could be addressed in a world music class. For example, Titon’s Preface states: “We mourn the passing of David McAllester, one of the original co-authors, and one of the co-founders of the Society for Ethnomusicology, whose chapter on Native American music stands as a monument to a great teaching career” (xxi). McAllester’s chapter is quite different from the rest of the book in that he encourages the reader to constantly engage with the music from a performance perspective; he asks them to sing along with the CD tracks and try to produce similar sounds. He details the physical movements of the dances, down to the specific foot movements, and encourages the reader to get up and try to dance. For these reasons, this chapter is valuable for its encouragement to physically engage with the music. On the other hand, this chapter has not been updated in quite some time, and Titon’s wording in the Preface suggests that, as this chapter will “stand as a monument,” it may be some time before any changes or additions are made. I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. McAllester speak at the 50th anniversary of the founding of SEM. His speech then was much like his chapter: warm, inviting, and performance-driven. I think this chapter is a wonderful testament to his approach to music, but I also wonder if it doesn’t, at the same time, lock Native American music into a kind of museum case or ethnographic present. These are all issues that could be brought up in class during the Native American chapter. It would encourage students to understand the people behind their textbooks.

In terms of a reviewing rubric, there are four things I’ll be looking at in all the textbooks I review for this blog series: organization, depth and breadth, readability, and comprehension. At first glance, Worlds of Music appears to skip around the world blithely. The chapters on Africa and North American blues are right next to each other but other than that, there doesn’t generally seem to be a topical or geographical organization. And there is a reason for this! In the Preface, Titon writes that the case study chapters can be read/taught in any order. He recommends that when leading a one semester or one quarter course, teachers choose four or five case studies to focus on; this does not cover the entire book, which includes nine case studies total. He also recommends that students read chapter 11 after the first case study (whichever it turns out to be). Chapter 11 discusses how to complete a fieldwork project, which is the main, semester-long undertaking suggested by this textbook. So overall, organization of the textbook is very flexible. Organization of the chapters tends to be chronological in the sense that more traditional and/or historical music is presented first and any mention of popular or contemporary music comes at the very end.

Worlds of Music aims at depth over breadth. While it does cover a significant portion of the globe, each author wrote about their own areas of research, included information and stories about their own teachers and experiences, and in doing so, tried to find representative examples. This works to a greater or lesser degree. Writing from this standpoint allows the authors to speak authoritatively on their subjects. It also somewhat narrows their view and can lead to misinterpretations on how popular or prevalent the music traditions actually are.

In terms of readability, the text for this version is clear but not always personal. It can come across as dry and not always engaging (although there are exceptions). When the authors do tell stories about their experiences or, more often, the experiences of their teachers and informants, the stories are sometimes separated from the regular body of text, both visually and in terms of writing style. This requires the reader to skip between very approachable ethnography and somewhat dense informational sections.

I apply “comprehension” to the authors’ interest in student comprehension; in other words what in this textbook helps students to understand what the authors are talking about. Two main things stand out to me: maps and close listening guides. I will be the first to admit that geography is not my forte (bad ethno student!). I know that many places exist but when I try to mentally visualize a map, everything tends to get jumbled up (I can say with certainty that I’m not this bad). So I really appreciate maps, both for myself and for my students. Worlds of Music features two maps at the beginning of each chapter. The first shows the whole world and the second focuses in on the area covered in the chapter. This is a quick, easy, and redundant (in the good sense) way to reinforce spatial understanding. The close listening guides in this textbook are likewise very helpful. They include indications of when specific things are happening (e.g. when different instruments or voices enter, or when a particular vocabulary term or concept happens in the music). They also include lyrics, translations, and vocables where applicable, and some include commentary on what the singer or instrumentalist is doing and why they’re doing it.

Overall, this is a good if impersonal textbook. It gives students a wide variety of musical examples from around the world, provides a stable means of understanding where the musics come from and how to listen to them, and allows teachers to be flexible.

– Heather


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