More to review!

For this week’s review, I thought I’d change it up a bit by looking at Musics of Hawai`i: “It All Comes From the Heart”—An Anthology of Musical Traditions in Hawai`i, (published by the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, 1994/1997) a work that can’t decide if it’s a textbook or not. Dr. Ricardo Trimillos, in the Forward, calls this work a reference guide for the CDs, suggesting that one should listen to the CDs first and when something catches your ear, you can refer to the anthology for more information. Bess Lomax Hawes’ “Speaking to Teachers” section, however, introduces ways this work can be used in classrooms and how teachers can (and why they should) engage students in music.

Musics of Hawaii

While this work is quite different from previous world music textbooks, I wanted to review it in order that more people know about it and consider the different ways textbooks can be structured. The other textbooks I’ve reviewed thus far had many similarities, and I think we can probably agree that most other world music textbooks share a general approach in that each chapter presents information and listening examples from different parts of the world. Even works like Kay Kaufman Shelemay’s Soundscapes, which is organized around issues and cultural themes rather than geographic areas, tends to travel around the world. Musics of Hawai`i, however, does something different. Instead of travelling around the world, the reader travels to Hawai`i to experience how many different cultures have moved there with their music. As Trimillos writes, this anthology is “a unique, comprehensive collection of the musics that are played, heard, and learned in Hawai`i” (5). While I argue with his use of  “comprehensive” (no mention is made of gamelan, for example), this book allows readers to appreciate the diversity of one specific place while also learning about the musics of the world.

This book is available at various online retailers, amazon.com being the cheapest. One problem is that, being produced and released by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts – Folk Arts Program, it’s not very widely known. Additionally, while the Foundation did release a Compact Disc Version in 1997, the 1994 Cassette Version is more readily available. I’ve contacted the Hawaii State Foundation in order to discover if one can obtain a copy straight from them; I’m just waiting to hear back.

In terms of readability, each chapter is very short and fairly easy to digest. There is a lot of information crammed into a small space but the chapters manage to be informative without being dense. Some parts, particularly the “Speaking to Teachers” section, are somewhat florid and romanticize the idea of music bringing everybody together. The individual chapters, however, tend to avoid this. There are sometimes many foreign terms used in a single paragraph (or even a single sentence) that are not immediately (or ever) defined. This can break the flow and lead to some confusion.

Musics of Hawai`i goes for breadth and depth with limiting itself to one specific area. This is the part that I really like about this book. Initial reading suggests that it succeeds more at breadth, covering musical traditions from Polynesia, Japan, Okinawa, China, Korea, Laos and Vietnam, Puerto Rico, Portugal, the Philippines, Native America, and North America and Europe. The depth comes when considering that all the authors are writing about music in one place: Hawai`i. Taken as a whole, this approach gives incredible insight into the diversity of Hawai`i and the depth of its musical practices.

The work begins with Hawaiian music, as is appropriate, and branches out from there, working through other areas of Oceania, into East Asia, Southeast Asia, on to the “plantation cultures” (Puerto Rico, Portugal, and the Philippines), into Native American cultures, and ending with other musical cultures from North America and Europe. Thus the chapters are generally organized geographically, although the “African-American Gospel Music” chapter is placed after “Pacific Island Church Music” and before “Hawaiian Music”; this keeps the religious music chapters together.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this blog, I somewhat feel that this work can’t decide if it’s a textbook or not and considering it from an interest in student comprehension, I think this feeling is justified. While there is one map at the opening of the work, there are no listening guides found in the chapters. Within the chapters themselves, authors are inconsistent in telling readers which of the CD tracks pair with the descriptions. Often times, authors will not list all the pieces that correspond with the chapter. For example, there are four pieces of music representing Puerto Rican plantation music. Only one of those pieces is mentioned in that chapter, however. Interesting too (and sometimes confusing) is the fact that when pieces are mentioned, the authors tend to give the CD number and the name of the piece rather than the track number. This is a small thing, but tends to lead to more time spent searching for the specific piece when wanting to listen to it. The recordings themselves are masterfully done and vary in length depending on the needs of the music and the performers. Although there aren’t specific listening guides, the book does include a section in the back called “Recording Notes,” which gives some information on each listening example. They don’t always include the lyrics to songs but when they do, they generally also include English translations. One very helpful thing for the Hawaiian tracks: they have a recording of a specific chant and then a second recording of the same performer, speaking the English translation over the chant in Hawaiian. I think this gives a nice contrast between the two languages and music cultures. There is also a glossary of musical terms in the back of the book, but it only includes Western musical terminology.

Overall, I love this text for what it tries to do, how it brings out both depth and breadth in a unique way, how it doesn’t shy away from long musical examples and as such, gives the performers the chance to talk about their music in the recordings. It is unfortunate that this work is so difficult to come by and so expensive.

– Heather

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