SEM Niagara Chapter Program Abstracts 2006

Held at the School of the Arts, SUNY Geneseo,  Geneseo, New York



Session 1: Diasporic Communities in the United States:


The Chaozhou Daluogu in Los Angeles, USA, and Chaoshan District, China

Wah-Chiu Lai (Kent State University)


The Chaozhou daluogu is a unique Chuida/large ensemble musical genre in Guangdong Province of China.  Since the eighteenth century, the workers and immigrants from Chaozhou (now mainly the Chaoshan District) in China brought this music to the countries in Southeast Asia.  After the end of the Vietnam War (1954-75), refugees from Southeast Asia also brought this Chinese music genre to North America.  Especially in Los Angeles, the Chaozhou daluogu is an important symbol of the Chaozhou speakers.  This music has been actively supported in the last two decades and it has appeared in different activities.  It forms the largest Chinese folk ensemble in the United States with over sixty musicians among whom eighty percent are teenagers.  A comparison of the Chaozhou daluogu in Los Angeles and in the Chaoshan District that discusses the size of ensembles, instrumentation, musicians, transmission of the music, music repertoires, functions of the music, performing practices and costumes is helpful for us to understand the musical and cultural changes and preservation of a significant musical genre.  It also provides a good demonstration for the theory of cultural distribution—the margin of a cultural circle preserving an older version of type that has meanwhile changed in the originated center.


Scandinavian Fiddling in the United States:  A Preliminary Overview

Carl Rahkonen (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)


Scandinavian fiddlers in the United States are a small, but enthusiastic community.  This tradition originates from two streams: 1. music played by immigrants and their descendents, and 2. music played by Scandinavian music and dance enthusiasts.   Scandinavian fiddling is learned and performed in three major contexts:  at numerous festivals and organizations across the United States, in local fiddler’s groups (spellmanslags) found especially in urban areas or Scandinavian-American regions of the county, and finally at Scandinavian music and dance camps.

The “center” of Scandinavian fiddle music comes from Norway and Sweden; music from Denmark, Finland and Iceland is also played, but is peripheral.   There is a strong “parallel” tradition of music played on instruments related to the fiddle:  For Norwegian music it is the hardingfele and for Swedish music the nyckelharpa.  Many standard fiddle players also play these instruments.  Scandinavian fiddling has a number of unique genres, such as the polska and its relatives.  There is a great deal of musical exchange with fiddlers in the “old” countries.

In the United States, Scandinavian fiddling is strongly connected to dancing.  Almost all fiddle events feature dance as the major component.   The national music and dance camps (Ashokan Northern Week in New York, Scandia in California, and Nordic Fiddles and Feet in West Virginia) bring instructors in from Norway and Sweden, as well as many of the best players in the United States, most of whom have studied in Scandinavia.


Examining Musical Changes in the Antiochian Orthodox Liturgy as Performed in the United States

Jenine Lawson (Eastman School of Music)


I am interested in discovering the effects of immigration on musical changes that have occurred within the Orthodox Christian church in the United States. The primary site of my fieldwork is at St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church, located in Metro-Detroit.  The church was founded by Orthodox Christians who emigrated from the Middle East to the Metro-Detroit region in the late 1960s.  The music heard in the liturgy at St. Mary’s is very different from the music heard during a liturgy performed in the Middle East, and this paper not only demonstrates the differences in the music, but also the repercussions of these musical changes on ritual participants.  Thus, I am interested in how ritual participants respond to times of swift change such as immigration, and will discuss the resulting tensions that have occurred between the ritual specialist, Father George Shalhoub and his parishioners.  Data will be drawn from conversations and other interviews with the priest, choir members, and general congregation.    


Display and Power Point Presentation on Hammered Dulcimers in Western New York

Mitzie Collins (Eastmen School of Music)



Session 2: Continuity and Change in Musical Traditions:


“The most remarkable feature of culture is non-change.” (Blacking 1977:17):

"Non Change" In The Traditional Georgian Polyphonic Songs of Tbilisi Ensembles

Andrea Kuzmich (York University)


Since the disintegration of the Soviet block, contemporary research on traditional musics from the region has focused on change, which was either a product of the Soviet regime or as a counter culture to it (Sugarman 1999, Buchanan 1995, Slobin 1966, Rice 1996.) In comparison to these other musics, there has been little change in traditional Georgian polyphonic songs. Although many may describe the current performance context within the practice of an ensemble as artificial, the genres of songs performed today and their musical (harmonic and rhythmic) structure are comparable to archived recordings and historical descriptions of the early 1900s. Moreover, this performance and its context is not a recent revival. It is a continuation of an ensemble practice which both urban and village folk owned as early as the turn of the 20th century.

Such a continuity in a music begs many questions: Was it reflective of authentic practice? How was it maintained? Can this century old music still be part of a current expressive traditional culture? What does this “non-change” music say about the people and the culture?

This paper is based on ongoing research and analysis of the Georgian ensemble tradition for a Masters Thesis at York University. Over a three-month period during two visits to Tbilisi in 2004 and 2005, I observed and recorded many ensembles as well as interviewed historians, ethnomusicologists and ensemble leaders and members. After contextualizing the continuity of the ensemble practice through a historical and musicological analysis, I will list some of the directions I am taking in response to the preceding questions. While it continues to be work in progress, I do expect to highlight some aspects of how the ensemble practice in Tbilisi is a natural extension of the people’s musical voice and how this suggests a unique trait of the Georgian people.


Innovation in the Guise of Tradition:  Music Among The Chin Population of Indianapolis, USA

Heather MacLachlan (Cornell University)


The Chin are an indigenous group whose territories straddle Burma, Bangladesh and India.  The Haka Chin originate in the area around Haka, the capital of Chin State in Burma.  Their musical culture is largely unknown to Western scholarship, in part because the Haka area has been closed to foreigners since the 1960’s.  Shortly before the 1962 coup, through which a military junta took control of the Burmese government, F.K. Lehman spent several months in Chin State doing anthropological field work.  In The Structure of Chin Society, he wrote:

“The Chin are a people whose culture and accomplishments are changing rapidly with little strain, precisely because the culture was traditionally oriented around trying by every means to achieve the attainments of civilization whenever the opportunity arose.  The prestige of anything from the outside is great, though not necessarily of any sort of institutionalized behavior.  Novelties are readily accepted, even new concepts, if they are attached to concrete things and practical procedures…”(Lehman 1963:207).

In March of 2005, I was privileged to visit the Haka Chin expatriate community located in Indianapolis, IN.  It became clear to me that the musical culture of the Chin in Indianapolis today continues to change “rapidly with little strain.”  Culture members speak frequently about maintaining their traditions through their music.  Traditions are usually thought of as being unchanging rituals which have been handed down from previous generations and which gain their power from their connection to the past.  It is clear however, that traditions continue because they are not set in stone.  Their very malleability allows them to adapt to changing circumstances, and thus to survive.  The oldest musical tradition of the Hakha Chin has the seed of change built into it; for example, the va hla tradition is one which invites the participants to improvise and thus substantially change the lyrics to well-known songs. 

This embracing of change can be seen most clearly in the Chin’s adoption of the musical elements of Western music – such as the Western guitar, hymn structure and four-part tonal harmony, and the sliding between pitches so characteristic of country singers.  In Indianapolis as in Hakha, church choir members participate enthusiastically in this Western formulation as a way of maintaining village courtship traditions.  Recordings of modern urban musical styles made using cutting-edge technology function as a way to affirm age-old values of loyalty and unity.  At the most significant public event of their communal life (the Chin National Day Celebration) the Chin present their musical culture as a combination of tradition and innovation.  Modern music is combined with identity markers which have long been associated with Chin village life.  This new, yet traditional, music is relevant to the young people of the community, and it is endowed by the authority associated with the elders of the group.  It is thus likely to survive, even as it continues to adapt, and to remain meaningful for members of the community as they negotiate their new identities in America.


Younger Musicians in the Rochester Puerto Rican Community

Ian Gendreau (SUNY Geneseo)


Rochester, NY is not the first place that people think of when they are discussing Puerto Rican music. However, there is a community of Puerto Rican musicians who play both the traditional styles as well as the more modern salsa. In particular, the new generation of musicians is more interested in not just playing music, but succeeding as professional musicians as well. This paper will examine this younger generation of Puerto Rican musicians in Rochester. It will show how and where these musicians learned their music and will look at the performance venues and the playing styles they are able to perform.

            With the decline in interest in salsa and the rise in popularity of reggaeton, which is primarily electronic, there are fewer opportunities for musicians to play. This paper will look at whether or not these younger musicians are able to support themselves as working musicians without moving to other areas of the country. Lastly, I will examine the inter-connectedness of the musicians. Again, with so few performance opportunities available, the musicians in Rochester are required to join with each in the pursuit of work, with many of the musicians performing in multiple ensembles.

            Information for this paper has been derived  mainly from personal interviews with younger Puerto Rican musicians in Rochester. I will also include information gathered from my own experiences performing with these musicians and my personal accounts of watching them perform.



Session 3: Ethnomusicology as Self-Awareness


"Music, Trance, and "Truth:" Perspectives and Questions

Amy Unruh (Kent State University)


My interest in the study of music and trance suddenly intensified one day as I was teaching a class as a graduate assistant while working on my Masters degree. Unexpectedly, I had a first-hand (and thankfully brief) experience while demonstrating a Santerian verse which praised the deity Yemaya and accompanying myself with a bell pattern.  From that moment I found myself searching for an explanation of what happened, a "truth" that would put my mind at ease.  Instead, I only found more questions.  I am aware that competent scholars have already produced extensive research on the possible psychological, social, and physiological components of trance.  It is not my intention to compete with their lifelong contributions to the field.  Rather, I hope that sharing the questions I have faced will perhaps suggest additional insights.  Trance is by nature often a spiritual experience, yet "spiritual" explanations for a phenomena can fall outside the boundaries of what is considered respectable scholarship.  Researchers have looked for consistencies in the phenomenon of music and trance, thereby hoping to find a variety of possible "truths"  as well as the possibility of one singular "Truth" as an explanation.  My unexpected experience forced me to approach the subject of music and trance, and the way I learned in new ways.


“Concert or Communitas: Jazz and Ritual Space from Nightclub to Concert Hall”

Barry Long (Eastman School of Music)


The jazz idiom faced a crucial moment in its development and life cycle during the tumultuous period following the birth of bebop. Bebop innovators had reached a new level of social consciousness in establishing African-American improvised music as an art form that moved beyond its minstrel roots, creating a cultural identity for young black intellectuals.

            The small footprint of the nightclub spaces in which they gathered as well as the absence of a permanent stage resulted in an intimacy among participants that enhanced their mutual catharsis and approached a ritual communitas. The physical confines as well as competition in the marketplace would inspire many venues to leave open their doors to passerby, thus creating a larger space symbolic of a broader welcome; the ritual was not limited to a select few but open to all who chose to enter.

            The departure of jazz from the consciousness of popular culture by the mid-1960s led to an increased reliance on its rich heritage and a canonization that would allow greater accessibility within the educational curriculum and eventually the concert hall. Despite such earlier landmark moments as Duke Ellington’s Carnegie Hall premiere in 1943, the growing consideration of jazz as concert music caused significant concern. This paper will examine the manners in which the accompanying shift in performance space would impact areas of music, culture, and race in signaling a transformation of function and thereby altering the essence of an art and its ritual.

Can artistic survival and cultural maintenance be mutually exclusive?


A Summer with Pansori: Lessons in Singing and Cultural Difference

            Cindy Lee (Eastman School of Music)


Globalization and cross-cultural communication and influence have made defining one’s own culture an increasingly difficult thing to do.  I came upon this realization after a personal attempt to learn more about what I had previously thought was the music of “my own culture.”  In the summer of 2005, I spent six weeks in Seoul, Korea learning to sing and perform Korean pansori.   The presentation will combine my insights from this experience of partaking in an oral tradition, with an introduction to the genre of pansori and demonstrations of pansori performance. 

Though I have lived in the States at various points of my life for a combined period exceeding ten years, I am Korean by birth and have always thought of myself as being heavily immersed in Korean culture.   Naturally, the degree to which I struggled in learning pansori startled me.   Because of my background as a student and performer of Western literate music, the oral tradition of pansori challenged me to rethink how I had previously perceived aesthetic and academic authority as well as the importance of timbre and the hierarchy of musical elements imposed by Western notation.   The experience taught me how to perform some of the most expressive music I have ever encountered, while also teaching me to think about various kinds of music and commentary of music in new ways.  As I share my experience with fellow musicians and scholars, I hope to encourage them to do the same.



Session 4: Music and Politics in Southeast Asia


Contemporizing  Traditional Arts : A Safer Form of Engagement?

            Nur Intan Murtadza (York University)


This paper examines the relationship between the Malay traditional performing arts and the political posture adopted by the Malaysian government in creating a national culture. In particular, it will look at the role governmental policies have, such as the National Cultural Policy of 1971, in reshaping and commodifying traditional arts like bangsawan (a popular urban Malay opera theatre), and gamelan Melayu.

            This research is relevant to the current body of literature in Southeast Asian scholarship, which locates the role and meaning of scholarship in relation to issues such as social justice, heritage politics, environment and spiritual values.  By examining the study of local music-cultures (bangsawan and gamelan melayu) within these contexts, the implications of my study have significance that go beyond description and analysis and provides a fresh perspective on the complexities of knowing the music of the Other.


Inside the Piphat Ensemble: Interpretations of Clientship and Class Structure in Thai Society Regarding Thai Classical Music

            Priwan Nanongkham (Kent State University)


Piphat music is one of the highest Thai traditional musical arts.  The entire system of its performance practice: musical structures, (repertoires), idioms (variations), instrumentations, performance customs, and musician’s respect rituals, contains components of the Thai social structure.  This paper presents and interprets the Thai social system as it influences the Piphat ensemble.

Before the impact of westernization and modernization, Thai society was based on a clientship system involving dyadic social contract between patrons and clients.  The former, princes and nobles, were clearly superior to the latter, ordinary peasants.  Clientship is an instrumental relationship in which people endeavor for access, whether to natural or social resources.  In the Thai way, there is a significant dichotomy: sung “high” and tam “low” presents the basic structure of clientship-social relations.  As a result, Thailand is an interdependent society, inferiors depend on superiors and the superiors protect inferiors.  This dyadic relationship is common from younger to elder person, lower to higher status, and in other class structures: slaves, commoners, nobles, princes, and monks respectively in which a person of higher status is the patron of one of lower status.  The overall Thai social system is clearly mirrored in the traditional Piphat ensemble.


Straddling The Maekhong River: Political Challenges To Thai-Lao Music Scholarship           

Terry Miller (Kent State University)


As with Canada and the United States, to the outsider Laos and Thailand have much in common, sharing related languages and, at least in part, culture.  Before the French colonial masters of Laos drew fixed boundaries in the late 19th century to keep the expanding Siamese court at bay, kingdoms extended as far as power could be projected.  Most of present day northeast Thailand, called Isan, was once part of the old Lao Kingdom of Lan Xang, but as a result of several wars in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Isan came under Siamese control.  Since that time, each country has followed distinct histories, the Lao suffering through colonialism and independence, the Vietnam War, economic collapse, and the continuation of an unenlightened and secretive regime while Thailand has embraced globalization and modernization with complete abandon.  The Lao strive to be different from Thailand, embracing (or being embraced by) Vietnam and China as counter cultures.  Because of their peculiar history, the Lao have embraced  cultural policies and espouse a cultural history that are highly nationalistic, challenging what they see as Thai hegemony.  While fearing the irresistible and unstoppable embrace of Thai cultural and economic dominance, the Lao appear to be giving away their country to the interests of China, Vietnam, and other nations greedy for Laos' resources.  These factors make scholarship tricky, especially when one person studies both areas.  Each nation has, or has had, particular policies regarding origin and meaning of their musics.  If one writes from the Thai standpoint, one runs afoul of Lao sensibilities, but if one embraces Lao nationalistic history, then one risks making statements that are patently untrue. This paper explores this intellectual/political minefield but offers no easy solutions.


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