Thanks for indulging us in the campfire song exercise last night. It was, in fact, pretty fun. Next time we’ll go outside, right? And what about that fire? That exercise resembled a campfire “sing a long” — probably the last vestige of authentic, direct transmission song sharing left in our western culture. Most of you referenced it that way, catching on immediately to the familiarity of the context, even in a chapel and with a “less than authentic” campfire.
Old hat, right? In fact, we are starting something new to choral music. As strange as it sounds, the art of sharing songs in choirs is essentially lost. Choirs have become purchasers (shoppers/consumers) and renderers of songs — we shop for a song at the publishers store, buy it, then work to render it. . .somewhat analogous to buying a kit at a craft store and painting by numbers. Mostly we buy someone else’s music arranged or composed by someone we likely do not know. Seldom is the music of the choral community itself shared. In fact, folk songs, and “home songs” weren’t even acknowledged as “legitimate music” until only a few decades ago! Seems strange to type that.
The tradition we are building and experimenting with this term is called “Song Share” and I’d like to say that I made it up (because I did) but it is something that was practiced for centuries prior to the era of recording and publishing that is now firmly established. In “Song Share” we work with direct transmission where music is given from person to person.
Direct Transmission vs. “Oh get on Google!” or “Oh, I need Google”
In the First Nations traditions songs are shared in circle and “taught” by rote. Some call this “oral transmission” as opposed to “reading the music” off the page. Furthermore, the keeper of the song must be acknowledged. As some of you know, I teach Japanese Shakuhachi (Zen Buddhist Bamboo Flute). There is notation in that tradition but sessions with a teacher or master player or not called “lessons” but “transmissions” whereby a great deal is communicated and “gifted” to the student directly from the teacher. “Direct Transmission” of music is carried out person to person directly with as little technological mediation as possible (paper notation, digital media, google). Some things you pick up in direct transmission:
1) Keepers of the song are acknowledged and honoured (who gave me this song) Lineage vs “this song comes from. . . and those people . .. ” You know where the song comes from through people and relationships and know where you stand in this lineage. Meaning is imparted.
2) The Song is given as a gift in a context where music is viewed as “an act of hospitality” (Lee Higgins. Community Music. 2012) Meaning is imparted.
3) Each time the song is given and developed it gains another link in the song share chain. You become part of the lineage and in many cases, you become a song keeper as well. Meaning.
4) Style, personality, context, history, background, etc. are all communicated in the teaching of song instead of just notes, rhythms, and words (think of what gets communicated in purchased music or a recording) Meaning.
5) Many dimensions of meaning through direct experience with the song
This term we will take the songs we shared last night and over the 12 weeks will develop them together through a larger, more sophisticated musical sharing and group creative process (improvisation, harmonization, stylization). A process that will make the music our own (our choirs’ own rep). Please think on a song that means a lot to you. Something that you might be able to share in a small session or with the larger choir. What does it mean to give someone this meaningful piece of you? How is the experience of sharing songs in this way significant or different? In what way does the song impart or reflect something of you? How is sharing a song in person, orally, different from putting on a YouTube recording?
(That’s right, you can’t take choir with me and not think about important stuff. . .that’s why this is part of a “university” program). . . Enjoy!
Dr. Gerard Yun