Canadian Music: Issues of Hegemony and Identity Essay

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# 1. Dr. Beverly Diamond, a well-known ethnomusicologist, explores the meaning of the “hegemony” concept in the introduction to the book “Canadian Music: Issues of Hegemony and Identity”. The term is researched within the context of postmodernist dialogic production of knowledge. It is generally believed that the process of information exchange is accompanied by a transmission of power. Hegemony means that power is distributed unequally among the participants of knowledge interaction. Such shifts of power are likely to occur in the realm of music which is a body of knowledge, a communicative and expressional form. According to Diamond, there are three levels, at which hegemony can be observed.

First, it can occur when large structural units take power from their smaller units. In regard to music, such type of hegemony is evidenced when multinational players dominate the recording industry, when granting agencies regulate the processes of legitimation, or when audiences and novice musicians should obey to the strict code of behavior imposed to them by professional authorities. Second, some individuals or groups can usurp power, undermining the rights of the other socially equal individuals or groups.

Diamond provides an example of female composition students who are subjected to greater risks than their male colleagues when not following their teachers’ recommendations. Finally, there can be a misbalance of power between a phenomenon of objective reality and a person who subjectively describes this phenomenon, i.e. between the music and a composer, or the music and an ethnomusicologist, or the music and a specific audience. Dr. Diamond observes that there are two problems of Canadian music which are commonly associated with hegemony. Referring to the experimental film-maker Trinh Minh-ha, the scholar argues that the professional language of music studies is more abstract and controlled than the one of other expressional forms (e.g., painting, literature, etc.).

Citing African-Canadian writer and activist Marlene Nourbese Philip, Dr. Diamond emphasizes that some musical communities remain invisible in manifesting and sharing their perspectives on music.

# 2. Dr. Beverly Diamond, who was granted the Canada Research Chair position in traditional music/ethnomusicology, investigates the role which the concept of “identity” plays in shaping Canadian music. Identity denotes the psychological and socio-cultural mechanisms which help Canadians to perceive themselves as a discrete, separate entity. National identity is opposed to nationalism. Whereas the former is characterized by heterogeneity, flexibility, discontinuity and absence of boundaries, the latter is associated with homogeneity, rigidity, continuity and boundedness.

The author hypothesizes that due to different perceptions of national identity the audiences in Canada and China would react differently to the mix of regional musical styles presented to them by one and the same Chinese ensemble. Contemporary musicologists are interested in researching the impact of such elements of identity as gender, social class, ethnicity and religion on musical styles.

# 3. Ethnomusicologist Dr. Beverly Diamond analyzes different musicological approaches displayed in the publications by Kallmann, Ford and McGee which she calls “narratives”. Diamond starts with comparing the authors’ “intent” or explicit statements about their conceptualizations of music in general and Canadian music in particular. She observes that the scholars standing sociological positions (Kallmann and Ford) are more likely to explore the emergence and development of music in Canada within the contextual richness of production, performance, education and economics, whereas some other scholars (McGee) are more interested in pedagogical and technical aspects of music production.

Diamond furthermore examines proportion or the extent of space within Canadian music textbooks which is dedicated to particular musicological issues. She observes that Canadian musicologists link the stages in music history to the dates either chosen for convenience or celebrating some political events, whereas European scholars divide music history according to the developmental stages of other art forms. Diamond herself argues that music can be characterized not only in terms of chronology but also depending on the size of music communities and, subsequently, on the quality of cultural life in these communities.

The scholar states that musicologist textbooks are biased since they examine the development of Canadian music from the positions of contemporary politics, regional division and demographics. She also calls for taking into account the shifts in ethnic composition of population in different Canadian regions across time. The scholar seems to reject the perspective of viewing Canadian music as a multiethnic and multicultural phenomenon regardless of the so-called cultural demography which is attentive to the ethnic and cultural ancestry of musicians. Diamond explicitly criticizes the principles of organization utilized by contemporary musicologists.

In her opinion, researchers should place greater emphasis on the shift from the amateur to professional structure of musical industry. She also insists on expanding the musical and socio-cultural network by including listeners and performers altogether with individual composers to the scope of professional studies. Besides Diamond considers it interesting to examine the heterogeneity of the ways in which different music cultures are affected by technology and intermingled with each other in modern urban contexts.

Finally, the scholar looks closer at the metaphoric structure of music textbooks or the descriptors attached to specific musical phenomena. For example, she observes that some characteristics of music itself (e.g., chromatic harmony, counterpoint and large-scale “organic” form) are associated with particular social classes (i.e., salon music enjoyed by aristocracy). She suggests avoiding such single-mindedness in characterization of musical styles and situations.

# 4. Canadian organist, musicologist and teacher Lucien Poirier laments that the value of Canadian musical ancestry is undermined by the lack of adequate critical studies on the point. In his words, the reality of existence of Canadian music contradicts to the illusion of its absence. Since the 1960s, Poirier observed the positive tendency to save the works of earlier Canadian composers from oblivion. Happily scholars have already included the history of Canadian music to the scope of research but this initiative was taken unpardonably late.

The methods of musicological studies in Canada are still restricted to the structural and stylistic analysis of musical genres and specific compositions. Poirier suggests that the investigation of Canadian music history should follow the two axes. First, there should be a deeper research in the history of musical life in Quebec in the period from 1764 to 1925. Second, indigenous sources of Canadian musical culture should be carefully collected and studied.

# 5. Musicologists Jocelyne Guilbault and Line Grenier look closer at the links between the ideas of nationhood/nationalism and the music. They operate the term “Other” to denote unusual, exotic cultures within a relatively homogenous cultural network. The authors emphasize that the Other is difficult to locate because it is often associated with the concept of nation, the latter being regarded simultaneously as the incongruous concepts of nation-as-people (e.g., Quebecois people as a distinctive socio-cultural and ethnic group) and nation-as-state (e.g., Quebec as one of the ten Canadian provinces).

Nationalism is treated as a situation when one nation is oppressed by the other(s) in terms of socio-cultural, economic and political integrity and visibility. The researchers argue that Canadian music should be valued for its national heterogeneity and complexity without letting the nationalist bias into musicological analyses.

# 6. Composer R. Murray Schafer considers culture to be both a benefit for societies and their curse. From Schafer’s perspective, culture is distorted by the idea of colonialism. Colonial regimes wrap socio-cultural life around the concept of the “center” which mentally controls the so-called “margins”. The musician and critic argues that Canada is often perceived as a musical margin with many Canadian musicians having moved to the “centers” of music production industry like New York, Paris and London in the 1960s. But Canadian music, as the author underlines, is far from being marginal.

As based on climate and geography, it is outstanding for its nordic hardship and harmony traced both in music and landscape. For example, John Beckwith’s compositions with their iterative ground bass sounds interchanged with modulations remind of Canadian forests. Regretfully, the distinctiveness of Canadian music culture is blurred by our mental dependence on non-Canadian musical styles and influences.

Such dependence is transmitted through media channels (i.e. radio, TV and press) and encouraged by the government which grants no bonuses to Canadian artists when distributing funds. Schafer suggests reviving in public memory the music made by Canadian composers such as L. Smith, F. O. Forsyth, G. Couture, R. Mathieu, and so on. The composer also urges his colleagues to appreciate the originality of Canadian music and make it less dependent of humbling evaluations.

# 7. The musical performance “Princess of The Stars” was directed by a Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. It was originally staged on the shores of a small lake near Toronto in 1981. Spectators gathered at the water’s edge before dawn to hear a welcoming aria at the backstage of wildlife sounds. Then they saw the Presenter approaching them in a canoe to tell a legend about the heavenly Princess of the Stars, the Wolf, the Three-Horned Enemy and the Sun. By synthesizing musical and natural expressional means, the staging crew managed to create a genuinely Canadian piece of art. As Schafer has noted, the legendary character of the plot linked the destiny of characters to environmental changes.

# 8. Gordon E. Smith analyzes the art of Lee (Harvey) Cremo, a Canadian fiddler and composer of Míkmac origin. This personality is chosen for his outstanding artistry and talent being part of First Nations historical, political, spiritual and cultural ancestry.

# 9. Christos Hatzis, a Greek-Canadian composer and teacher, traces the possibilities of synthesizing contemporary composition science and aboriginal sonic material (namely the katajjaq vocal games of the Inuit or Eskimo) as part of the cultural borrowing processes. In Hatzis’ opinion, indigenous music can be integrated to the modern Canadian culture only when composers bring affective response and appreciation of this kind of sonic material into their works. The composer tried to do it in a series of compositions inspired by Inuit culture: Nunavut (1994, for string quartet and tape), Hunter’s Dream (1995) and Footprints in New Snow.

# 10. Modern musicologists argue that social identities of ethnocultural communities are dynamic concepts which can be characterized in terms of region, class and gender. In the collection of scholarly articles called “Canadian Music: Issues of Hegemony and Identity” Canadian culture is seen as a system comprising communal identities of various ethnical backgrounds interacting in a complex way within the geographical boundaries of Canada.

# 11. Alfred Young Man, an author, editor, curator and artist of Cree ancestry, suggests examining the aboriginal art from the so-called Native perspective. This is a set of critical, historical and analytical instruments used to assess the interaction of indigenous and Western cultures. Native American art, as Young Man asserts, is a form of self-determination for the Canadian and American Native nations. It is ritualistic by principle, given that ritual is a stereotyped activity, institution, behavior or process which is preserved throughout time. Instead of defining the art of Native communities as tribal and rooted in the past, the scholar suggests treating is as a more flexible conceptualization of art and a set of personal responses to the processes occurring in a contemporary milieu.

# 12. Andra McCartney, a soundscape artist teaching sound in media for the Communication Studies department at Concordia University, defines soundscape as a genre of tape music focusing on environmental sound. The honor of inventing the term “soundscape” belongs to a Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer who regarded it as a sonic environment taken either actually (as an array of sounds) or abstractly (as a subject of research and education). The first World Soundscape Project (WSP) was run by the composers Schafer, Barry Truax and Hildegard Westerkamp at Simon Fraser University in the early 1970s. Soundscape assumes that there is an intense interaction between sonic context, artist and audience. In terms of music, every set of significant sounds is linked to a particular geographical space in Canada.

The soundscape approach also implies educating people in the principles of innovative composition and conducting research in the realm of sonic environments. McCartney emphasizes the great role of technology since soundscape music relies on progressive methods of sound recording (e.g., close-miking). She reviews the problems which arise from the eclectic, complex nature of the phenomenon, and deal with categorization of soundscape within the international research context.

# 13. Wende Bartley is a Canadian composer specializing in electroacoustic music, concert music, film sound tracks, dance music and experimental radio documentaries. She managed to combine artistic and teaching activities (the latter at the University of Waterloo). Elma Miller creates pieces of multi-media, electroacoustic, chamber, keyboard, vocal, choral and orchestral music on the commission from the Hamilton Philharmonic, the Saskatoon Symphony, the Northern Arts and Cultural Center and so on. She also runs a music publishing business.

Sarah Peebles writes multi-media, electroacoustic and instrumental music for Western and Japanese instruments. Besides composing and performing, she is busy with hosting the CIUT (Toronto) radio show “Classical Women.” Ann Sountham enters PROCAN and the Canadian League of Composers as an author of many orchestral, chamber, keyboard and electroacoustic compositions. Gayle Young designed and built the two unique instruments of the Columbine and the Amaranth to investigate the potential of altered tuning. She also composes electroacoustic and instrumental music for traditional instruments. Young edits the Toronto journal of sound exploration titled Musicworks and writes books.

# 14. Canadian pianist, music critic, teacher and composer Leó-Pol Morin attempts to define the concept of “Canadian musical style”. In his earlier critical works he used to support the universal perspective on the music as standing outside geographical and national boundaries. However, in the 1930s Morin changed his opinion, arguing that musicians were free to choose between universal expressional means but the soul of the music (its moral, metaphysical, religious, social and philosophical meaning) had to remain national. The scholar explained this shift in argumentation by the evolution of thought which he had been experiencing in the period between 1918 and 1930.

# 15. From the perspective of a folklorist (Klimasz in the present volume), the concept of folk music is an ethnomusicological phenomenon which is linked to the idea of ethnicity. Klimasz argues that ethnicity is a New World concept which has replaced the Old World term “immigrant.” Folk music is believed to be an essential part of immigrant culture, i.e. the set of art genres, forms and stereotypes which the newcomers brought to Canada from their countries of origin. This cultural background is carefully kept across generations. The contributors to the book discuss how the concept of folk music is interestingly modified in various socio-political and multicultural contexts.

# 16. Harry Somers, the Canadian composer, is famous for his opera in three acts (18 scenes) titled “Louis Riel.” Louis Riel came from the prosperous and respected French Canadian-Métis family. The Métis as an ethnic group were people of mixed Cree, Ojibway, Saulteaux, French Canadian, Scottish, and English descent living on the territory of a contemporary province of Manitoba. Riel headed the Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870 to negotiate independence of Manitoba with the Canadian Government. As a leader of the 1885 Rebellion Riel was sentenced to death and hanged. Harry Somers’s music drama begins in 1869 with a description of the post-Confederation complicated political scene. It was first staged on September 23, 1967 at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre. It is interesting that the libretto for this opera about the leader of the nationalist opposition to the central authorities was written in English and French languages.

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