Thursday, January 31, 2008

126. Music of the Great Tradition -- 26:Old Europe -- The Role of Women

Is the "Great Tradition" a musical tradition only? Or are the musical practices I've been discussing part of a larger cultural gestalt, roughly along the lines suggested by Lomax and Gimbutas, where polyphonic singing with open, relaxed voices, reflecting key aspects of what I have called Pygmy/Bushmen style, reflects what she called a "matristic" society, characterized by (in Lomax's words) male-female "complementarity"? For Lomax, this was indeed the culture of our earliest fully human ancestors, hunter-gatherers like the Pygmies and Bushmen, whose music does indeed seem the perfect embodiment of a highly integrated, egalitarian, gender-equal society. Could this ancient culture have survived along with the music, in various parts of the world, among people who managed to preserve their lifestyle and traditions by migrating to marginal or easily defensible refuge areas, such as forests, islands and mountains?

One thing seems certain. It isn't possible to consistently associate either P/B style music or the "matristic" lifestyle with hunting and gathering. Though many hunter-gatherers of today still sing polyphonically, others (the Australian aborigines, for example) do not. While we find both "Pygmy/ Bushmen" style and matristic, complementary societies, in many pockets where Old European traditions have survived, agriculture rather than hunting and gathering is the principal means of subistance. The same is true for pockets of P/B style music making in many parts of the world (e.g., the highlands of New Guinea, where horticulture has been practiced for thousands of years).

As for those elements of greatest importance to Gimbutas, the matristic, egalitarian aspects, this remains a very intriguing possiblity. We know that many indigenous and peasant societies in many parts of the world are still highly egalitarian, with great emphasis placed on either simple sharing of resources, or systems of barter and gift-exchange. Whether such practices can consistently be associated with polyphony, open-throated singing, etc. appears, at this time, to be an open question, certainly very much worth exploring.

No comments: