Saturday, January 5, 2008

118. Music of the Great Tradition -- 18:Georgia On My Mind

No, not that Georgia. The one in the Caucasus Mountains, the one that used to be part of the USSR. According to a very interesting Wikipedia article, "the Caucasus Mountains are commonly reckoned as a dividing line between Asia and Europe, and territories in Caucasia are variably considered to be in one or both continents." A convenient map shows how this region is tucked neatly between the Black and Caspian Seas. A commonly accepted version of the "Out of Africa" model, as expressed, for example, in Stephen Oppenheimer's remarkable book, The Real Eve, has the first wave of European Homo Sapiens entering that continent from western India via the Caucasus. These Europeans would not have been Europeans as we now picture them, however -- because there were no Europeans at that time -- these Europeans would have been Africans!

In my essay, "Echoes of Our Forgotten Ancestors," I write about them as follows:

If the Trans-Caucasus were indeed a major staging ground for early humans into Europe, there is reason to believe their musical practices might be alive and well in the region to this day. What is now the Republic of Georgia is justly famous for a tradition of elaborate (and enormously impressive) polyphonic vocalizing stretching back historically as long as records exist. While interlocked vocalizing is usually intermittent, not pervasive, it is nevertheless an important and striking feature of many up-tempo performances, as is some truly spectacular yodeling. In terms of vocal style (open, relaxed voices) and choral blend (highly integrated), Georgian singing also matches P/B style quite closely, the only important differences being accent (forceful in Georgia, usually relaxed among the Pygmies and Bushmen) and the use of phrased, as opposed to continuous, melodic structure (for examples, see Supra: Georgian Banquet and Georgian Voices: The Rustavi Choir). Is this a style that must necessarily have evolved from monophony to polyphony, simplicity to complexity, according to traditional notions of evolutionary "development"? Or was the complexity there from the beginning, a legacy from our African ancestors and their HV, Inos, and Ruslan descendants? [HV, Inos and Ruslan are Y chromosome "haplotypes" associated, by Oppenheimer, with this region.]
Is the remarkable vocal polyphony found in so many regions of Georgia a part of The Great Tradition? And could this remarkable song style tell us anything about the extension of that tradition into Europe? For the moment, I'll leave you to explore some of these traditions on the following web page, entitled The Traditional Polyphony of Georgia. Click anywhere on the map and you'll hear examples of vocal polyphony from that region.


DDeden said...

Victor, I can't comment specifically on your post, but perhaps of general interest: birds prefer Bach and Vivaldi music (can you read Dutch?)

see related following posts there also (harmony in the family, consonance between mother and child)

I've also written a brief post there on the sound "tek", how it may have been one of the first words, derived from the sound of stone chipping stone.

Anonymous said...

Well, "dude," I have to admit, my Dutch is a bit rusty, but I'm assuming this is about some sort of comparative test given to some birds, who responded to certain composers but not others? Actually Vivaldi did write music imitating birdsong, as have many other composers. I'm not sure, incidentally, that birds ever do use rational intervals such as fifths and octaves, but I've never spent much time researching that.

As for family harmony, consonance between mother and child, etc., that, I can tell you with some confidence, is a false assumption. Singing in harmony involves a lot more than just the combining of soprano, alto, tenor and bass. And many people in different parts of the world do NOT sing together with the sort of harmonies preferred in Western art and popular music.

What you write (I assume it's you) on Dive songs looks interesting, though. I'll want to take a closer look at that when I get some time.