Monday, October 21, 2013

No Excuse

Fair Warning:  This has turned into a bit of a soapbox.

Exoticism in music refers to a style of music most notably from the Romantic period (1820-1900). Exoticism in music can be defined as writing music in the style of another country despite having never been to that country.

It has also been described as "Music of Elsewhere."

I like that.

During the Romantic period exoticism was not uncommon.


An composer, _________, might write an opera, _________, that is set in another country, _________.

Verdi > Aida > Egypt
Puccini > Madame Butterfly > Japan
Puccini > Turandot > China
Bizet > Carmen > Spain

This brings to mind the idea of authenticity in music.  Exoticism definitely was not authentic. They more than likely did not go to the countries they were trying to portray in their music.

Communication was limited during this time period. This limitation affected the authenticity of a great deal of music that we now label as "exotic."


During the 20th century elementary music textbooks were notorious for including songs that were not authentic.

Folksongs were labeled as being from a country and, while the tune may be from that country, it might be stylistically simplified or altered thus losing its authentic flavor, and the lyrics were either poorly translated or had nothing to do with the original words.

Fortunately, great strides have been made to rectify this lack of authenticity.


Research has been conducted to collect authentic folk music.  Kodaly, Bartok, Lomax - each of these men and countless others worked diligently to collect folk music accurately. Field recordings which were meticulously transcribed and notated have now become part of the heritage of many countries.

Some of this collected folk music has made its way to choral music.

Again, many composers/arranged have worked diligently to arranged this folk music as accurately and authentically as possible paying close attention to stylistic representation.  As a result there are many amazing choral octavos of "World Music."


We have the collected music.
We have carefully arranged stylistic representations of the music.
All that remains is authentic performance.

Sadly, some either do not do the necessary research OR - and this is what irritates me - they do the research but still perform the music as they think it should be performed DESPITE having the knowledge, recordings, and videos of what it should sound like.

For example, if you are singing a South African piece, and you hear a South African choir sing said piece, then PLEASE try to have your choral group come as close as possible to sounding as the South African group.

There is a difference between South African and American styles of music.

Just saying.

Just singing the notes accurately is not enough.

Think stylistically - even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.

In today's world of technology where at any given moment you can hear music of nearly every culture on earth there is just no excuse to be performing world music without attempting to be stylistically authentic.

Sometimes, it's not just about the notes.

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