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Department of Music

Central Asian Music

Course Code:
15PMUH008
Unit value:
0.5
Taught in:
Term 2
Broad introduction to the music of the former Soviet Central Asian states plus Xinjiang and Afghanistan, situating musical sound in its social and political contexts. Students should acquire a basic knowledge of the major musical instruments (construction, playing techniques), be able to relate sound recordings to different musical traditions, regions and peoples, and be able to comment on the use of melody and rhythm. They should have a basic understanding of the major musical systems of the region, and they should be able to relate musical sounds to their social and political context.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

The course provides a broad introduction to the music of Central Asia, here taken to mean the former Soviet Central Asian states plus Xinjiang and Afghanistan. It aims to situate musical sound in its social and political context. The course is designed primarily for students of the music department, who have basic skills in musicology and may also have knowledge of related music cultures, for example Arab, Persian or Turkish. It is also open as a floater to students from other departments, for example those taking courses in Central Asian society and politics, who preferably have some musical background, and may also have some knowledge of the region. With such a range of backgrounds, it is hoped that each student will contribute their own strengths to the class, through presentations and general class participation.

By the end of the course students should have acquired a basic knowledge of the more common musical instruments of the region, have some understanding of the construction and playing techniques of the instruments, and be able to recognise their sounds. They should also be able to relate sound recordings to different musical traditions, regions and peoples, and be able to comment on the use of melody and rhythm. They should have a basic understanding of the major musical systems of the region, and they should be able to relate musical sounds to their social and political context.

Workload

Three hours per week in Term 2

Scope and syllabus

The course looks at concepts of music, comparing nomadic-pastoral and sedentary traditions, and discusses the relation between music and Islam in the region, looking at definitions, prohibitions and questions of status and roles of musicians. We also look at music in the ritual context, from the shamanic roots of the bardic traditions of the nomadic peoples to Sufi zikr, festivals, weddings and ritual healers. The subject of musical change is an important and recurring theme throughout the course. We will consider the changing functions of music during the twentieth century: Soviet ideas about traditional music, and music used as a political tool; changes in musical sound brought about by professionalisation; the significance of the move from oral transmission to conservatory teaching based on notation; the impact of political policies and social changes on musical traditions. Ethnicity is another key issue; we look how musical traditions relate to ethnic boundaries, the impact of Stalin’s creation of the nation states, and trends in the post-Soviet era. We also consider the rise of recorded music, greater access to global sounds, and the political uses of pop.

Syllabus
  1. Orientations. Peoples and Musical Instruments
  2. Musicians. Roles, training, issues of gender
  3. Concepts of Maqam
  4. The Uyghurs of Xinjiang
  5. Nomadic-pastoral cultures. Bardic traditions
  6. Tajikistan. The Iranian Connection.
  7. Afghanistan. Problems of musical change
  8. Islam. Perceptions of music. Ritual music
  9. States. Nationalism, professionalisation and politics
  10. Modernisation. Pop music, recorded music

Method of assessment

Exam 40% + aural 20%, coursework 1@40%