SOAS University of London

Songs without notes: orality, writing and music in South Asia

Gamelan music
Professor Richard Widdess

Date: 13 March 2008Time: 5:30 PM

Finishes: 13 March 2008Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Inaugural Lecture

Chair: Dr Neil Sorrell, University of York

Professor Paul Webley, Director and Principal of SOAS, will preside.

In his inaugural lecture  Professor Richard Widdess will discuss the implications of the oral qualities of musical communication

Most music is not written. Music is a means of human expression that depends on communication via the ear, not the eye; through performance and listening, not through writing and reading. How does its independence from writing affect music as performance and as culture? Does the concept of “orality”, familiar from studies of oral literature, apply to music? In South Asia, most music is transmitted through the “oral tradition”, but this is often supported by writing, and there is also a long tradition of written music theory. The contrasting dynamics of oral and written transmission can help us to understand musical performance, the culture of music, and theoretical debates, in South Asia and, by extension, elsewhere. This view will be illustrated with reference to examples of vocal music of North India and the Kathmandu Valley, musical documents of the 8th to 20th centuries, and theories of oral literature and music cognition.

The event will be followed by a reception.

Organiser: SOAS

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