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Instrument Teaching in the Context of Oral Tradition: A Field Study from Bolu, Turkey
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In almost all industrial and post-industrial societies of the modern age as well as in a majority of developing countries, musical-cultural accumulation is documented via writing, musical notation, and similar audio-visual tools to achieve transmission with minimum information loss. As a consequence of the formation of written culture and widespread use of musical notation, musical works could then be registered on permanent documents to enable transmission not only to the immediately following generations but also to many generations over future centuries. The use of writing and the consequential transmission of music via writing, however, are comparatively new yet noteworthy developments in the long history of humankind.

The earliest traces of using symbols or writing in music can be seen in the musical cultures of “ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, and Greece” (Michels 2001:159).2 Nonetheless, “music writing with a notation system” (Rösing 1997:79) and its written transmission is a practice that gained popularity amidst European culture, though it was not so widespread among other global musical cultures. Western notation started with letters and neumes, but it then became more systematized when the ninth-century Dasia Notation gained prominence through the spread of the printing press and then underwent several evolutionary steps up through the sixteenth century. It reached its peak use in the twentieth century, when it was then renewed and reused by New Music composers or abandoned completely by other composers. Still, this traditional European notation system bears remarkable responsibility for the transmission of music culture from one generation to the next.

The traditional European notation system has been employed to register not only the musical background of western cultures, but also a variety of regions’ traditional, artistic, and contemporary musics worldwide.3 Within the context of attempts to transmit the musical cultural heritage of humankind to future generations without losing it, “in Amsterdam, Berlin, Bloomington/USA, London, Los Angeles, Paris, and Vienna next to the leading international musical archives the formation of national archives has also been realized” (Simon 1987:139). However, since the Second World War, despite the numerous efforts to register oral notes that were transmitted by the musical creators of several cultures through oral communication, presently only a small portion of musical traditions have been documented, as noted by Simon (ibid.).

Oral culture, which varies greatly from written culture, is the way societies create, live, and transmit their cultures through language alone without consulting any literary source but relying instead on social memory. Oral cultural practices were initiated as early as human existence long before the invention of writing; they have left their trace on a great part of human history and persist until the present day via their continuation even after the invention of writing. The global spread and prevalence of written culture has not necessitated humankind to abandon oral culture altogether.

In the societies or social groups where primary oral culture is dominant,4 cultural context is transferred to the future through verbal/oral transmission that corresponds to transmitting via human memory alone without using any registering tool. In the formation and sustainment of oral culture, the contributions of people with high levels of attentiveness, perception, permanent memory, cognitive ordering, and interpretation are substantially remarkable. In oral culture, knowledge and experiences are transmitted to future generations by wise elders, and, as noted by Ong and Batuş (Ong 2003:57; Batuş 2004:821), since information is priceless and hard-to-get, there was traditionally a high degree of respect shown towards those who were professional in preserving information, familiar with the past and capable of narrating such tales. In oral transmission of music, too, experienced musicians with strong memories and capacious experience of several social happenings/events play vital roles as resources. The repetitious practices of these musicians enable the integration of music with social memory by keeping the music of society on the agenda with all its liveliness; they also transmit music to future generations by preserving its stylistic essence. Musical products are transmitted in a continuously transformational process by which basic stylistic structure is conserved but a “variant formation” (Elscheková 1998:231) is repeatedly experienced; this process is also shaped by personal creativity.


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