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  • Music in Pacific Island Cultures: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture by Brian Diettrich, Jane Freeman Moulin, Michael Webb
  • Raymond Ammann
Music in Pacific Island Cultures: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture, by Brian Diettrich, Jane Freeman Moulin, and Michael Webb. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-1997-3340-8; 224 pages, illustrations, maps, references, index, CD. Paper, US$29.95.

Music in Pacific Island Cultures consists of over 200 pages of text and, for students and other newcomers to regional acoustic traditions, generously and helpfully includes a cd with forty-nine tracks. It should be noted that this book is another volume in the Global Music Series edited by Bonnie C Wade and Patricia Sheehan Campbell, who have recently done a great deal to bring a heightened appreciation for global musical diversity and change in the form of these readily readable books. Produced as a tool for teachers and students of musics of the world, the Global Music Series consists of some twenty-five volumes. Some of the works focus on theoretical and methodological topics—such as Wade’s Thinking Musically (third edition, 2012) and Campbell’s Teaching Music Globally (2004)—but most volumes refer to well-defined areas, for example, Music in Turkey (Eliot Bates, 2010); Music in Bali (Lisa Gold, 2004); and Music in Central Java (Benjamin Brinner, 2007). The current volume appears to sit nicely [End Page 423] within both of these traditions. On the website for the series, worksheets with specific questions for each volume can help teachers assess student progress. Tackling the music of a region as culturally variable and diverse as the Pacific in one volume risks superficial treatment and overgeneralizations. Yet the three authors are well-established ethnomusicologists with extensive knowledge of their research areas. They position themselves and their work in a fairly detailed preface, and throughout the volume they present examples from their personal experience. This approach encourages a familiarity and trust between the reader and the authors that will well support students’ use of this text.

Interestingly, and significantly contributing a truly “regional” feeling to the whole, the book’s overarching structure is not organized in the usual separations of the cultural regions of the Pacific (Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia); instead, the five chapters address topics that chronologically reflect the history and development of Pacific music: diversity in Pacific Island musics, the place of music within colonial experiences, musical expressions of the sacred, the global flow of musical traditions, and the performance and representation of regional identities. Nevertheless, within each of these topical areas, the familiar culture regions return. Diettrich discusses these topics for Micronesia, Moulin for Polynesia, and Webb for Melanesia. Throughout the text, many “activities” encourage the reader to listen to the audio examples on the cd to develop an acoustic understanding of the musical themes presented in the text. The suggested activities are at various levels—some ask the reader to listen actively and others require readers to perform a modest analysis.

Chapter 1, “Diversity in Pacific Islands Musics,” deals with what is generally referred to as the “traditional” music of the Pacific. However, this chapter does not so much provide an introduction to such music as identify a number of facets and concepts that are common features of Pacific Islands music, for instance, the presence of hidden messages in song texts. Chapter 2, “Music and Colonial Experiences,” explores musical and choreographic innovations resulting from encounters with colonial powers. Chapter 3, “Musical Expressions of the Sacred,” examines the interplay of music and belief systems. Surprisingly, only a few non-Christian musical practices are included. Chapter 4, “Music and Global Flow,” addresses further musical developments resulting from contact with foreign cultures. This chapter draws attention to musical styles and instruments that are today considered typical for the Pacific, including stringbands, polyphonic singing, and the ukulele. The final chapter, “Music, Performance, and Representation,” looks at presentations of Pacific music for tourists as well as in arts and world music festivals.

The five chapters of the book present selected topics with which the authors are familiar. Importantly, the authors did not set out and do not claim to provide a comprehensive presentation of Pacific music and its history...