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The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 503-505



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Review

Weavers of Song:
Polynesian Music and Dance


Weavers of Song: Polynesian Music and Dance, by Mervyn McLean. Auckland: Auckland University Press and Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999. ISBN0-8248-2271-4, cloth; x + 543 pages, tables, maps, figures, photographs and drawings, music notations, appendixes, glossary of western musical terms, notes, references, index, audioCD.NZ$79.95, US$42.00.

Following just three years after Mervyn McLean's Maori Music (1996) presented the culmination of the main focus of his distinguished research career, another major work, his Weavers of Song, presents the culmination of his studies in the music and dance of Polynesia at large. In contrast to Maori Music, a work informed by both extensive fieldwork with Maori bearers of the tradition and published sources,Weavers of Song relies almost entirely on the latter. McLean became well acquainted with works on Oceania through his extensive bibliographical research that previously led to An Annotated Bibliography ofOceanic Music and Dance (1977), a supplement (1981), and a revised and enlarged second edition [End Page 503] (1995). In his approach to understanding music, he considers transcription and structural analysis essential,and hestates that this book is "unabashedly comparative even though there are gaps in information" (vii). In spite of these premises, he intends the book "for the general reader as much as for specialists" (viii) and helpfully provides both a guide to the special symbols employed in some of the music transcriptions (viii) and a glossary of European-language musical terms in an appendix (468-473).

InWeaversofSong, McLean brings together a vast amount of data on music,musical instruments, and dance, from sources ranging from the mostly brief comments of early voyagers and missionaries to a selection of the far more extensive material in late-twentieth-century ethnomusicological studies of specific Polynesian cultures. He organizes it systematically, presenting it first regionally with emphasis on description and then cross-culturally with emphasis on comparison. In the descriptivepart,whichoccupies almost two-thirds of the text,he begins with a chapter about Polynesia as a whole, and then proceeds to "Central Polynesia" (with a chapter each on the Society Islands, Cook Islands, Austral Islands, and Tuamotu Islands), "WesternPolynesia" (with chapters on Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Niue, Uvea and Futuna, and Polynesian Outliers), and "Marginal Polynesia" (with the Marquesas Islands, Easter Island, Mangareva Islands, Hawai'i, and New Zealand). In the comparative part, which incorporates relevant data from subsections of the island-specific chapters, he begins with "Traditional Music and Dance" (with chapters on musical instruments, uses of song and dance, performance, composition, ownership, learning and instruction, and music structure), proceeds to "The Impact of European Music" (with the coming of the Europeans, hymnody, and modern music and dance), and concludes with "Cultural Connections and Diffusion of Styles." A generous number of illustrations enhance the text, and a compact disc, housed in an envelope mounted on the inside back cover, contains sound recordings from more than a dozen of the cultures. Of the disc's forty-three items, twenty-four correspond to music notations in the text. They should be listened to while reading the text, because just seeing a transcription cannot convey to anyone who has not heard, for example, a Tahitian choir, with its distinctive, rich and vibrant sound.

Inevitably in a field that lacks unanimity even in such basic factors as geographic designations—except in his discussion of drum types (347-348), McLean classifies certain islands at and near the points of the Polynesian triangleas "MarginalPolynesia,"whereas that termis applied to Tuvalu (193) and Wallis and Futuna (231) in his recommended supplementary material—there are numerous things in this book that specialists will criticize as, indeed in it, McLean criticizes the work of others (especially that of Adrienne Kaeppler). Many readers will be frustrated by the recommended recordings, which include 12-inch LPs that are not available (and for which they no longer even have access to equipment on which they can be played) and relatively few of the good, currently...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 503-505
Launched on MUSE
2002-07-01
Open Access
No
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