tv DW News LINKTV February 18, 2016 2:00pm-2:31pm PST
(male narrator) music provides a dynamic link with the past. through song, ceremony, and ritual, music maintains tradition, reinforces identity, and serves as an important means for storing and sharing memories. (man) when you want to recount history, one way in which you could do it would be to just talk as i'm talking now. when you use a musical instrument, you focus people's attention on the matter that you have at hand, and you entertain them. so you open them up emotionally. the music has a way of reaching people on a nonverbal, emotional level. [low hum and sticks clacking] [cultural music montage]
[woman singing in native dialect] (man) we all have musical memories. they go back to our earliest childhood. they form a large part of how we feel about time. as our life unfolds, we connect the dots with musical memories very often. ♪ my momma told me, if i was good, ♪ so, in the personal sense, we stitch together our lives with music in a very direct way. [rock music] i don't think that most people can tell you where they were ten years ago, but if you sing a song from that summer,
they can tell you exactly where they were, who they were dating, what car they were driving in, and the music can spark those kind of things. (narrator) musical memory can function at both the personal and cultural levels. while personal memory is unique to individuals, cultural memory is something that is shared by a national, religious, or ethnic group. it often plays an important role in defining a culture's identity and its sense of the past. [chorus singing] (narrator) in the countries of mali, senegal, and gambia in west africa, musicians known as griots have traditionally played an important role in society as storytellers and historians. the griots sing songs and proverbs accompanied
by an instrument known as a kora, a spiked harp with a gourd resonator. (brown) in many african cultures, there aren't written traditions. i mean traditionally, there weren't books, there weren't forms of writing and people needed ways of remembering things, of preserving their history and culture and values. and one of the ways in which they did that was through song. one example can be seen in the kora and the tradition of music that surrounds it. the kora is always accompanied by song, and those songs recount the deeds of heroes and kings, and these days, merchants and traders and other important people in the society. it's a repository of historical knowledge
and also of cultural values. the kora tradition goes back several hundred years in west africa. it basically comes out of the old mali empire. the mali empire was founded in 1235 by sunjata, the first king of the mali empire. and, in fact, he is one of the people who is remembered in the songs of the kora. if you grow up in a society in west africa that has the kora music, you hear this music from the time that you're a child. and you begin to absorb it little by little by little. you start to hear names of people who are important in your society-- historical figures, and you start to learn about some of the things that they have done, and the information begins to be passed on to you.
and the tradition has changed now. it used to function in a very narrow context for royalty, preserving their story and their history, but now it becomes an icon for the whole society. ♪ the soldiers traveled in from the north. ♪ ♪ the moon shine bright and clear. ♪ (narrator) the musical storyteller is important in many societies around the world. in the rural south of the united states, ballad singers share and reinforce cultural memory through song. while many ballads refer to events that occurred centuries ago in europe, they are often based on timeless themes
that are relevant to singers and their communities today. ♪ pretty polly, pretty polly, o'er yonder she stands. ♪ ballad is a kind of music that tells a story. almost all ballads tell some kind of story. there's lots of stories to tell. and some ballads seem to be very old. they tell very old stories, and some of those stories have been handed down from generation to generation. ♪ oh, soldiers, don't leave me here for i am...forever ♪ my father took me to a mountain dance festival in north carolina-- i never got over it. there were people singing old ballads that went back hundreds of years, and it seemed to me like the songs, new or old, had the meat of all life-- they weren't just trivial. ♪ oh, i am death; none can expel. ♪
♪ i open the door of heaven and hell. ♪ ♪ yes, i've come for to get your soul. ♪ ♪ leave your body and leave it cold. ♪ (cohen) back in north carolina in a little community where i did my film, almost everybody sings. and berzil wallin-- she knew a lot of old ballads and old love songs, and then when she sang this very beautiful song which is a conversation with death, it's got kind of a moralizing to it, like 18th century, 19th century, i think really 18th century frontier attitude on heaven and hell, and of course she was pretty old and feeble by the time she was singing it for me. you got the feeling in the film that she was going through that struggle herself. ♪ my heart fixed. i'm summoned to hell. ♪ ♪ as long as god in heaven tells well, ♪
♪ my soul, my soul shall scream in hell. ♪ ♪ one pleasant summer's morning ♪ ♪ when the birds were sweetly singing, oh. ♪ in the ballad tradition, the tune is extremely important. these tunes are usually beautiful, and they are hand crafted to stick in the mind. there seems to be a receptor in the mind for tunes. it just attaches itself to your mind. and because of that, you'll remember long stretches of text that you could never remember any other way. ♪ me flower of... people sometimes think of ballads, sort of as memory. i like to think of it that-- if you're gonna connect to a song because you learned it from your mother and she learned it from her mother and it goes back,
then you're connecting, plugging into something that goes back a long ways. and when you're connecting to something that goes back a long ways, that's the definition of memory. ♪ i'm 'fraid of your ways. ♪ oh, willie, oh, willie, i'm 'fraid of your ways. ♪ of course, the ballad, once it got to america-- the form of storytelling, it became a standard. you know, think of country music, cowboy ballads, industrial ballads, all kinds of ballads, so the ballad tradition doesn't stay static. ♪ on the fortnight, the cannons were silent, ♪ ♪ and only the stars lit the sky. ♪ i love to write ballads. i like story songs. it challenges you more as a writer because you have to tell a story, you have to create characters, you have to create a place, a time...
♪ and it was safe to return to my farmhouse ♪ the civil war song that i wrote; it's actually titled, only god knows his name. ♪ but in my field lay the lamb ♪ ♪ that was slain and exchanged for a battle won. ♪ ♪ unclaimed by his own on the cold ground, ♪ ♪ this soldier they made from a boy. ♪ growing up in pennsylvania, you have to go to gettysburg when you go to school. i started to think about that, and i thought how would that be to live in those days, and to have to come home to your farm after there had been a battle waged. and the story's about a woman who comes home to her farm, and she finds a fallen rebel soldier in her field, and he needs a proper burial.
♪ i tend to his grave every sunday. ♪ ♪ i think his kin would approve of this place. ♪ then she takes care of him, she buries him, and she puts him in a spot that's special to her. ♪ the sweet mountain laurel blooms just the same. ♪ a ballad also has an element of romance to it. there is a romantic notion about how she takes care of him, and how she's doing the right thing because as a christian woman, that is how she would want someone to treat her. i mean, how can we even imagine what went on in the civil war, so we have to find the common denominator, which is decency, and let that be the thing that transports us to that time, so we can actually feel it. and ballads do that. ♪ only god knows his name.
♪ only god knows his name. (narrator) music can also be integral to religious ceremonies or rituals which evoke the past. among the australian aboriginal peoples, song is used to recount stories of their origin and the basis of their cultural beliefs. (man) one of the basic elements of aboriginal culture is a belief that the world was created by creative ancestors. during their creation, and as part of it, they also sang and danced and created visual designs which expressed their creation. and aboriginal people since then and still today in performing songs and dances and creating visual designs
are, in a real way, participating in the original creative events. the walbiri people of central australia live in the desert, a sandy desert environment. and one of the important ceremonies that they perform is called, generally, a fire ceremony. and the music that's performed as part of the ceremony, consists of singing by a group of men accompanied by clapsticks. the clapsticks in this case are pairs of boomerangs. a group of men sitting in a clump are the main singers. behind the men are women who periodically get up and dance. the creative ancestors took the form of usually animal species,
but they could be also plant species or fish. human beings are in fact reincarnations of these creative ancestors. today when aboriginal people perform songs and dances and create visual designs, they are indicating their close association with the species and with the land of which they occupy. and they are helping to maintain its fertility. [irish music] (narrator) music often serves as an important means of maintaining cultural identity and heritage. among irish-american immigrants and their descendants, the performance of traditional music plays an important role in drawing the community together. (man) obviously, there are irish people all over the world.
my own family is a prime example. i've a sister in taiwan, brother in germany, and i live in new york. my father used to say, "the sun never sets on the kilbride family." so the irish were a nation of immigrants. the biggest wave happened because of the potato famine. the population of ireland went from 9 million to 3 million. a lot came to the u.s., to canada, to australia, new zealand, england-- those would've been mainly where the irish went. remember, in those days, when people left home, they didn't see their parents again, that was it. keep in mind that the people coming here didn't speak english. they were from the poorest parts of ireland. and it was tough. irish catholics, especially, they weren't very welcome. they were considered a lower class.
what they did have, in spite of that poverty, they did have their culture, they had this amazingly rich repository of instrumental music, of song, of storytelling, in the irish language, of dancing. having socialization with neighbors, hearing the music-- that made up for that loss. that's what they shared together. that's what they passed on to their children. house sessions are a major component of traditional irish music. it's where people would congregate in ireland and even in my own house when i was growing up, both of my parents were from ireland. we had an irish session almost every friday in my home. the people would congregate, they'd play tunes, they'd share new tunes or old tunes. it's a wonderful opportunity to meet with people, and people can sit down who have learned tunes from different sources.
if it's the same tune, they can sit down and play it together. basically, it's an irish jam session. it's just everybody gets together and plays a common repertoire. it's very relaxing. there's no pressure. you keep going for as long as you feel like going. if you feel like stopping, you stop, and you know, people come and go, and if the atmosphere and the spirit is good, it can go on for hours and hours, days in some cases. (narrator) many musical traditions have rich histories of their own. in the 20th century, musicians have been drawn
to european music from the middle ages and renaissance, a repertoire commonly referred to as early music. because this music hasn't been performed for centuries, playing it today involves research, recreation, and imagination. (man) i always felt that early music was the music that's never made it to the 20th century as a performing tradition. it's important to keep this music alive because it's fantastic music. it's beautiful in its own way just like music from other cultures is beautiful in its own way. it's very different from modern western music. [ensemble playing early music] i was struck right away by something in the music. it really resonated inside me somehow. the music was so often sparse, it was very pure,
i had never heard anything like it. i think one of the big challenges of performing early music is that it's a broken tradition. if you're a pianist today, you may have a teacher who had a teacher who had a teacher who studied with franz liszt, and there's received knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation. in the performance of early music, there were centuries in between what people performed back then and what they're trying to do today. (herreid) manuscripts from before the 16th century do not indicate the instrumentation. a piece might have four parts, with no words, maybe meant for instruments but it won't say.
the composers either didn't care what instruments it was played on, or it was so obvious to the people at the time that it would be appropriate for recorders, say, or for viols, or for a lute ensemble, that this information just doesn't come to us. one of the most important sources of information is iconographical sources, meaning paintings, illuminations, and manuscripts, sculptures from the time, which show actual musicians from the middle ages and renaissance playing music. and by looking at these, we can gain a lot of information about how instruments were being held, what the instruments actually looked like. many of these instruments, especially from earlier periods, don't survive as museum instruments. the intended audience of a given piece of music
is crucial to understanding why it was performed and how it was performed. one of the great lute virtuosos of the renaissance was playing lullabies for a four year-old heir to a throne. and that obviously gives you an insight as to what maybe this person would have played, you know. [lilting flute plays] oy comamos is all about let us eat and drink and be merry, my friends, today, lent starts tomorrow, so let's live it up while we can today. [ensemble singing] we don't want to just play it straight the way you see it in the manuscript. it's in four voices, and all four voices are texted. so the most obvious way to perform it would be
to have four singers, a soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, sing the song very straightforward. i just could not hear a piece like that just sort of sung straight and isn't that nice. i mean, it's a fat tuesday piece, right? it's like let's eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow it is all over. [vibrant singing] there are a lot of interesting descriptions of performance practice, and of goings on at court, feasts, there are diaries, there are poems which describe instruments playing together. there are a lot of paintings that show people playing tambourines and they always show them playing with the instrument held upward like that, with the head facing out toward the audience. and so that's how paul plays tambourine in this performance rather than sort of slapping it on his knee. we know that the guitar was of great importance
in spanish culture and we know that from iconographical evidence and also from literary sources. we've found that we can infuse this music with more life by looking at surviving popular traditions in spain, or folk traditions where they use a lot of strumming on guitars, a lot of percussion, castanets, tambourines. if you're talking about achieving authenticity in performance, you cannot do it because we just don't really know. you can go with your instincts, you can go with the evidence that you've discovered, things you've learned from playing with other people, and again whatever research you've done. there's sort of two different types of authenticity. there's the authenticity where you're trying to find out as much as possible
about how that music was played so you can play it in the same way that it was performed in the middle ages or renaissance. there's also sort of what i think of as an authenticity of spirit where you're trying to present the music in a way that it was presented at the time, even if it's not done in exactly the same way. it's not important that people played this music 400 years ago, and we should play it now because it was done then, but we really believe that this music is important of itself.