2550. Ethnomusicology

A true story to celebrate round figure Story Number 2550.

In my younger years I was teaching fulltime and trying to complete a music degree in between classes. I would turn up to class with a banana, teach about Wuthering Heights or Richard the Third or something, and the minute the class was over I’d leap into the car, and eat the banana for lunch while driving off to my university lecture. Choice of music papers studied was largely dictated by what was available when I wasn’t teaching. In this particular year I was taking An Introduction to Ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology is the study of non-Western music and this particular year it focused on the music of Polynesia.

The lecturer was Allan Thomas. He once stopped me in the corridor and said, “Bruce, have you ever thought of coming to university full-time and learning something?” Just so you can envisage the time scale, the New Zealand academic year runs roughly from February to November. Around March Allan Thomas announced that there would be no examination at the end of the year but everyone must submit a detailed study on an approved topic about Polynesian music.

I continued to attend lectures, but the detailed study on an approved topic somehow went on the back-burner. I used to try and avoid Allan Thomas outside of lecture times. It was September. I still hadn’t had a topic approved; in fact, I still didn’t have a topic. And there, coming along the corridor with no side corridors to escape into, was Allan Thomas!

“Bruce,” he said stopping me, “what’s the topic you’ve been studying this year on Polynesian music?”

“Oh!” I exclaimed, saying the first thing that came into my head, “Jock McEwen is helping me with it.”

“Jock McEwen!” said Allan Thomas. “That’s wonderful! We’ve been trying to get information out of him for years!”

My heart fell. Jock McEwen was an old Maori local man who knew absolutely everything about New Zealand Maori music. He was the guru of gurus. I went home having leaped from the frying pan into the fire. What to do?

I went to see the local priest whom I knew to be a great friend of Jock McEwen. He said he’d see Mr. McEwen and explain the situation. I waited. Back came the answer.

A local Maori woman known as Aunty Dovey (“Aunty” being a title of respect for older Maori women in New Zealand) had composed songs all her life and they had been recorded but never written down. They had never been copyrighted. The Greek singer, Nana Mouskouri had released a new LP and some of Aunty Dovey’s songs were on it. So too had the Australian singer, Rolf Harris. Would I write down the music of all of Aunty Dovey’s songs so they could be copyrighted? I was given recordings of her songs. Incidentally, Aunty Dovey’s full name was Hera Katene-Horvath but she was known as “Aunty Dovey”.

The day the assignment was due had passed. I had been up all night transcribing. In the morning I drove to Wellington where I knew Allan Thomas lived. I would leave the manuscripts in his mailbox.

There at the mailbox was a woman. I explained that I had an assignment for Allan Thomas. She said he was her husband. She would give him the assignment. What was the topic?

“Oh!” said I. “I have transcribed the music of Aunty Dovey’s songs.”

There was a stunned silence. The woman’s name was Jennifer Shennan. She was a well-known choreographer and dancer. She was doing her doctoral thesis on the dance movements of Aunty Dovey’s songs, but had never been able to get hold of the written music – only the recordings. This was a God-send!

Meantime she had missed her bus. A tom-cat had pee-ed on her woven flax bag at the mailbox. Could I drive her to her studio in downtown Wellington? Off we went with the stinking tom-cat-pee-ridden woven bag held out the window.

Oh! And I got an A+ for the paper!

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22 thoughts on “2550. Ethnomusicology

          1. Yvonne

            It may be significant that the book I am currently reading is The Liar’s Dictionary, and I now have a new entry for that compilation of words and definitions.

            I hope you have a very nice day, BA.

            Liked by 2 people

            Reply
  1. Badfinger (Max)

    Bruce… whenever you mess up bad or do something kind of stupid… You come out of it not only good…but better! You either have a guardian angel or your talent just comes through or you always get by on dumb luck! I’ll go with the talent but it never ceases to amaze me!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      Thanks Max – I don’t know why I’m so suck-cessfull. Just today I got 3 rejects for poems in an anthology! I had meant to paste the Nana Mouskouri link singing one of Aunty Dovey’s songs but took a while to find it. Here it is:

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Badfinger (Max)

        Oh that is beautiful. I was going to ask how her music was…

        Bruce it seems in your life…you say something you should not have…but it still works out!

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      You could have a point there Herb. Allan and Jennifer became good friends after that and Jennifer used to choreograph my school productions of musicals after that! Allan subsequently died of leukemia – but was a wonderful man!

      Liked by 1 person

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    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      Unfortunately I no longer have a copy of the music (which in those days was written out by hand). Not sure what happened to my copy of it – but then I’m not sure what happened to most papers I did for university!

      Liked by 1 person

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  2. Pingback: 2550. Ethnomusicology — Weave a Web | Vermont Folk Troth

    1. Bruce Goodman Post author

      It seems to be the story of my entire tertiary education! In fact my Masters Degree professor was the son of my piano teacher when I was at high school, and I had at school accompanied him while he played the violin!

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