Cultural Appropriation, Part II

Forewarning, I might be on the planning committee, but I wasn’t
involved in the planning of any of the worships or celebrations, and
got to experience them as an audience member, for the most part.

In my understanding, misappropriation comes into play when you have
one group that is taking an idea, words, theme, and using them
outside the context of the original, or in a way that is inauthentic.

When it comes to music, there is a 3rd culture that has been
increasingly involved in appropriation/misappropriation in our
worship services: The Culture of Music.

It is, and has been through the development of culture itself, the
culture of music to take themes, ideas, lyrics, melodies, even whole
pieces, and to use them in the creation of something that may, or may
not, reflect the original. In fact, once one hears a new type of music, one will never hear other music quite the same way again. Music is infectious in this way, changing the way we view the world, with each note and cadence.

How many different versions of songs can we find in Singing the
Living Tradition, in the hymnals of other religions? Is it wrong to
sing “Forward Through the Ages” as opposed to “Onward, Christian
Soldiers”, both of which are to the tune St. Gertrude, which was
likely co-opted from local folk who may not have been Christian at
the time, by missionaries?

Which melody is appropriate to use with “Nearer My God to Thee”? The
Irish folk song version of Pictish origin, or the Scottish of Celtic?

“The Green Hills of Tyrol”, an old melody of Gaulish origin, which
showed up in the William Tell Overture, was adapted by a marching
band from Sardinia, and then to the Great Highland Bagpipe by Pipe
Major John MacLeod in 1854, and finally had lyrics added in WWI
becoming a lament for soldiers lost.

The Culture of Music is based in appropriation itself, with an intent
of sharing what has been gathered and learned over time with the
cultures that those who carry music from one place to another. This
is going to make music one of, if not the hardest, aspect of
misappropriation to unpack. What is misappropriation to you and me in
a worship service, is a wholly anticipated and accepted form of
appropriation to the musicians.

Acknowledgment of the history of the music helps, and yet there was no acknowledgment made of the privilege we have to perform music, and to take music from other cultures where it means something more than what we can take out of performing it.
UUA Trustee, Tamara Payne-Alex

There are 2 very different halves there. The first is that we have a privilege to perform music. Personally, I see the RIGHT to perform music as one that behooves us as UUs to support. We have this privilege because we’ve spilt blood to ensure it, and that “we” is an encompassing one for all those who claim this country as their own.

The 2nd half is the privilege to take music from other cultures … Which is where we run smack dab into the problem of the Culture of Music again, and its appropriative nature.

This nature of appropriation that Musicians have, is one filled and built on respect, both for the other musicians and the cultures from whence they’ve come. If we as the GAPC are to continue to make music a integral part of GA, and if we are going to employ the services of the UUMN, we are going to start running into this same exact problem a LOT, because the musicians of the UUMN have been learned and bred in this culture of music, and see respect incarnate in the performance of these pieces.

As do I, but then again, I’m a musician.

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1 comment
  1. Kelly said:

    I appreciate the thoroughness of this argument and largely agree with it. Music is meant to be performed and shared. Specifically the work by Joseph Shabalala that was performed at GA, which unless I remember wrongly was the South African National Anthem. Joseph Shabalala wants his music to be shared and sung by people. He doesn’t specify who gets to sing it.
    Music is an inherent privelege in everyone – for lack of a better phrase it’s been given to us all by the grace of god(s/desses). The sheer ability to make music (note: no qualification as to what can be termed music) is almost a charge making it our duty to perform the music we hear – be it in our own heads, in the neighborhood, from a recording or halfway around the world. The respect must be there. Aknowlegement of context and history is good. But if i just heard my grandma singing on the porch when I was young and I carry that tune in my heart and sing it myself – sure, it may be out of context, but that doesn’t make it any less valid for me to sing it because it spoke to me in a way that compelled me to share it.

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