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Recent Researches in the Oral Traditions of Music

Photo of Philip V. Bohlman, general editorPhilip V. Bohlman, general editor

Recent Researches in the Oral Traditions of Music is an innovative publication series for musical traditions whose transmission is oral or relies only in part on notation as the starting point for improvisation. The oral traditions of music cross historical and geographical boundaries, interacting with the many cultures, repertoires, and genres that constitute the world’s music. The multiple ways in which the oral and the written intersect generate the many forms of representation captured by the editions that appear in this series. Oral traditions of music are equally as modern as they are historical. New media have been proliferating at a remarkable pace, making it possible to experience musics throughout the world immediately. Through their combination of historical notation systems, transcriptions of all aspects of performance, and the transformation of indigenous systems of representation for modern ensembles of world music, these editions make it possible not only to hear music otherwise exchanged only at distant times and places, but to open new possibilities for musicians and audiences in the twenty-first century.

The editions are not limited to genre or process of oral tradition, rather they range from folk music, such as the Jewish repertoires in The Folk Songs of Ashkenaz and Jewish Folk Songs from the Baltics, to the sacred and classical traditions of China in Celestial Airs of Antiquity and Chinese Buddhist Monastic Chants. Several volumes include sacred repertoires from Africa transmitted over the course of centuries (Ethiopian Christian Liturgical Chant) or sacred practices cultivated in the intimacy of a nineteenth-century home (Emily’s Songbook). The editions expand the very notion of orality beyond the common notion of song shared by a small group of unlettered musicians. Nineteenth-century music printing played a critical role in shaping new canons of folk music, such as the German folk-song traditions that laid the foundations for German nationalism in Deutsche Lieder für Jung und Alt. Twentieth-century technologies generate new oral traditions, for example, through the radio broadcasts in the early years of settlement in pre-statehood Israel in Robert Lachmann: The Oriental Music Broadcasts, 1936–1937.

In the twenty-first century, the oral traditions of music emerge in new and more complex forms, and these stretch as patterns of musical exchange and connection across the world. It is the goal of the volumes in Recent Researches in the Oral Traditions of Music to capture the ways in which the oral follows the transition to print forms that make it possible for contemporary musicians to sound oral repertoires for the growing audiences of world music. Because of the diverse musical traditions that these volumes gather, scholars have the opportunity to rethink the critical edition as a crucial component in the rapprochement between ethnomusicology, historical musicology, and music theory that has distinguished modern music scholarship for more than a generation. Recent Researches in the Oral Traditions of Music expands the ways in which global musical experiences can be made meaningful, allowing for deeper understanding of the oral foundations upon which all musics of the world are built.


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