Presentational and Participatory Music

The concept of a concert is central to Western classical music but is not in the vast majority of musical cultures throughout the world. Yet, as areas are colonized both politically and culturally, musical culture is also changed. In a chapter about Zimbabwean music from Thomas Turino’s Music as Social Life, he discusses the shift in Zimbabwean musical culture from heterogeneous and participatory to homogeneous and presentational. The world’s image of Zimbabwean music became directed by the cosmopolitan culture among the new middle class in urban centers. There is something very appealing about an organized version of a country being portrayed to the world, but it marginalizes the musical experiences of most people. A shift in musical culture from participatory to presentational has profound effects on the act of making music and that music’s reception. For instance, imagine a classically trained philharmonic orchestra performing in a small village in a country whose inhabitants speak a totally different language and live a communal, farming lifestyle. When the orchestra came to perform, they would not understand the music or its presentation. In fact, the presentation might be just as foreign as the music itself. Western classical music has its own inherent rules of performance in regard to physical presentation, attire, skill level, audience participation, decorum, and musical education. In Western classical music, the performers dress in very nice attire and it is expected that the audience will as well. The audience is expected to only clap between pieces and not between movements. Noise during the performance should be nonexistent. The music of this fictional village is probably very different in its performance, which is participatory as opposed to presentational. When the classical music is performed in this setting, all parties are affected. This change in space may also cause both the performers and the audience to be uncomfortable.


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