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Variation som röd tråd: en överblick
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of culture and media studies.
2009 (Swedish)In: Tradisjonell sang som levende prosess: nordiske studier i stabilitet og forandring, gjentagelse og variasjon / [ed] Halskov Hansen, Lene, Ressem, Astrid Nora, Åkesson, Ingrid, Oslo: Novus , 2009Chapter in book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This article gives the reader a sketch of what we usually conceive of as Nordic or Scandinavian traditional music and also a short introductionary discussion of the concepts of oral/aural and literary, stable and variable in traditional or vernacular music-making. These are issues that recur throughout the book. Furthermore, the article provides an outline of the different texts presented in this anthology, aiming to interweave the themes and lines of thought that reappear in the different articles regardless of the authors’ material and discipline. Variation of text and music show many common traits, and in the same way different vocal genres share several common characteristics.

The Nordic countries have much of their history in common, which implicates that many of the same cultural expressions exist in several countries and linguistic areas. Ever since the Middle Ages people have brought musical genres, dances, instruments and individual melodies to the Nordic region from the continent, the Slavic areas and the British Isles. This European cultural heritage has been reinterpreted in different ways and given diverse and local expressions across the Nordic region.

Singing and other music-making will often take place within several tension fields or continua, for example between literacy/mediation – oral/aural (Ong 1990). Is a song, or a piece of music, regarded as mainly a work of art or mainly as an ongoing process? Within the fields of both art music and popular music the predominant creative ideal is that of innovation, connected to some form of literacy and to the notion of music as the product of a specific composer. In the case of orally/aurally dominated genres – and most clearly evidenced during epochs of the past – the ideals and practices are significantly closer to the oral/aural end of the continuum. When the creative process is based on formulas, models and melodic types, higher value is placed on variation, repetition and recognition than on innovation: what matters is the momentary and unique manifestation of something that is already more or less familiar.

As a field of research, verbal culture/oral tradition – or perhaps we should call it "traditional" or "vernacular" creativity – has primarily been studied by scholars of folklore and by specialists from the academic fields of linguistics and literature. Emphasis has been laid on fairy-tales and other kinds of storytelling as well as on the epic singing traditions of different cultural regions. Along with Olav Solberg’s and Velle Espeland’s texts, this article presents an outline of Nordic research on orality/aurality and variation within the different sub-categories of traditional music, in particular over the last twenty years.

Also, taking my point of departure in the concepts of memorizing and formulaic composition respectively, as well as variation and combination – applied to both words and melody – I present a model of "traditional creativity" which operates in a continuum between memorizing and improvisation, between oral/aural and literary, and between stability and variation. Lastly I comment on the probable connection between some of the distinctive features of traditional variation described in this anthology and a horizontal, modal tonality, non-hierarchical and characterized by reference tones rather than by a functional harmonic structure.

The fact that several problematizations and notions recur in the different articles, notwithstanding the dissimilar background of the authors, points to the importance of transcending boundaries when studying traditional and vernacular music-making. It has proven very fruitful to keep a wider perspective in mind when studying different sub-genres, further, to study both textual and musical elements and problems simultaneously as they might prove mutually enlightening, and in general to combine different perspectives and points of departure. A lot of the subject matter and possible problematization of vocal traditional music will also be relevant for the study of instrumental traditional music, and vice versa.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Oslo: Novus , 2009.
, Skrifter / utgivna av Svenskt visarkiv, ISSN 0081-9840 ; 26
National Category
Cultural Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-35893ISBN: 978-82-7099-536-3OAI: diva2:349828
Available from: 2010-09-08 Created: 2010-09-08 Last updated: 2012-03-23Bibliographically approved

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