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Example 3 Research, Part 1: Early History of Scottish Music

While trying to find musical traditions that used pentatonic scale, naturally, Scotland came up. Like in my other blog posts, I start with the obscure, early history. There aren’t many sources available, but luckily, I came across some transcripts and videos of John Purser’s “Scotland’s Music: A Radio History” and his other works.


Fig. 1. Stone circle in Easter Acquhorthies

The ancient sounds in Scotland may have started with the prehistoric megalithic stone structures, which “…are now emerging clearly, rather than speculatively, as places for music-making as well as ritual,” (Purser, 1998: 325) when speaking, chanting or making other vocal sounds may have been considered as a form of communication with the dead, as suggested by Lynch. (quoted by Mills, 2016: 65) Among these is the stone circle in Easter Acquhorthies (Fig. 1), that dates from around 3000BC. Watson and Keating (1999: 327) found interesting acoustic properties, where the recumbent setting acted comparable to the stage in a theatre, projecting sound across the monument. Though, it is not possible to demonstrate that this type of prehistoric monuments was constructed specifically for acoustic effects. Continue reading “Example 3 Research, Part 1: Early History of Scottish Music”

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Example 2 Research, Part 1: Mythical Ancient Chinese Music

The earliest part of Chinese history before the Xia Dynasty, documented as the first Chinese dynasty, is shrouded in legend, known as the Mythical Period. The problem with this period, as Girardot (1976:294–95) points out, is that there was an extreme paucity and fragmentation of mythological accounts. Regardless, I will give some of the versions of the myths and legends I’ve found.


Fig.1. PanGu sculpture with horns and yin-yang axe Continue reading “Example 2 Research, Part 1: Mythical Ancient Chinese Music”

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Example 1 Research, Part 3a: Early neumatic notation

“Before notation was employed to codify chant melodies, and provide an aid to learning and preservation, the music was performed from memory” (Hiley, 1993: 370), or the way musicians like to say – ‘by ear’. Thus, with plainchants, we are not dealing with “… a repertory transmitted in writing, but one remembered and later codified differently in different places.” Even after notation began to be used, most performing was continued from memory. Notation was there only to remind the singer of details of phrasing, rhythm, dynamic, together with some refinements of performance. In this regard, the early notated manuscripts weren’t ‘performing scores’ in the modern sense, but on contrary, were used to refresh the memory, for recordatio – as was known in the Latin West.


Fig. 1. Examples of neumes

The notation of the Western plainchant traditions is based on the Carolingian neumes (Fig. 1) which emerged in the 9th century. The main difference between the neumatic notation and the notation utilized today is that, neumes weren’t so much about designating the signs for single tones, but rather for the groups of two, three or more tones in various combinations of upward and downward motion. As Hiley writes, the term itself was often used in the early Middle Ages to mean a melodic phrase, while the usual word for a written musical symbol was nota. Thus, he goes even further as to state that: “A neuma could be as short as one note or as long as 101 notes.” (Hiley, 1993: 341) For example, around 1030, Guido draws an interesting analogy between the construction of metrical verse and that of a melody: Continue reading “Example 1 Research, Part 3a: Early neumatic notation”

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Example 1 Research, Part 2: The Formative Years of the Christian Plainchant

Christianity arose among Jews in the Roman Judea in the 30s and 40s of the first century AD in the wake of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. As Smith (2011: 167) writes, the Christianized Jews, “although they added a Christian dimension to their Jewish system of belief, nevertheless followed a lifestyle which for the most part didn’t differ much from the accepted Jewish norms.” There was a close relationship between the two communities in apostolic and postapostolic times through to the fifth century, and the New Testament testify that the two religions often shared places of worship, even while the Christians were gradually coming to feel unwelcome there. At its origin, initially regarded as a movement or sect within Judaism, it should come as no surprise to find numerous imprints of Jewish heritage on the musical traditions of the Christian Church.


Fig. 1. Model of the Second Temple in Jerusalem Continue reading “Example 1 Research, Part 2: The Formative Years of the Christian Plainchant”

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Example 1 Research, Part 1: Introduction to the Western Plainchant

While writing example 1 for project 5, I noticed that even though the melody I’ve composed was in the pentatonic scale, its free flow resembled a bit of the western plainchants. For that reason, I wanted to research more on the subject.


Fig. 1. Medieval illumination with three monks singing from a manuscript

Plainchant is a type of monophonic (single-voiced) sacred music performed a cappela (without instruments). It represents the earliest music of the Christian church. (Fig. 1) Continue reading “Example 1 Research, Part 1: Introduction to the Western Plainchant”

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Example 1 Research, Part 5: Pentatonicism in the Gregorian Chant

In the introductory post, I mentioned how the first pentatonic example I wrote, combined with the free flow of the melody, somehow ended up resembling a Western chant, which inspired me to start this research and brought me to a stream of scholarly thought, where pentatonic scale is seen as the underlying framework of the Gregorian chant[1].

This link is not surprising, since, as I’ve mentioned before, pentatonic scale is common to early cultures through the world. Beside the Far Eastern and Celtic cultures, Engel (1870: 138, 153-57), Gavaert (1875: 4-5), Helmholtz (1890: 257-258), Riemann (1916), Sachs (1943: 204, 218-221) and others suggest its relationship in the antiquity with the West and the Middle East, including the Greek, Assyrian and Egyptian music. Also, authors like Szabolcsi (1948: 309-13) and Sendrey (1969: 212) argue that early Hebraic melodies appeared to have been based largely on the pentatonic scale. Furthermore, Glantz (2008: 192-193) points out that the Nusach service for the weekday morning Amidah is based on the pentatonic scale – its original mode, and his theory asserts that Ashkenazi liturgical music repertoire is almost entirely under the pentatonic scale. Continue reading “Example 1 Research, Part 5: Pentatonicism in the Gregorian Chant”