Innovation in ethnomusicology; Music in Bulgaria: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture

Q. The interesting thing to me about the book is how the society evolved in Bulgaria and how musicians viewed those changes. To look at their view of their own music over time, was that innovative?

A. It's part and parcel of the field of ethnomusicology. But that's a good example of a social theory that ethnomusicologists use, without actually articulating it as a social theory. Ethnomusicologists believe that music is fundamentally social, probably in a culture that believes that music may be fundamentally an individual expression of an emotion, whether you yourself express an emotion, or you listen to it and it touches you emotionally, it is something about you as an individual. But ethnomusicologists are more interested, typically, in the social nature of those experiences. If we ever posited, like in physics, a thermodynamic law of music for example, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” our theory would be that if something in the society or culture changes, the music will change too. And that is what I was able to observe in Bulgaria. So the book of mine has two parts: the part that is the traditional society and the way the music worked in the traditional society. And when the communists came along and changed that traditional society and changed everything about it — its economic organization, its social organization, its cultural values — the music changed as a consequence, to deal with those changing things that were going on in economics, society, and culture. And then when the communist regime fell, ethnomusicologists would predict that the music is going to change again. We can't necessarily predict how it's going to change, but we certainly can predict it will change. And sure enough, it did change in many many respects. So I documented that in a second book that I wrote called Music in Bulgaria: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. I had a last chapter in that book that was what had happened in Bulgaria since the previous book that I had written, in which, again, state support for music was on the wane, people had much more freedom to do with music what they wanted to do, and they actually reacted.  It was like the equal and opposite reaction: if the communists said we should do it this way, now we're free of that communist regime, we're going to do it the opposite way. That was pretty interesting to document. I think those are all things that ethnomusicologists are doing all the time in the particular cultures that they're working on.

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