Author: John Miller Chernoff
Source: Keynote Address to the Southern Plains Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology at the University of North Texas, 2009.
Earlier version presented in 1990 at the Performance International Conference, Department of Performance Studies, Tisch School
“In 1979 I published a book called African Rhythm and African Sensibility (Chernoff, 1979). I subtitled the book Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms because my discussion focused on the nature of the rhythmic
medium in African music, and the central argument was a symbolic interactionist description of modes of communal participation in African musical contexts. The model of community I discussed in African Rhythm and African Sensibility is one that is not held together by ideas, by cognitive symbols or by emotional conformity. The community the book describes is established through the interaction of individual rhythms and the people who embody them. Somehow, and particularly dependent upon people coming from different individual places within the rhythmic structure of the music, a tightly cohesive whole is created, a whole that is more than its individual parts at the same time as it enhances them. Moreover, the process is not complicated but simple. Musicians and music-lovers could understand it easily. Even children can understand it, and a friend and I used the argument in the book to demonstrate the social dynamics in African music to more than 20,000 children in elementary schools in our home town.”
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