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How Musical Is Man? (Jessie and John Danz Lectures) Paperback – September 1, 1974

ISBN-13: 978-0295953380 ISBN-10: 0295953381 Edition: Reprint
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How Musical Is Man? (Jessie and John Danz Lectures) + The Study of Ethnomusicology: Thirty-one Issues and Concepts, 2nd Edition + The Anthropology of Music
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Product Details

  • Series: Jessie and John Danz Lectures
  • Paperback: 132 pages
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press; Reprint edition (September 1, 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0295953381
  • ISBN-13: 978-0295953380
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #627,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By M. Levitt - classical music buff on June 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
John Blacking was an ethnomusicologist who spent two years living with, and studying the Venda, a tribe in South Africa. As opposed to Western classical music where the few (professional concert musicians) are revered by the many, and only a handful are regarded as "talented" while most believe they have no "talent," with the Venda, everyone is expected to be able to perform; no one is excluded. Music is their religion.

In the first chapter of his small yet very powerful book, Blacking writes that when he began to live with and study the Venda, he believed that music began and ended with Western classical music, but, that after two years of living and studying the Venda and their music, he no longer understood Western music. Put differently, his experience living with and studying the Venda forced him to question all prior beliefs he had both about Western music and assumptions underlying them. The Venda taught him that all people have talent or musical ability. It is only Western values or myths that create hierarchies of talent and ability. And that these underlying Western values and myths subjugate countless people, causing them to dismiss key aspects of their inherent human potential, because of widespread belief that it is pointless to pursue musical ambitions only a fortunate few possess, but most do not.

Blacking's book is important not only as an ethnomusicological study, but has, I think, universal application because its underlying theses directly question Western assumptions and myths that adversely affect people regardless of musical preference. The book forces one to think, to challenge values one might previously have taken for granted.

I have recommended John Blacking's How Musical is Man?
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By William Benzon on May 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
This slim volume may be the be best single introduction to ethnomusicology we have. It is based on Blacking's fieldwork among the Venda, an agricultural people living in the African Transvaal. Blacking provides extensive musical examples and photographs covering children's music, ritual, spiritual possession, the musical calendar, etc. Unlike Westerners, who believe that only a few people are musical, the Venda believe that all people are musical and so all members of their culture actively make music.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Urie D. Kline on August 6, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Though Blacking is sometimes given to high-minded philosophizing about man's innate musical nature, "How Musical is Man?" provides an important counter-argument to Western notions of musical ability and musicality. While these arguments face less resistance than they did in the 70s, I recommend this book if you're a budding musicologist, anthropologist interested in music, or just a plain old humanist (like the author). Pick up an inexpensive copy today!
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11 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Gary Galvan on January 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
Western Michigan University Professor John Blacking (1928-1990) prefaces his intended answer to the titular question, How Musical is Man?, with the qualification that this work - originally printed in 1973 - is "not a scholarly study, so much as an attempt to reconcile my experiences." With this in mind, the reader should not be surprised to find a self-indulgent speculative which walks a fine line between narrowly focused ethnomusicologic comparative (Western society versus the Venda tribe of South Africa) and a loosely organized philosophical reflection. Ultimately, Blacking presents an indictment of Western culture with relatively rare bibliographic references. The absence of an index or collective bibliography, combined with the restricted assessment, limits the text's use as a convenient or scholarly reference. Nevertheless, it retains value as a time capsule of perspective from a pioneering ethnomusicological researcher.

Blacking divides his discussion into four sections: I. Humanly Organized Sound; II. Music and Society and Culture; III. Culture and Society in Music; IV. Soundly Organized Humanity. Throughout, he raises further questions crucial to answering the overriding inquiry. He describes the first three chapters as an attempt to show how research in ethnomusicology may resolve myriad related questions. In the final chapter he endeavors to address why answering the question is essential. Somehow he never quite answers the question satisfactorily.

After an enigmatic opening with what appears to be a feeble attempt at numerologic humor ("Ethnomusicology ... It's seven syllables do not give it any advantage over the pentasyllabic `musicology.
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