This volume invites its readers to listen to the moments when playing music transforms into musical play. While reading, I remembered linking arms with friends after youth-orchestra rehearsals and skipping along the sidewalk, our skips keeping time as we sang Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Overture to Candide’. Or, rather, meowed. YouTube cat videos were a staple of US youth culture during my adolescence in the late 2000s so we sang our individual instrument parts to ‘Candide’ on a ‘meow’ syllable. As a flute player, it was an especially fun challenge to make my meowing entrance two octaves higher than my vocal range, a musical attempt that would often end our rendition in a cadence of giggles. Reading the Handbook called forth this memory and gave me new ways of understanding it—I realized that we had created a unique arrangement of Bernstein’s overture through our combination of playful and rhythmic movement, US youth internet culture, formal instrumental music training, and collective creativity. Moreover, the Handbook re-categorized for me such experiences, often brushed aside as ‘insignificant’ and ‘childish’, as knowledge ripe for scholarly analyses. A collection of thirty-five essays edited by Patricia Shehan Campbell and Trevor Wiggins, the Handbook makes a valuable contribution by legitimizing scholarly study of children and music, offering a wide array of analytical and methodological approaches, and balancing its display of the diversity of children’s music across the globe with the universality of music’s presence in children’s lives. Indeed, anyone reading this Handbook will be reminded that, whatever the focus of our individual work, we all share a connection to children’s musical cultures because we all have childhoods and all childhoods involve music. The Handbook urges its readers to listen more closely and thoughtfully to memories from our own childhoods and to the sounds created by and for children that surround us in our everyday lives. Despite the universal presence of music in children’s lives, music scholars rarely focus explicitly on either children as research subjects or age as a critical lens. This is down to a range of reasons: scholars either do not notice that adult culture has been taken to speak for all cultures, or assume that children are ‘blank slates’ or underdeveloped adults. Cultural biases also tend to link children with negative connotations. For example, in the Handbook Judah M. Cohen explains that the expression ‘You’re acting like a child’ invokes children as naive and in need of discipline (p. 63). As Campbell and Wiggins point out, scholarship that does take children into account often does not let them speak or sing for themselves. But there is much to be gleaned from focusing on and listening to children. Children create, consume, and perform music in a variety of ways that can be analysed for cultural, educational, psychological, and social meaning. They draw from and influence adult culture, and they create their own. In her chapter on Venda children, Andrea Emberly listens directly to children themselves, thus highlighting their agency and emphasizing the importance of their self-representation. Moreover, scholarly work on childhood elicits the term’s deconstruction, showing how the categories of ‘child’ and ‘adult’ are not neatly defined. Such work encourages us to question how the differences between children and adults are articulated and represented, and what those differences mean. In this regard, the Handbook not only analyses children’s musical cultures, but is also is a call to action for music scholars to take children and their music seriously. The forty authors included in the Handbook are among a small but growing community researching music in relation to children, childhood, and youth. In terms of scholarly disciplines, the majority of contributors are ethnomusicologists and music educators; the Handbook also includes chapters by psychologists, folklorists, and anthropologists. At the time of publication in 2013, it represented one of only two edited collections focusing on children with sizable contributions by ethnomusicologists. The other collection, Musical Childhoods and the Cultures of Youth, edited by music historians Susan Boynton and Roe-Min Kok (2006) comprises ten essays by ethnomusicologists and music historians critically analysing the intersections of childhood, youth, and music across various chronological and geographic contexts. Surprisingly, there is minimal overlap between contributors to the two volumes, with the ethnomusicologist Cohen the only exception. The palpable absence of music historians in The Oxford Handbook seems strange considering the presence of the earlier collection, which broke new ground and was well received, and the Handbook editors’ commitment to interdisciplinarity stated in their Introduction. However, while Campbell and Wiggins cite Boynton and Kok's collection, their literature review largely positions the Handbook within anthropology, ethnomusicology, folklore, and education. More recently in 2016, Allison Adrian and Jacqueline Warwick published, Voicing Girlhood in Popular Music: Performance, Authority, Authenticity, an edited collection of twelve chapters by musicologists, ethnomusicologists, and popular-music scholars that takes a gender- and genre-specific approach to children’s musical cultures and demonstrates a significant example of scholarship that has built upon the two preceding collections. The Handbook’s chapters are organized into three parts: Part I: ‘Engagements with Culture: Socialization and Identity’ (16 chapters); Part II: ‘Personal Journeys in/through Culture’ (4 chapters); and Part II: ‘Music in Education and Development’ (15 chapters). Part I has two subparts, ‘(Re)making Cultures for/by Children/Updating Tradition’ and ‘Cultural Identities with Multiple Meanings’. The how and why for these groupings are unclear, as I found more resonances among chapters across different parts and subparts rather than within them. Compounding the ambiguity, Campbell and Wiggins’s Introduction lists three broad topics of the Handbook on page 7—but the topics do not match the titles of the three parts or subparts. Furthermore, the Introduction describes and explains these three broad topics in terms only approximate to the titles of the individual parts, for example ‘Engagements with Culture: Socialization and Identity’, but then discusses chapters from across the three parts. Even if readers are more likely to select chapters rather than read the entire Handbook, these organizational inconsistencies hinder rather than facilitate its use. Indeed, I had read selections prior to preparing for this review, and the latter exercise revealed that I had missed several chapters valuable for my own work. Yet navigational challenges may be a fair price to pay for two of the Handbook’s greatest strengths: the sheer number of contributors and its breadth of geography, content, and methods. The front matter includes a world map labelled with all the geographic locations represented in the Handbook, spanning an impressive array of countries and continents. ‘Musical cultures’ is broadly defined in the volume, including music made for and by children, and from a variety of genres, musical sources, and modes of transmission. Essays focusing on preschool and early childhood by Mayumi Adachi and Peter Whiteman mark the youngest ages studied in the Handbook. To judge by the other contributions, there is no clarity about the age at which childhood ends, which speaks to the slippery definition of childhood itself. Loosely speaking, the cut-off point seems to be about 18 years old, as there are no essays on college-age or full-time working youth, and 18 is the legal age of majority in North America, the continent that represents the greatest number of contributions. The essays are linked by their focus on analysing musical cultures in children’s lives. A few authors attempt to capture all of children’s musical interactions within a specific nation-state, often across broad time periods. By trying to say too much, however, these chapters do not say much at all. Especially engaging and enriching chapters tend to focus on a specific area and approach to children’s music, such Sonja Lynn Downing’s study of girls’ gamelan education at three organizations in Bali, and Tyler Bickford’s essay on schoolchildren’s material use of media in rural Vermont. The Handbook’s methodological tendencies also determine its scope. Ethnography is the most popular approach and situates many chapters in the twenty-first century, but this does not exclude several authors from using various forms of musical analysis and transcription as well as historical materials and methods. Autoethnographic accounts are present throughout the volume, from Marisol Berríos-Miranda’s ‘Musical Childhoods across Three Generations, from Puerto Rico to the USA’ (starring Berríos-Miranda, her mother, and her grandmother), to Chee-Hoo Lum and Eugene Dairianathan’s reflections on how interviews with a young piano student in Singapore interweave with memories from Lum’s own childhood. Several ethnographies are set in specific schools, such as Robert Pitzer’s work on the Yakama Nation Tribal School and Carlos R. Abril’s study of a Chicago high school band programme, offering observations from the classroom and the hallways. Alexandra Kertz-Welzel delightfully analyses German children’s drawings, and several authors, including Amanda Minks, transcribe not only musical sounds but also the movements of play and playground games. Christopher Roberts takes an ethnographic approach to historical recordings of children in New York City, and Anna Hoefnagles and Kristen Harris Walsh brilliantly analyse the impact of 1970s Canadian folk musicians on canon formation in children’s music. Folklorists Hoefnagles and Walsh rely on historical approaches, again calling into question the Handbook’s absence of contributions by music historians, who would use similar methods. Several themes resonate between chapters, encouraging scholars in gender, cultural, class, race, and postcolonial studies to hear children’s music with newly attuned ears. Chapters focusing on girlhood demonstrate how gender difference is negotiated within the category of childhood as well as how relationships between girls and women bridge the child/adult dichotomy. Intergenerational approaches by Cohen, Berríos-Miranda, and Sara Stone Miller and Terry E. Miller show how childhood is closely linked to formations of family, parenthood, and community. Authors such as Natalie Sarrazin and Beatriz Ilari show how class differences intersect with gender to influence children’s musical interactions. Issues of race, (neo)colonialism, and Westernization resound, at times showing prideful realizations of racial and cultural identity through music (Marvelene C. Moore’s study of African-American children’s playground songs), while discussions of Western classical music demonstrate how formal instruction is often linked with colonizing agendas. Such work builds upon essays from Boynton and Kok's 2006 collection, particularly Kok’s postcolonial interpretation of her childhood musical training in Malaysia. The influences of diverse media sources upon children’s lives is another common theme, and one mirrored through the Handbook’s multimedia companion website. Twenty-three of the thirty-five chapters include companion website materials, used in a variety of ways. Janet Sturman uses song transcriptions and high-resolution photographs on the website as well as black and white photos printed in the Handbook to enhance her analyses of music-education case studies in Mexico, which tell the tales of a cartoon cricket, a puppet-theatre company, and an effort to revitalize the native language. Noriko Manabe makes one of the most extensive uses of the website, with images and audio files that demonstrate multiple versions and haunting renditions of Japanese schoolchildren’s wartime propaganda songs. Heitai gokko is striking for its sonic depiction of gunfire. For Handbook readers who find interest in particular chapters, the website offers a robust expansion of resources. Authors, including Alan M. Kent and Hope Munro Smith, list web links that allow readers to use the relatively short chapters to dive deeply into their topics. Bickford cleverly displays photos of schoolchildren’s manipulated MP3 players on the website, thus adapting technology to show children’s adaptions of their technologies. Overall, the transformation from music played for and by children to music as the material of play was the loudest refrain throughout the chapters. The Handbook easily could have been entitled ‘cultures of children’s music and play’, with its bountiful connections to play, playfulness, movements, and enjoyment. But why should ‘play’, broadly construed across all age groups, be restricted to childhood? At what point do we become too ‘serious’ for ‘play’, too serious for children and their musical cultures? The Handbook encourages us to flip the script and embrace play, to listen intently to children’s music, songs, and melodies, and to refresh our own childhood memories through scholarly lenses and perspectives. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Music and Letters – Oxford University Press
Published: May 15, 2018
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