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The Integration of African Musical Elements into Western Classical Music

  • Author(s): Thierman, Jamie Marie
  • Advisor(s): Lefkowitz, David S
  • Krouse, Ian
  • et al.
Abstract

Volume I:

In the last several decades, composers of classical music have been looking for

inspiration from music of non-Western cultures. This dissertation explores the music of six different composers who have been influenced by African music and incorporated their studies and recordings into new works. Four of these composers have Western backgrounds: John Cage, György Ligeti, Steve Reich, and David Fanshawe; while the other two composers, Joshua Uzoigwe and Kevin Volans, were born and grew up in Africa. This study examines how these six composers use African musical elements in their own compositions, and why they chose the specific elements they did. This dissertation can be used as a reference for other composers and musicians who wish to understand this type of cross-cultural synthesis and inspiration, and create it themselves.

Volume II:

Sankofa is a piece of music that was inspired by my studies and practice of West-African

drumming and song. In the first movement, the wind ensemble embodies the three basic sounds (low, medium, and high tones) that can be produced on hand drums. The sparse texture in the first half is gradually filled in piece by piece, until a whole idea is formed from a patchwork of components from the individual instrumental sections, much in the way a West-African drum pattern is made of the polyphony from several individual parts. The second movement was inspired by the idea of Pygmy singing in Central Africa. These polyphonic Pygmy songs are comprised of many simultaneous vocal lines, seemingly unrelated by time, producing a blend of pitches and pulse. The music of the second movement explores this timeless effect by metrically modulating from section to section. The third movement consists of two forces, a drum ensemble and a wind ensemble, which at first oppose each other, but gradually each finds a way to live within the other force, leading to an overlap of the two forces at the end. The entire work is approximately twenty minutes long. The instrumentation is for standard wind ensemble, including auxiliary instruments, piano, harp, and djembe drums.

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