The Shadow of Western Influence: The Impact of Western Practice on Musical Composition, Performance, and Education in Japan and Korea

Panel at SEM Annual Conference, 2008

Cultural dialogue with the West has historically required complex negotiations and rationalizations of other traditions, even for a non-colony. In the 1880s, the Japanese Ministry of Education made the conscious decision to adopt Western music, rather than traditional Japanese music, in its schools. This decision has had far-reaching consequences in musical life not only in Japan, whose citizens are more likely to be familiar with Beethoven than bunraku, but also in Korea, where the Japanese had imposed their system of musical education in the early 20thcentury.

Our panel explores the ramifications of taking Western music as the primary canon on the composing, theorizing, teaching, and performing of music--both traditional and Western--in Japan and Korea. With the introduction of school songs, Japanese composers and lyricists were challenged to fit the language to a new musical style; as explained by our first speaker, a technique accommodating to the language evolved over the ensuing decades and has persisted into contemporary times. The shadow of Western thought is also observed in traditional music, where the idea of the tetrachord, now regarded as fundamental to traditional Japanese melody, was mentioned by European observers as akin to ancient Greek music over 50 years before Koizumi’s groundbreaking work. The recent introduction of traditional Japanese music in the school system is explored by our third speaker, who examines the political motivation of the new policy and the processes and philosophies involved in its incorporation. Our final speaker addresses the persistence of traditional Korean elements, such as rhythmic cycles and melodies, in Korean hip-hop and their use by artists to project varying identities. We hence call attention to the multiple repercussions of accepting a foreign canon.

Noriko Manabe nmanabe at gc dot cuny dot edu