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Interview with Dr. Rokus de Groot (Musicologist and Composer; Chair of Musicology, University of Amsterdam; The Netherlands)

Dr. Rokus de Groot

Q1:  You made a comparison between polyphonic music and the world music that Per Ekedahl tries to produce through his musical organisations.  During his speech, he said that when different cultures sing one type of music together, it isn’t really considered “world music”.  Would you argue that polyphony is generally “world music”, because it combines different cultures and encourages them to work together, guarding against any kind of cultural domination?

That’s a good question.  First of all, polyphony rests upon the idea that all voices are equal.  So it can be elaborated in the way you mentioned.  I think it’s important to study the way in which polyphony has developed, to see what kind of tools we have to develop a new polyphony – an intercultural one.  It’s really something to find out together – that’s why both Per Ekedahl and I use the similar notions of horizontal learning and mutual learning, in which we listen to each other’s expertise and abilities, and then create polyphony together.  Otherwise, there might easily be a dominance of one over the other. For instance, harmonic thinking has been very much developed in the Western musical tradition.  If you put the emphasis on that, there is a danger of that system dominating.  In the Indian and Indonesian tradition, the harmonic complexity is different, but it’s also interesting to sound out one’s own ideas with mutual tuning.  It’s not something that can be finalized – we have to go on listening to each other’s knowledge and learn from that.

Q2:  So polyphony is an ever-developing genre, with regional variation?

It’s the attitude that’s more important, not the results at a typical time or place.  For instance, comparing the gamelan and the works of Johann Sebastian Bach – they are very different, but the mentalities behind both are very similar.

Q3:  You talked about music being important for providing emotional balance and comfort.

Comfort and acceptance.  It’s really wonderful that people can listen to and be moved by sad music – music helps one get through tragedy in life, and to accept it.  So it’s not so much comfort as acceptance, and also knowledge.

Q4:  Do you think a concept like polyphony could be applied to other forms of art, such as cinema or visual arts?  Could they have as much of a tangible effect as music does?

Theater certainly can, as can dance.  In film, the music and visuals are not always in synch.  I think it’s possible to explore the polyphony between media and film.  It’s also a challenge to deal with different voices at the same time.

 Q5:  Finally, within the UK, our national budget for arts and culture has been cut by 30%, due to the economic crisis, supposedly with the reason that there are more worthwhile areas in which to invest government money.  Do you think national governments and the EU are too hasty in not providing enough money for culture and music, when it actually is a really vital aspect of human interaction, and there’s a genuine human need for not just economic stability, but for musical interaction and appreciation of the arts?

I agree completely that there is.  Not only that, but I also wish to lift the barriers between different disciplines in schools – music hours, history hours, art hours.  I would like to see them fused.  Returning to the example of the gamelan -by listening to the gamelan, you can discover so many layers of Indonesian history – the Bronze Age, Arabic rule, the arrival of the Indian traders, and so on.  When learning history, if you were to concentrate on the music, you can find an audible context for this history.  I’m strongly supportive of integrating the arts into every discipline.

Conducted by Moushumi Bhadra & Ashley Fitzpatrick, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy
Center for Cultural Diplomacy Studies Publication
Institute for Cultural Diplomacy

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The London Art as Cultural Diplomacy ConferenceAugust 21st, 2013


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