To the Four Corners: A Festschrift in Honor of Rose Brandel

    -- Edited by Ellen C. Leichtman, Michigan: Harmonie Park Press, 1994, 308 pages.

Dr. Rose Brandel is a renowned scholar, a composer of symphonies and sonatas, and a teacher. Some of her famous students and colleagues prepared this volume to honor her and recognize her important contributions to the field. She was one of the first major women scholars in ethnomusicology, and played a key role in the Society for Ethnomusicology in the 1950s. Her most influential book was “The Music of Central Africa” published in 1961. It is now regarded as a rare classic. A used copy sells for as much as $236.

This volume reflects Brandel’s wide-ranging interests with four sections on different geographic areas and a fifth section on dance.

The first three chapters deal with musical interchanges—between Japan and mainland Asia (William Malm), between gamelan musics of Java and Bali (Mantle Hood), and between Malaysia and the Middle East.

Bruno Nettl presents a fascinating article on the changing views and practices of music in an Islamic society (Iran). An excellent study of Tuareg 1-string fiddle music and regional styles comes from Algeria and Niger.

To help us understand rhythmic issues in African music, Ruth Stone proposes an “elastic view of rhythmic coordination.” She states, “There is no reason to consider the time line1 as the sole guide” that holds performers together. Instead, she looks at “African vertical and horizontal hemiola” as described in Brandel’s influential article (1959) and examines her own fieldwork among the Kpelle to discover indigenous concepts of rhythm.

J.H. Kwabena Nketia offers a masterful study of seperewa music, a harp-lute from Ghana. Little has been published about this instrument and tradition, and this lengthy article successfully fills the knowledge gap. It deals with the instrument, lyrics, performance, and melodic and lyrical generative processes. It also includes a detailed study of the connection between speech tone and song text.

“African-American Women in the Music Ministry” examines issues of gender and ideology in the Sanctified Church denomination in New York State. Three primary questions are raised: 1) How can the place of women within the church structure and the ministry of music be understood; 2) How do women musicians negotiate their gender and musical positions within a church that is primarily patriarchic; 3) What are the implications for feminist ethnomusicology?

Changing aesthetics of music and sound is here examined through a study of Broadway musicals and amplification. Some feel that the rate of change is too slow; others that it is too fast.

“Who can authentically represent a culture’s music?” This can be a hotly debated issue. David McAllester, who has studied Native American musics for over four decades, presents a study of R. Carlos Nakai, a flautist whose music is often categorized as “New Age.” McAllester gives this surprisingly broad conclusion: “Any music by any composer or performer who has anything to do with Native American culture, past or present, has to be recognized as some part of Native American music and is an ‘authentic’ aspect of it in that moment of history in which it exists.”

A thoughtful chapter by the editor connects Aymara music and dance of Bolivia with fundamental structural elements of society such as complementarity, symmetry and asymmetry, and cyclical patterning. Plena music of Puerto Rico also receives a chapter.

Dance is represented by two overview articles and a “panoramic” set of photos showing different dances around the world. 

Most of the material makes an interesting read no matter what your own specialty. Quite a few of the sixteen chapters can also serve as exemplary models for research. Brandel must have been quite proud of the high quality of this work published in her honor. The book is full of photos, figures, and music examples, and will stand as a lasting tribute to an influential pioneer in the field.


1 a pattern often played on a bell and/or rattle.

    --reviewed by Paul Neeley

Published in Vol.3, No.1 of

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Artists in Christian Testimony