Western Europe: The Familiar Stranger
Andrew Killick [+]
University of Sheffield
One could, of course, also say that American music can be differentiated from African music primarily by its European American elements, and these now provide our entry point to the musical cultures of Europe itself. Although people came to America from all parts of Europe, it was immigrants from Northern and Western Europe (and especially the British Isles) that had the greatest influence initially, even if they brought musical practices that they had themselves acquired from elsewhere. Western European forms and concepts of music have become so familiar worldwide that they are often taken for granted as just “the way music is,” but for that reason, paradoxically, they remain little known at the level of conscious awareness. This chapter approaches the Western European musical heritage as a “stranger” whom we get to know anew as someone with a particular set of habits and idiosyncrasies shaped by particular experiences. Among these characteristics is the view of music as consisting of fixed “pieces” created by individual “composers,” as taking different forms for purposes of “art” and “entertainment,” and as being in a “key” (which, however, may change in the course of a piece). European ways of structuring music, including strophic and verse-refrain song forms, melodic structures with balanced strains and varied contours, and the use of “functional” harmony, are explained both musically—introducing terms for discussing aspects of pitch organization rather than rhythm—and culturally, in relation to the prevalent values and practices that produced them. Classical and popular music are discussed as well as folk, and this categorization itself is shown to be the product of a particular kind of society and history. Particular attention is paid to the role of Jewish musicians in bringing particular European melodic and harmonic techniques to America and combining them with syncopated African American rhythms to create the Tin Pan Alley songwriting tradition whose legacy endures to this day.