Category Archives: music

North Korean Career Hopes

From The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story, by Hyeonseo Lee (William Collins, 2015), Kindle Loc. 1455-1466:

You would expect between school friends a more honest conversation about our hopes for the future, and what we wanted to do with our lives, and that did happen, to an extent. But by the time we were ready to graduate, we had learned to trim our expectations in line with our songbun. Our choices fell within a certain range. In my class, the few of us with good songbun either took the university entrance exam or, if they were boys, went straight to military service. A few were able, through family connections, to land good jobs with the police or the Bowibu. More than half the students in my class were in the songbun ‘hostile’ category. A list of their names was sent to a government office in Hyesan, where officials assigned them to mines and farms. One girl from this group took the test to enter university, and passed, but was not permitted to go.

My good songbun meant I could plan. My dreams were private and modest. I wanted to be an accordionist. It’s a popular instrument in North Korea and a woman who could play it well had no difficulty making a living. That would be my official career, but, like my mother, I also wanted to trade, start an illicit business, and make money. I thought this would be exciting. I also knew that it would be the only way to ensure that my own family, when one day I had children of my own, would have enough to eat.

My mother fully supported the accordion career choice, and found a musician from the theatre in Hyesan to give me tuition. She said my father would have been pleased, as he’d always enjoyed accordion music. This made me cry.

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The Strength of Edo-period Culture

From Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600–1868, by Nishiyama Matsunosuke, trans. and ed. by Gerald Groemer (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), pp. 8-9:

The strength of Edo-period culture is not to be found in extant artifacts of the era. Rather, its strength lies chiefly in its spectacular breadth and diversity. This was a period of unprecedented cultural prosperity. Even the general public took part in leisure pursuits and played an active role in the creation of new cultural forms. The average commoner read books or visited the theater; some even wrote haiku verses and senryū (seventeen-syllable comic verse) or performed musical genres such as gidayū, kato bushi, shinnai, or nagauta. Others went on pilgrimages sponsored by religious associations (kō) and toured distant places. The Edo period saw a rise in the quality of culinary fare that commoners consumed; clothing and housing too showed marked improvement. Even the poor managed occasionally to indulge in the luxury of purchasing a “custom-made” comb or an ornamental hairpin. The demand for such cultural items fostered the development of a highly refined handicraft industry. Never before had there been such an extraordinary variety of hand-made cultural artifacts in Japan.

Even in remote areas in the countryside or on distant, isolated islands, inhabitants cultivated rare varieties of flowers and trees and marketed unusual rocks or curiosities. As Suzuki Bokushi (1770-1842) noted in his Akiyama kikō (Autumn Mountain Travelogue, 1831), people in every corner of the land were busy manufacturing local specialties. Such articles were being produced, one by one, by thirty million people. By the late Edo period this activity had stimulated an unprecedented development of the transportation network. Mountain roads, waterways, and sea routes were extended in all directions to every nook and cranny of the country. Indeed, the construction of footpaths during the late Edo period can be seen as a kind of symbol of this golden age of handicraft culture.

No doubt, Japan today boasts a high level of culture. But the price has been high as well: severe environmental pollution and the wholesale destruction of nature. Until the end of the Edo period, red-crested cranes could still be seen soaring through the skies over the city; swans and geese flocked to Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park. Foxes and badgers were found everywhere, and cuckoos (hototogisu) flourished in such numbers that their song was considered a nuisance. Even during the late Meiji period the water of the Sumida River was clean enough to be used for brewing tea while boating. Human activity imparted only minimal damage to nature. Viewed in this way, Edo-period culture seems almost ideal.

Certain elements of the Edo-period cultural heritage were vulgar, no doubt, but a more comprehensive view of the period reveals an almost infinite number of admirable qualities. Nevertheless, after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, governmental policies of modernization and westernization dictated a wholesale rejection of the preceding feudal era. Even the best elements of Edo-period culture were deemed outdated and vulgar and were thought to require prompt and thorough extirpation. That the true value of Edo-period culture could not yet be properly assessed had much to do with the lack of any inquiry into its origins and actual conditions. Recent research, however, has shown that Edo-period culture was outstanding in its own way and not at all inferior to the culture of earlier or later periods.

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One Child’s Language: at 18 months

Her attention span is getting longer and longer. She can concentrate for 10 or 15 minutes on taking things apart and putting them back together, on putting all 10 or 20 shapes through the matching holes in one of her puzzle toys, on reading books with one or the other of us. She can spend even longer listening to her tapes of children’s songs, although sometimes she spends more time pushing the play and stop buttons than listening to her songs. She is especially fond of the Finger Band song, during which she imitates the clarinet, piano, and trombone motions; the Buzzing Bees song, during which she imitates the buzzing sound by blowing a ‘raspberry’ (or ‘Bronx cheer’); the Teddy Bear song, during which she holds her big teddy bear up by the ears and dances back and forth; and, of course, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, during which she ‘twinkles’ her hands.

She has finally started to take a real interest in language. Her earliest words several months ago were mostly imitations of sounds. (The first sound she ever imitated was—incredibly—the hooting of an owl, something she has never seen nor heard in real life.) For persons, places, and things, she has followed the Universal Language strategy recommended by the scientifically minded inhabitants of Lagardo that Gulliver met in his travels: just make sure you have available (by carrying them around if you have to) a sample of every object you care to refer to. That way, you can just point to what you want to say, without having to translate from one language to another. For actions, rather than objects, she usually performs the motions herself. This reduces a lot of our own conversation with her to one-word utterances. But now she is starting to produce some of her own.

The first consonants she tackled were [t] and [d]. She has them under relatively good control now and has definitely mastered [dadi] (the word as well as the person). Next, she began to work on words starting with [p] and [b]. Sometime last month, she suddenly realized that her counting word [tuti] had two components and started saying just [tu]. It wasn’t long before she was counting [tu] for one step and [ti] for the next. Then one day she counted out [pai] as well. Now she can repeat [tu], [ti], [po], [pai], but she hasn’t mastered the meaning of any except [tu]. Another [p]/[b] word she has added recently is [bow] ‘go’ (versus [taa] or [paa] ‘stop’). The [oh] vowel is also new, and she stretches it—and her lips—to great lengths pronouncing it. Another lip sound she has added is [w]. Her first [w] word was a strangely produced [weyl]. Her tongue tip shot all the way out of her mouth during the [l] (ell) part of it. It used to be one of her babbling sounds, but we attached it to the picture of a ‘whale’ in one of her books, and she has since used it to label ‘wheels’, ‘nails’, and ‘mail’. The other new vowel is [eh], which appears in [wey] ‘away’, another favorite word. It also appears in [tu-tu tey] ‘choo-choo train’. She seems to make no attempt to repeat a word unless it contains sounds close to those she is working on at any particular moment.

When she mastered [w], she promptly added [wow] to her verbal expressions. But she has never attempted [m], [n], or [ng].

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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One Child’s Language: at 11 months

Three social encounters that happened at about the some time showed us very clearly how uncomfortable she is with a lot of fussing and close attention by people she doesn’t know very well. First, we took her in to the Deloitte office (where her dad used to work). There are a bunch of friendly women there who love to poke, hold, tickle, and tease babies. She froze until we walked away from the crowd, where she could run about well out of reach of any eager arms. At about the same time, we took her in for her first picture-taking experience. It was very nearly a disaster what with all the close attention the photographer and her assistant was giving her. But the same weekend, I had letters to drop off with some Yapese teachers who were in Waikiki on their way home. I walked into their hotel room with her and then put her down on the floor. Soon she was squatting near one of them, watching as he repacked his suitcase. Later, she was playing between the chairs where two other men were sitting, just as content as could be. The difference here was that these folks weren’t paying any attention to her.

Music and dance continue to be an important to her. Sometimes music is the only thing that will calm or distract her. We have a variety of cassettes, but I guess she really hasn’t heard much hard rock or country western. On the day she was crying so much we used them all. She recognized the Dave Brubeck tape as one that Daddy has danced to with her; she had been sitting in my lap, but as soon as that tape came on, she reached out for him.

She has begun to follow our fingers when we point, and she uses her own index fingers to point, too. Outside she points out all the buses; we ride them twice a day now to her babysitter’s place, so they are really important to her. At home, she points to things she wants or things she wants us to name or talk about.

Her passive vocabulary is growing rapidly. Every day she recognizes more and more things by name, and it now seems to take very few instances of repetition before she “has it.” Her spoken vocabulary seems to be shrinking, but she makes the few syllables she’s using go far, and she has begun to add final consonants to some of them.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston Public Schools.

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Wordcatcher Tales from the Merrie Monarch

Each year the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawai‘i, showcases the best of the best in Hawaiian hula, which nowadays includes performances by hālau from overseas, where some of the top hālau have branches. I haven’t watched it that regularly, but it is easier now that KITV in Honolulu offers a special Merrie Monarch website with stories, slideshows, and streaming video.

Hawaiian hula has a lot of distinctive terms and cultural practices that are usually not translated into English. Kaua‘i’s Ka ‘Imi Na‘auao O Hawai‘i Nei has a helpful webpage that explains the principal roles and responsibilities within a hālau. And Hula Traditions has a useful page naming and explaining dozens of different types of hula. Thanks to KITV’s helpful video captioning, I also picked up a few new words this year.

Each Merrie Monarch Hula Kahiko has three formal segments (like a concerto), introduced by an oli (‘chant’), which can be intoned by either the ‘olapa (dancers) or the ho‘opa‘a (‘memorizer’, chanter, drummer, maestro). In the individual Miss Aloha Hula competition, however, the dancer is judged on both her oli and her hula, so she must perform both. The center of each hula is the mele, the processional/lead-in movement is called the ka‘i, and the recessional/exit movement is called the ho‘i. The spectators are not generally expected to remain silent between the movements, and they often break into cheers as the mele gets underway.

I like the traditional Hula Kahiko (‘ancient’) much more than the modern Hula ‘Auana (‘wandering, straying’), and only watched the Kahiko performances this year. One of my favorites among the Wahine Kahiko was Kumu Kapua Dalire-Moe’s Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniākea‘s “Kaulilua I Ke Anu Wai‘ale‘ale,” a hula pahu (to drum beat) that was performed at the coronation of King David Kalākaua, the Merrie Monarch himself. I liked the subdued costumes, stately movements, and excellent synchrony. Very suitable for a coronation.

But I was also utterly entranced by Kumu Rae K. Fonseca’s Hālau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani (Hilo hometown favorites), whose Kane Kahiko and Wahine Kahiko performances both took wonderfully vigorous advantage of the percussive effects of the wooden stage itself.

The first authentic hula I can remember seeing was in the early 1970s at Hawai‘i Loa College, where a seemingly frail ‘Iolani Luahine performed a vigorous Kane Kahiko, even slapping her chest and biceps. In fact, she was instrumental in preserving and passing on many of the key elements of men’s hula.

UPDATE: Well, the judges really went for the hula ma‘i, which traditionally celebrated the chiefly genitals at the birth of a new heir. Hula ma‘i are performed later in the evening and are full of suggestive movements and rich double-entendres. Language proficiency has become ever more important in evaluating Hawaiian hula compositions and performances. The hula ma‘i performed by the women of Kumu Sonny Ching’s Hālau Nā Mamo O Pu‘uanahulu was indeed very finely executed, and the performance by longtime veteran Kumu O’Brian Eselu’s Ke Kai O Kahiki was by far the most athletically demanding and the most lascivious men’s hula I have ever seen. In fact, the men and women of Ke Kai O Kahiki were the overall winners, while those of Hālau Nā Mamo O Pu‘uanahulu took second place.

Ke Kai O Kahiki means ‘The Sea of Tahiti’ and would have been *Te Tai O Tahiti before *t shifted to /k/ in what later evolved into Standard Hawaiian. But the title of the suggestive mele in the hula ma‘i performed by the men of Ke Kai O Kahiki was Tū ‘Oe, which preserves the earlier *t. (If tū corresponds to kū ‘stand tall’, perhaps the title might be translated as “Get it up, you!”)

Now, there’s another suggestive mele full of both double-entendres and instances of /t/ in place of /k/ (but /k/ as well). Tewetewe ‘back and forth’ is ostensibly about the little red-tail goby fish (‘o‘opu hi‘ukole). I wonder if the use of the old-fashioned /t/ in both mele is just coincidental.

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Tokelauan Diaspora Language Revival

The Far Outliers recently had the chance to attend a Polynesian music and dance performance by Te Lumanaki o Tokelau i Amelika ‘The Future of Tokelau in America’, and I’ve added a few photos of it to my Flickr account. They recently won the Po Fatele competition at the Tokelau Festival in New Zealand. One thing that appealed to me about the performance was the combination of vigorous dance and wonderful Polynesian choral harmonies at the same time. You don’t get that combination so much these days in Hawai‘i, although you can hardly beat the vocal harmonies at the Kamehameha Song Contest or the hula at the Merrie Monarch Festival each year. Two other nice features of the Tokelauan troupe were the youth of the performers, the youngest of whom were learning by doing, just as they would in a less formal village setting; and the atoll-authentic percussion instruments: a slit-gong (pate), a biscuit tin (apa), and a wooden box (pokihi).

The background story about how this group got started is chronicled by two linguists, Yuko Otsuka and Andrew Wong, in an article in Language Documentation & Conservation 1, no. 2 (December 2007), from which I’ll excerpt a few of the highlights:

Tokelauan is a Polynesian language closely related to Samoan. Together with English, it is an official language of Tokelau, an island territory of New Zealand, with approximately 1,400 speakers (Gordon 2005). The total number of speakers of Tokelauan is estimated to be approximately 4,000, including those living in American Sāmoa, New Zealand, and the United States. The first missionaries came to Tokelau from Sāmoa. Noting the resemblance of the language spoken on the islands to Samoan, they decided to use the Samoan Bible instead of translating it into Tokelauan. Thus, Tokelauans read the Samoan Bible till this day….

Like many other Polynesian peoples, more Tokelauans live outside their homeland than in it. The vast majority of Tokelauans reside in New Zealand. According to the 2001 census, 6,200 Tokelauan people live in New Zealand. That is four times larger than the population in the homeland. Sixty-six percent of them were born in New Zealand. In 2001, only 44 percent of those living in New Zealand were reported to be able to hold an everyday conversation in Tokelauan, down from 53 percent in 1996 (Statistics New Zealand 2005). These figures suggest that language maintenance outside Tokelau is crucial to ensuring the future of the Tokelauan language….

Tokelauans in Hawai‘i come from Olohega (also known as Swains Island), the southernmost atoll of the Tokelau island group, which lie three hundred miles north of Sāmoa. Geographically, the Tokelau group consists of four atolls: Atafu, Fakaofo, Nukunonu, and Olohega. Politically, however, only the first three belong to Tokelau, an island territory of New Zealand. These islands became a British protectorate in 1889 and were transferred to New Zealand administration in 1925. Olohega followed a separate course of history. In 1856, an American, Eli Jennings, came to Olohega with his Samoan wife and turned it into his private copra plantation. In 1925, Olohega was annexed to the United States and was placed under the jurisdiction of American Sāmoa.

Jennings’s son imposed forced labor on all residents of Olohega. In 1953, the residents of Olohega went on strike in protest to the violations of civil and labor rights. They drew up a petition and submitted to the American Sāmoa attorney general. In response, the acting Governor ordered a state-sponsored eviction of over half the population of Olohega. Many families ended up as refugees in Pagopago, American Sāmoa. Living there was not easy for Tokelauans. Even though they were American nationals by virtue of the annexation, Samoan law precluded them from owning land or businesses. The hardship of life in Sāmoa turned their eyes to the United States (Ickes 1999, 2002). In the 1950s, a student from Olohega, who was on scholarship at the Lā‘ie Community College (today’s Brigham Young University Hawai‘i), saw the opportunities in the pineapple plantations in Central O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. He sent for his brothers and they brought their families to live in the plantation labor camps provided by Del Monte (Ickes 1999, 2002)….

Since 2004, the Tokelauan community in Wahiawā, Central O‘ahu, has been making active efforts to revitalize the Tokelauan language as well as culture within the community. Two organizations play a key role in initiating and promoting the community’s efforts for language maintenance: Te Lumanaki o Tokelau i Amelika (The Future of Tokelau in America) and Te Taki (The Guide) Tokelau Community Inc.

In July, 2004, a youth group from Tokelau visited Honolulu on their way to the Palau Pacific Arts Festival. They performed for the Tokelauans who hosted them in Wahiawā. This encounter sparked a keen interest among the Tokelauan youth (teenagers and young adults) of the community in their Tokelauan heritage. They were deeply impressed by the richness of their cultural heritage and at the same time were shocked to realize that they knew very little of it. The children asked their parents why they had never taught them their own language and culture. It was a rude awakening not only for the children, but also for the parents, who had not seen any value in teaching their children Tokelauan, thinking that they would be better off with English.

This incident led to a sudden awareness among young members of the community that the language was gradually disappearing within the community. Deeply moved by the children’s yearning to learn their heritage, two young parents started a Saturday school to teach the Tokelauan language as well as songs and dances. This is how Te Lumanaki o Tokelau i Amelika came into being. The elders of the community welcomed the opportunity to share their knowledge of the language and culture. As it turned out, they had long been concerned about language loss, but had never voiced their concerns until then. Te Lumanaki’s Saturday morning gatherings thus brought together an intergenerational group of Tokelauans who were eager to share the language, songs, and dances.

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Opera Boxes, Salons, and Bedrooms, 1700s

From The Opera Companion, by George Martin (John Murray, 1961), pp. 133-134:

In Italy in the eighteenth century the center of operatic activity shifted from Venice to Naples, where a school of outstanding composers arose specializing in two styles: “opera seria” and “opera buffa.” “Opera seria” was on a grand scale with historical or mythological themes; it was a close cousin to the Viennese Baroque opera except that the music was of greater importance and the scenery of less. The aria, generally sung by a castrato, was the crux of every scene, and over the years it became extremely stylized, so that for any situation there was a certain type of aria that was appropriate. The singer was expected to embellish the aria with extemporaneous runs, trills and flourishes, and this—more than the drama, scenery or composed music—was what excited the audience. Thus the composer wrote a vehicle for a particular singer rather than searching his soul in nineteenth-century romantic style to produce an immortal masterpiece. Grout, in A Short History of Opera, reports that forty leading composers in the eighteenth century wrote fifty operas each: Verdi wrote twenty six, Wagner thirteen, and Puccini twelve. There was no repertory as today. The audience wanted new music each year, although it was perfectly willing to have the same librettos used over and over; for example, Mozart’s was the seventh setting of Metastasio’s La Clemenza di Tito. The scores of the operas were almost never published and, in any event, were extremely sketchy. Only the favorite arias might be published and, as there was no copyright, the composer was far less interested in preserving his old work for posterity than in receiving a commission for a new one, which he could complete in four to six weeks.

One result of this approach to opera, so different from today’s, was that no one really listened much; opera was still a social rather than a musical event. A Frenchman, De Brosses, writing in 1740 described what went on at Rome: “The ladies hold, as it were, at homes in their boxes, where those spectators who are of their acquaintance come to call on them. I have told you that everyone must rent a box. As they are playing at four theatres this winter, we have combined to hire four boxes, at a price of twenty sequins each for the four; and once there I can make myself perfectly at home. We quiz the house to pick out our acquaintance, and if we will, we exchange visits. The taste they have here for the play and for music is demonstrated far more by their presence than by the attention they pay. Once the first scenes are past, during which the silence is but relative, even in the pit, it becomes ill-bred to listen save in the most interesting passages. The principal boxes are handsomely furnished and lighted with chandeliers. Sometimes there is play, more often talk, seated in a complete circle as is their custom, and not as in France, where the ladies add to the show by placing themselves in a row in the front of each box; so you will see that in spite of the splendour of the house and the decoration of each box, the total effect is much less fine than with us.”

Besides visiting in the opera, the Romans also played cards and chess. In Milan the diversion was faro. Florence offered hot suppers served in the boxes. At Turin each box had a room off it with a fireplace and all the conveniences for refreshments and cards. At Venice the boxes could be closed off from the theater by a shutter.

All travelers reported that the gabble and noise were deafening except during two or three favorite arias which, greeted with wild applause, were repeated. One visitor, Lalande, estimated that the typical Milanese spent a quarter of his life at the opera. It is not surprising then that the archduke’s box in Milan had attached to it not only a private sitting room but also a bedroom.

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