Thursday, January 28, 2010

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, October 1, 2007

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, October 1, 2007
Submitted by Charlotte Wile - February 15, 2008

[Following are minutes for the Open Theory Meeting held at the Dance Notation Bureau, October 1, 2007. The minutes were written by Charlotte Wile.]

Present: Tina Curran, Ray Cook, Doris Green, Mira Kim, Mei-Chen Lu, Charlotte Wile.


1. African Dance
2. Palm Facing
3. Accent, Emphasis
4. Stillness

Topic #1 - African Dance

Doris gave the group three more essays on African Dance.
[Essay #1]

1) In the Minutes of our September meeting, Peggy suggested placing a time line, that corresponds to the Gankogue bell to the right of Labanotation part of the score. In addition to that, there should be a choice in LabanWriter, when the time signature is 12/8, there should also be (12/8 African). These tic marks would replace the traditional tic marks to facilitate the writing of African dances. This is of great urgency because of the large number of African dances that have this time signature.
2) You will notice in excerpt #3 in the works of Sowande, a Nigerian, he explains the four types of rhythmic patterns that moves the audience to dance. Kon-Ko-Lo is the primary rhythmic pattern that is used throughout Africa.
3) I think the confusion borders on terminology. One might say that I am talking about music, and this is dance. But in Africa dance and music are inseparable as no dance occurs without its music. The music is specific because it dictates the movement of the dance and it is based upon the language of the people.
4) (In excerpt 3) You will note that JHK Nketia, Africa’s foremost authority on Africa music, states that the time line in African music came into existence as a result of the difficulty of keeping subjective metronomic time in actual performance. Africans facilitate this process by externalizing the basic pulse through a Bell or a Rattle. In the case of Agbadza, it is the Bell. This is why I have been stressing that the tic marks correspond to the externalized basic pulse of the bell.
5) These issues were pointed out to some extent in the writing of J. Longstaff in his ICKL paper Rhythmic vs. Metric timing in Dance Education. I stress that if the DNB is to be successful in notating African dance, it has to use the rhythmic approach not the metric approach. I agree with this writing.
6) It is unfortunate that those who entered the field of African dance during the colonial period and post colonial period, came from a background of anthropology, sociology, and musicology and never made the connection between dance/music/language. My voice began to resound in approximately 1968, when I was selected and groomed to be the first teacher of African dance at Brooklyn College. I entered the field as a practitioner of both music and dance, with notation skills and years of African music and dance training as an integral part of my background.
7) When I demonstrated my work in African music and dance notation to Mr. Senghor, it made an indelible impression on him. When the African Music Rostrum met they declared my work as what Africa had been seeking for decades. They said that they had a number of ethnomusicologists who tried to write African music/dance, but could not. They also admired the fact that I did not try to alter African music/dance to suit the western comfort zone, but wrote it the way Africans themselves viewed their art form.
8) Remember Africans lived with their music and dance as an oral tradition unwritten since the beginning of time. Writing African music/dance is new to Africa coming as part of postcolonial cultural dissemination to the outside world. Some of the music Scholars at the time were Akin Euba, Duro Ladipo, the Timi of Ede. [Adetoyese Laoye], JHK Nketia, Samuel Akpabot, and Francis Bebey. Some of the dance scholars at the time were Keita Fodeba, Maurice Sonar Senghor, Albert Mawere Opoku, and Akin Louis. I was fortunate to have known and worked with many of these legends.
9) It is most unfortunate that, outside Africa, African dance is still taught today without its music. African dance should always be taught with its music. It is also unfortunate that training women to play the music is not mandatory in the schools, and colleges. When these women come here to study, we do not have faculty to teach them the music they lack.
10) In order to have someone who could teach me on the graduate level, I became the hub of the search committee at NYU. I was successful in bringing a Ghanaian instructor to NYU who taught both music and dance. All of the students in his classes became proficient musicians and dancers.
[end of essay #1]
[Essay #2]
© 1969, D. Green
Traditional African Dance. The oldest and most indigenous form of African dance is Traditional dance. There is an inseparable relationship between the dance and the music. The music to these dances is rooted in drum languages, which are replicas of the spoken language of the people. Therefore, the category of Traditional African dance has as many different "Traditions" as the spoken languages of the people. These dances are based on activities that the people choose to remember wherein they create and set the movement to their music. (1)
Neo-Traditional Dances. This form of dance includes all dances that make use of elements of traditional dance but not necessarily in the same context as they are found in the traditional culture. Traditional dance performed outside the context of social ceremonies. (Some examples: Folk operas, auditorium performances. class and other forms of entertainment). Therefore when you see the National Ballet of Senegal, or Guinea Ballet on stage those dances are essentially Neo-traditional dances as they have been altered to fit on the proscenium stage. The dances have already been taken out of their context of the traditional setting. Since they are based on a happening that the people choose to remember, they are pieces of history reenacted through movement, communicated by the musicians and acted out by the dancers. (2)
Westernized Popular Dance. In this category we find dances that have combined movement with non-African dances, or using instruments that are not African or combining western instruments in the ensemble. In this category one loses the relationship between music and dance, as the instruments can no longer instruct the dancer what movements to make. The melodic style is closer to that of western music than African music. In this category we find a number of African social dances such as Juju music, Highlife, and Senegalese Mbak. In these social orchestras you will find a mixture of instruments such as western guitars, keyboards, and horns. (3)
Borrowed Western. In this category we find music such as Rap, disco, and Hip-Hop. The dances associated with these forms of music are borrowed from the western world and imported into Africa.
Conservatory dance. In this category we find ballet and modern, which are European forms of dance that are imported into Africa.
1. You will find references to this in the writings of Akin Euba, Keita Fodeba, Sonar Senghor, CK Ladzekpo, JHK Nketia and G. Niangouran-Bouah (gives a clear picture of this in his book Introduction a la Drummologie) Unfortunately his book is in French. But he gives you the total breakdown. Francis Bebey wrote a book on African Music.
2. You will find references to this in a number of works such as Keita Fodeba, Senghor and Akin Euba. John Carrington and AM Jones brought it to light to the European community. Most of the time you will find these things in writings of African musicians. People (dancers) have not learned to recognize and respect the conterminous relationship between dance and music. It is unfortunate that dance and music are taught separately. Remember dance in Africa is still not largely a classroom activity. Drummers do not generally drum in classroom situations. Africans struggled with how to present their dances on stage. Even if they wanted to share their dances with another ethnic group in their own country, decisions had to be made.
3. The use of the Djimbe drum played in ethnic groups not part of the original context of social ceremonies is causing problems. I have heard elders voicing their dissent about the Djimbe not being able to speak in their particular language such as the Akan language, and the Ga language. Outside the original countries where the Djimbe is part of the context of social ceremony, it would not behoove serious candidates to study this drum.
The emphasis of Africans is directed to the first two categories of African dance.
[end of essay #2]
[Essay #3]
Music as it is practiced in Africa falls into five main categories.

Traditional Music: Traditional music is the oldest form of African music and the most indigenous in the cultures, (It has elements within its structure that can be articulated through motor response), thus its inseparable connection to dance.
Neo-Traditional: This form of music comprises new musical forms which make use of elements of traditional music but not necessarily in the same context as they are found in the traditional culture. (Traditional music performed outside the context of social ceremonies. (Examples: Folk operas, Auditorium performances, classroom and other forms of entertainment).
Westernized Pop: Contains a preponderance of traditional music combined with some elements of western music. (Uses African instruments combined with western instruments). Examples are Juju music in which Yoruba instruments are combined with western guitar or accordion. The melodic style is closer to that of western music than it is to Yoruba. [All ensembles that use African instruments in combination with western instruments fall into this category, such as Senegalese Mbak.] Highlife music is another example of westernized pop.

Western Pop: Unmodified version of popular music practiced in western culture and imported into Africa. An example of this is disco and rap.
Conservatory: European classic music Apart from work by the classical masters, it often contains compositions composed by Africans written in the style of European classics.
[end of essay #3]
The group discussed how African dance rhythms can be written using LabanWriter, with the placement of tick marks Doris has proposed in previous meetings. Mira showed Doris how this can be done. 

Ray asked Doris if direction signs in her scores for African dance indicate areas of movement, or exact locations. For example, could “side middle” arms be a little above or below side middle, as in 1a, or are they exactly side middle, as in 1b? Doris said the signs in her scores specify exact positions. This means that if the movement is performed by a group of dancers, the direction of their arms should be exactly the same. The dancers’ movement should be uniform.

This lead to a discussion of why it is important for the notator to be familiar with the style of the dance she/he is writing.

Tina said Doris might find it useful to have her scores read by people who do not know African dance. This would help Doris see what refinements or glossaries, if any, might be needed to clarify the style of the movement and make the scores as accessible as possible.

Topic #2 - Palm Facing

Ray is editing a Labanotation score that contains the notation shown in Ex. 2a below. [Note: Ex. 2a -2e should be read as though they were in the arm column of a Labanotation score]. He wondered how the palm facing in the Ex. 2a should be interpreted. Half way through the movement the palm is facing place low. Does the palm stay facing place low as the arm completes the movement to forward middle? Or, is the palm facing cancelled for the rest of the arm movement, i.e., does the palm finish facing left middle (the “normal” facing when the arm is forward middle)? In other words, should the timing of the palm indication be taken from the length of the sign it modifies or from the length of the palm indication? Ray said the answer cannot be found in Labanotation text books since they only give examples where palm facing and arm movement indications are the same length, as in Ex. 2b.

The rule for palm facing when the arm and palm facing indications are the same length is standardized [see Guest, Labanotation, 4th edition, 111-112]. In 2b the palm facing to place low takes as long as the arm movement to forward middle. In 2c the palm faces left middle as the arm goes forward.

Mira said that theoretically in a Labanotation score she would know that the palm facing in 2a occurs during the first half of the arm movement. Then there is a return to the normal facing during the rest of the arm movement. However, to make sure that the reader understands what to do, she would write the movement as in 2c, or would use a hold sign or “disappear” sign after the palm sign in 2a.

It is also possible someone reading Ex. 2a might flex the wrist half way through the arm movement since at that point the arm would be forward low and the palm would be place low.

Ray said that people often misread examples such as 2b, e.g., they change the palm facing at the very beginning of the movement. In a correct reading the palm facing takes as long the arm movement.

The misreading of timing also occurs in examples such as 2d. The flexion should take the same amount of time as the arm movement, but sometimes people forget the rule and read it with the flexion occurring at the beginning of the movement. To make sure the reader does the correct movement, it could be written as in 2e. However, this would make the notation cumbersome.

The group wondered why these misinterpretations occur. For instance, is there a problem with the rules? Are the rules being applied incorrectly in scores? Maybe notation is not being taught the right way.

Ray: Maybe the problem is with notation textbooks. Sometimes they are unclear not because of what is said, but rather because of what is left out. In other words, the text does not address all the possibilities for a given rule.

The group discussed whether it is practical to give all the exceptions and possibilities in a text. Wouldn’t this make the book too long? Is it necessary to have rules for every contingency, thereby making the system cumbersome and possibly confusing?

Tina: Context influences how the notation will be interpreted. For instance, a ballet dancer may be conditioned to read the notation in a particular way. This is related to David Perkins’ four categories of understanding and knowledge:
- Missing knowledge: The person does not know something because he/she has not been taught it.
- Ritualized knowledge: The person has been taught something in a particular way that may not be correct.
- Inert knowledge: The person has been taught something in a particular context and cannot apply it in other contexts.
- [Tina did not give the fourth category.]
Perhaps the “Web Library for Teachers” [] could be used to clarify the different ways rules are being applied to various disciplines and dance styles. Ideally, video could be added to the postings as illustrations.

Tina: The issue of having too many rules brings to mind unit timing vs. specific timing, as well as other topics discussed at ICKL, 2007 (see Janos Fugedi’s papers for the technical sessions).

Similarly, Ray asked why the rules for cancelling space holds are different from the rules cancelling hold signs. This question was not explored during the meeting, but perhaps it could be at a future meeting.

As has happened in other meetings, this conversation lead to a discussion of standardization. Should the standardized rules always be strictly applied to reading and writing a score? Does context of the movement play a role in determining how to apply the rules? Which sources should be used in establishing the standard? When and how should glossaries be used?

The comments above concerned the interpretation of 2a for Labanotation. The group also considered how it should be interpreted in Motif Notation. The group agreed that cancellation rules are different in Labanotation and Motif Notation. If 2a was in a Motif Notation score (and an arm pre-sign was added), the palm facing during the second half of the arm movement would be open to interpretation. The palm could remain facing downward or it could face in a different direction. Maintaining the palm facing could be specified with a hold sign. Cancellation of the facing could be specified with a cancellation (disappear) sign.

Topic #3 – Accent, Emphasis

The group continued the discussion of accents (see the September minutes).

In Guest, Labanotation, 4th edition [page 425], it says in an accent there is a momentary increase in energy. This definition was discussed.

Ray wondered if an accent can be produced by a decrease in energy.

At the last meeting some people said accents are not always momentary. The example shown here in 3a was given as an example. The forward movement is “accented” because it is “strong” in relation to preceding and/or subsequent movements. The bracket shows this accent is not momentary.

Are accent signs being used to indicate two different ideas: accents and emphasis?

Tina said the sign for “emphasized” (Ex. 3b) might help solve this problem. The sign says there 
is an “eye catching” change in the movement. The type of change is left open to interpretation, e.g., it could be a change in quality, timing, action, etc. The emphasis could be momentary, as in 3c, or longer in duration, as in 3d.

Charlotte wondered if the umbrella concept of “emphasized” could include accents. Seen this way, an accent would be a type of emphasis. In other words, perhaps one way (among many) to interpret 3c would be with a momentary increase in energy (an accent) at the beginning of the forward movement. Tina did not feel this idea works. She feels there is a difference between an accent and an emphasis, so the emphasis sign should not be used to indicate an accent.

Perhaps a DVD of physical examples of accented and emphasized movements could help in this discussion.

Topic #4 - Stillness

An idea from Ray: Can the stillness sign be used in Motif Notation to state that a starting position is expressive and alive? The group felt this might work.

Ex. 4a says the starting position is alive. The content of the stillness is unspecified. In Ex. 4b the starting position is upward; whether or not this position is alive is irrelevant. Ex. 4c specifies an upward starting position that is alive.

The meaning of the terms “pause” and “stillness” were considered. Various definitions were given, including:

Charlotte: In a “pause” there is no movement. When such a cessation of movement is experienced or seen as alive, energized, or expressive, it is called “stillness.”

Ray: Stillness is not moving. Pausing and stillness are the same thing.

Mira: In everyday language stillness means no movement. In Motif Notation, it means being alive when there is no movement.

Doris: Stillness means no movement, silence.

Tina discussed the importance of having the stillness sign. Non-movement can be very expressive. Intention or inner activity in non-movement has as much power as movement does.

The group agreed with Tina. Several examples were given. For instance, Ray compared the expressive tableaux presented during the “Ballet de Action” period, with the lifeless wooden “living statues” shown much later in American music halls. Tina gave examples of dances that contain alive non-movement: The first appearance of “Death” in the “Green Table, War” in “There is a Time,” and Cloud Dance’s "Crossing the Black Water."

Tina had reservations about using the word “expressive” in the definition of stillness since it could imply that content of stillness must be a feeling. For stillness she prefers using the terms “energy” and “aliveness.”

Charlotte: The content of stillness could be any aspect of movement, including directions (Ex. 4e,f), feelings (Ex. 4g), qualities [Ex. 4h], or actions. In Ex. 4i the content of the stillness is unspecified. 

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