Wednesday, October 6, 2010

No Longer an Oral Tradition: My Journey Through Percussion Notation

Submitted by Doris Green - October 7, 2010

Finally the music of African drums, bells, rattles, clappers, sticks and stones, can be written read and performed from a printout. As we know the music of Africa is largely percussive and exist as an oral tradition that is passed between generations by a mouth to ear process. Unfortunately any society that is entirely dependent upon oral communication for the transmission of its culture is doomed to failure because of outside interpretation and the breakdown of the human memory. Consequently each time the holders of this vast cultural knowledge died, they literally took archives of music to the grave where it was entombed and lost to the world forever. 

With the realization that over the course of time, much of their music was rapidly dissipating, Africans began to search for a way to document their music through written notation. For decades, if not centuries,  Africa was searching for a way to represent music of their instruments on paper. Africa’s desire to find a notation system for her instruments was unknown to a young high school student.  This young girl was a musician and dancer who needed to find a way to teach Congo drummers how to read music so they could play the proper music to accompany her choreography. When she heard her teacher comment that any sound could be written with Pitman stenography, she grabbed her pencil and wrote a drum rhythm. She used three stokes to accomplish this.

Doris Green would take this pattern and develop it into a system whereby not only African music could be written, but the accompanying dance movements, through Labanotation, could also be written as a single integrated score.  For the past 40 years Doris has covered Africa from Tanzania to Senegal, researching, teaching and sharing her knowledge with Africans. She served as a Fulbright Scholar, and US State Department Cultural Specialists.

Read my autobiography No Longer an Oral Tradition: My Journey Through Percussion Notation.  This is the story of my life and the influence I had on the preservation of African music and dance. Now Africa has a notation system of her own. 

For additional information on Doris Green and her work please view:

Online Exhibit - Greennotation

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