Musical Cultural Appropriation

Musical Cultural Appropriation

What do Brahms' Hungarian Dances, Mozart's Turkish March, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Song of India all have in common? They are all good examples of a composer "borrowing" a different culture's musical themes (or one's concept of another culture's musical themes). I played these pieces for the Prelude of our service about Cultural Appropriation. In the case of Mozart's Turkish March, he evokes the sound of the Turkish Janissary (military) bands, which was a very popular custom at the time. Even though Austria and the Ottoman Empire had been at war for centuries, a 1699 treaty between the 2 regions created an Austrian fascination with all things Turkish. To celebrate the treaty, Turkish diplomats brought musicians with them to Austria, and the Austrians couldn't get enough of the "exotic" sound. Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Rameau, Rossini, and Gluck all reference Turkish music in their compositions. But upon closer examination, it seems like these European composers embraced certain elements of the Turkish military band - namely the upbeat march tempo and the use of the piccolo, triangle, and cymbals. European orchestras even engaged black Viennese musicians in Turkish garb to play those instruments. Were these composers honoring the rich traditions of Turkish music, or were they grabbing a few elements of the limited music they heard from these diplomatic musical engagements with the Turks? And notice whose name is now prominent in these compositions - the European composer. This type of cultural appropriation is so easy to overlook, but now that we are aware of it, we can all try to better engage with different cultures' music and art forms, bringing in more than just a few stereotypical elements, and creating connection with individuals from the culture we're trying to honor.

In other news, OCUUC's Board has arranged for me to take a 10-week sabbatical from January 3 through March 14, 2022. I will use that time to refresh and renew, explore different kinds of music, and learn some new skills. I am grateful that Steve Morihiro, Barbara Morihiro, and Sarah Hunter will be handling the worship music while I'm away. We are already making plans for the time I'm going to be gone, and I trust that this dream team will create fantastic worship experiences for you all. We will be calling on the church's musicians plus guest musicians to continue our quality music-making and songleading. Thanks to all involved for gifting me this much needed break.

Musically yours,
Beth Syverson
MusicDirector@ocuuc.org


Beth Syverson is Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church's Director of Music Ministries. She plans and arranges the music for worship on Sunday mornings, provides piano music during services, and directs the Orange Coast Choir. She is also the artistic director of OCUUC’s concert series—Orange Coast Concerts—which features several eclectic concerts throughout the year.