Oral and Written Transmission in Ethiopian Christian Chant
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CitationShelemay, Kay Kaufman, Peter Jeffery, and Ingrid Monson. 1993. Oral and written transmission in Ethiopian Christian chant. Early Music History 12: 55-117.
AbstractOf all the musical traditions in the world among which fruitful comparisons with medieval European chant might be made, the chant tradition of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church promises to be especially informative. In Ethiopia one can actually witness many of the same processes of oral and written transmission as were or may have been active in medieval Europe. Music and literacy are taught in a single curriculum in ecclesiastical schools. Future singers begin to acquire the repertory by memorising chants that serve both as models for whole melodies and as the sources of the melodic phrases linked to individual notational signs. At a later stage of training each one copies out a complete notated manuscript on parchment using medieval scribal techniques. But these manuscripts are used primarily for study purposes; during liturgical celebrations the chants are performed from memory without books, as seems originally to have been the case also with Gregorian and Byzantine chant. Finally, singers learn to improvise sung liturgical poetry according to a structured system of rules. If one desired to imitate the example of Parry and Lord, who investigated the modern South Slavic epic for possible clues to Homeric poetry, it would be difficult to find a modern culture more similar to the one that spawned Gregorian chant.
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