Cultural Translation and Music

(photo of Gothenburg, Sweden, by Mikael Miettinen)

At the end of August 2010, I participate as an invited speaker for the international Cultural Translation seminar in Sweden at University of Gothenburg, organized by Prof. Noriko Thunman. Below is the abstract of my presentation for this event:

International Perspectives on the Cultural Translation of Musical Meanings

David G. Hebert

For several generations, musicologists have written about similarities between music and language, and reflected on ways that analytical approaches from the field of linguistics may be effectively applied to music. Linguists, however, have generally taken less of an interest in musicological paradigms. Unsurprisingly, a similar trend may be seen in the emerging field of cultural translation, for which it already appears that linguistic discussion may be dominant relative to paradigms associated with research on other forms of cultural discourse (such as music, theatre, dance, visual art, fashion, etc.). What of consequence to intercultural understanding might inevitably be missed by theorization that arises almost exclusively from examination of a single form of discourse as a basis for cultural analysis? Translators routinely grapple with complex meanings embedded in nonlinguistic forms of communication that defy conventional modes of translation, and consequently a holistic and trans-disciplinary theoretical orientation is seemingly desirable to many proponents of cultural translation. Moreover, like language, music certainly qualifies as one of the “fields in which ideological horizons of homogeneity have been conceptualized” (Buden & Nowotny, 2009, p. 206), and postcolonialist scholars such as Homi Bhabha (1994) and Paul Gilroy (1993) have acknowledged its critical role as an emblem of identity within the very sites of cultural hybridity that are of most interest to scholars of cultural translation. According to the positions advanced in many of its seminal documents (Bassnett, 2002; Gentzler, 2001; Sakai, 1997; Toury, 1995), it would appear that analysis of intercultural musical practices – and the ways in which they are explained – merits a place in the field cultural translation. Specifically, systems of music transmission and pedagogy seem to represent especially fertile areas for research on educational issues in cultural translation (Mehl, 2009). Through reflection on experiences with various cross-cultural research projects in music (Hebert, 2010, 2009a, 2009b, 2008a, 2008b; Hebert & Karlsen, 2010; Heimonen & Hebert, 2010), this paper explores various ways that analyses of musical meanings might potentially contribute to the development of robust theories to advance the field of cultural translation.


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Hebert, D. G. (2010, August). Ethnicity and music education: Sociological dimensions. In R. Wright (Ed.), Sociology and Music Education. Aldershot: Ashgate Press.

Hebert, D. G. (2009a). Rethinking the historiography of hybrid genres in music education. In V. Kurkela & L. Vakeva (Eds.), De-Canonizing Music History (pp.163-184). Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press.

Hebert, D. G. (2009b). Musicianship, musical identity and meaning as embodied practice. In T. Regelski & J. T. Gates (Eds.), Music Education for Changing Times: Guiding Visions for Practice (pp.39-55). Dordrecht and New York: Springer Press.

Hebert, D. G. (2008a). Alchemy of brass: Wind music and spirituality in Japan. In E. M. Richards & K. Tanosaki (Eds.), Music of Japan Today (pp. 236-244). Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press.

Hebert, D. G. (2008b). Music transculturation and identity in a Maori brass band tradition. In R. Camus & B. Habla, (Eds.), Alta Musica, 26 (pp. 173-200). Tutzing: Schneider.

Hebert, D. G. & Karlsen, S. (2010, August). Editorial introduction: Multiculturalism and music education. Finnish Journal of Music Education, 13.

Heimonen, M. & Hebert, D. G. (2010). Pluralism and minority rights in music education: Implications of the legal and social philosophical dimensions. Visions of Research in Music Education, 15.

Mehl, M. (2009). Cultural translation in two directions: The Suzuki Method in Japan and Germany. Research and Issues in Music Education, 7.

Sakai, N. (1997). Translation and subjectivity: On “Japan” and cultural nationalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Toury, G. (1995). Descriptive translation studies and beyond. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


Here is a link to my paper from a 2011 conference that extended on the above 2010 conference:
Cultural Translation: Research on Japanese Literature in Northern Europe (2011 symposium proceedings).

Another related link:


1 comment:

WKawakami said...

Music performance between cultures or countries are different even if it is Western music. The German "sound" is much darker than the "brighter" French sound. Music performances from one country may seem more "expressive" than another, but the culture and environment must be a part of the differences. WKawakami