Non-european responses to European music

Do we have on record somewhere something indicating how people from some culture with little or no previous exposure to European cultures reacted upon hearing examples of European music?

I’m especially interested in medieval-to-rennaissance examples, like what Japanese people in the 1500’s thought of Baroque symphonies, that kind of thing, if there’s anything like that available.

One anecdata from the 1990s:

I had four coworkers from India, one of whom found Western music intriguing (classically trained, as in “classical Indian music”, and with two records in her resumé; she reacted to the music as the professional musician she was, a technical specialist encountering something which was completely different to what she’d always been taught, yet at the same time clearly related), two who didn’t particularly like or dislike it, and one to whom it was nails on chalkboard.

I haven’t brought the issue up with other people, but I’ve had coworkers and classmates from India and China who appeared to listen mostly to music from “back home” and others who hummed the same pop as everybody else.

The example you posit… well, it’s historically and musically unlikely (the Baroque period started in the late 16th century, that orchestra would have had to run real fast to reach Japan within that same century) but let’s call it a typo; it still would have to follow the question “did any Japanese people hear a Baroque symphony prior to the 20th century?”

Elaborating a bit on Nava’s example from India:

There are fundamental differences between the European classical music tradtition and the classical traditions from the Subcontinent. One of the most important is the “harmonic” (Europe) vs. “modal” (India) character of music. Classical Indian music traditionally only employs one lead instrument playing a single melody line. In various parts of the performance this melody is accompanied by a percussionist. In contrast, the European traditions relies heavily on harmonic relations between different melody lines played simultaneously. To many people accustomed to one of these traditions, the other will sound odd.
Europeans often think that classical Indian music sounds false or off-key, while Indians consider European classical music either boring (because the harmonic relations are often relatively simple) or cacophonic because of the simultaneously played melodies. I have met several very high-profile classical Indian musicians who simply dismiss European classical music as unimpressive and boring. (Bach’s Cello Suites seem to be a widely accepted exception, though).

There are historical texts that confirm this incompatibility in appreciation of the expressive characters of these musical systems. Most of these are written from the European (British, most often) point of view.

One history of music in America I read long ago (can’t remember the cite) included a story from, I think, the early settlement of New France. A missionary struggled for hundreds of miles through forested wilderness à la Black Robe to a village of Hurons or Algonquins or somebody. When he got there, he heard music coming from a wigwam or longhouse. European music.

He looked in and saw a bunch of Indians paired up and dancing the quadrille, with a white guy playing the fiddle. A dance teacher had gotten there ahead of the religion teacher. European music apparently made out at least as well as or better than European religion, if the story is true.

For a Möbius twist to the OP, I’m curious about how did American Indians and African-Americans hear the New World Symphony of Dvořák that claimed to be based on their music.

With a few exceptions, modern Indian and Chinese pop music works within a Western musical structure and has for decades. Anyone who isn’t an elderly person in a remote village who tells you they find Western music discordant is pulling your leg.

Not only that, but “Baroque symphonies” is a contradiction in terms. Nobody was writing symphonies (as we now understand the term, at least) until the classical period, which followed the Baroque.

In case this was a response to my post above:

I totally agree with your post regarding popular music. The genre is quite hegemonic, even on a global level.

The musicians I referred to in my previous post can be considered Indian equivalents of western classical music conaisseurs. I mentioned them because I think their reaction to western classical music probably approaches the historical reaction when India was first exposed to European music.

On a folk-music level I suspect that most European music would have been fairly readily accepted in India, and vice versa.

Your post makes sense- I was directing it more the Nava. We hate Chinese opera and, say, Tujia folk music in a nails-on-a-chalkboard way because we haven’t been exposed to classical Chinese musical structure for it to make any kind of sense to us and it just sounds like noise.

But while plenty of Indian and Chinese people may not enjoy American music, it’s not because they cannot make sense of the unfamiliar musical structure. They’ve been raised on Chinese and Indian pop music that has the same basic sensibilities of ours. Even stuff that on first glance seems pretty “Chinese” is often building off the Western musical tradition. They can parse a symphony or a Lady Gaga song as natively as we can.

even sven, that one coworker pretty much begged us to NOT play music out loud, which is how the subject came up: we all got headphones because of him, and would play music out loud only when he was not in the lab. One person does evidently not a nation make, but seriously… you’ve never met anybody who hated country music? I’ve sure met a few people who hate flamenco, jotas or baroque quartet music. This dude hated Siniestro Total and Queen with equal passion, and the “nails on a chalkboard” line is his description.

Oh, and FTR: good example you chose… I’ve trying to decide what do I dislike more about Lady Gaga for a while: her songs or her videos. :stuck_out_tongue:

Sure, just pointing out that these are personal dislikes based on personal taste, which of course exist in every individual and broadly across cultures. I guess I feel it’s important to make the distinction between “I don’t like this because I think it sucks” and “I don’t like this because I don’t have the exposure to follow the beat and melody (or whatever) that makes it pleasant to someone.”

I think people who hate country music still recognize it as music and understand how people appreciate it. I think there are people who hate rap music, on the other hand, who genuinely can’t follow the musicality of it.

I’ll anecdotally confirm this. I am Indian-American, and have been exposed to both Indian and Western music. I mostly grew up with Western music, so I often find Indian classical music to sound off-key.

But this isn’t limited to Indian classical music. Very often when I hear mashups of popular music created by Indian deejays, I find them almost unlistenable because they’ve mashed together what to my ears are incompatible keys. (Actually, I’ve heard this problem with American hip-hop too. Doesn’t anyone else hear the clashing of incompatible keys or rhythms?)

On the other side, my Indian acquaintances and relatives are often bored or confused by Western classical music. They usually try to keep it polite by saying something like “I don’t really know much about it.”

I noticed a Japanese version of this in the chord changes to “Ue o muite aruko” (better known in Britain and America as “Sukiyaki”). The melody is pentatonic and, except for some Westernized phrasing, would not sound out of place in traditional music. It’s interesting the way the chord changes strike a balance between a pentatonic-based accompaniment and a normative Western harmonic progression. The first two melodic phrases start out harmonized with just G major, e minor, and b minor chords, which are almost entirely formed from the pentatonic scale, keeping it sounding so traditional I can smell the cherry blossoms. Then it starts using chords from father and farther outside the pentatonic, and finally ends with chord changes that would not sound out of place in 1950s smooth jazz, and if I smelled anything it would be cigarette smoke. Or, I guess, marijuana smoke, 'cause of jazz and all.

That’s your own likes, dislikes and experiences showing, though. Specially the underlined part :slight_smile:
Many, many people have serious problems understanding how can anybody else like something they do not.

I am a “western” musician, and have been for 30-ish years. I’ve also liked and enjoyed “exotic” music since I first heard it when I was a teenager. I like Indian classical music, and I particularly enjoy Arab/Islamic music. It was (supposedly) alien to my cultural norm (which is western pop/rock music), all I know is that when I heard it, I liked what I heard. Always did, still do.

To me it’s just music, it isn’t some alien thing. It’s different to the stuff I grew up hearing, but not so different that it sounds bad or “off key”.