Friday, March 14, 2014

Classical Benchmarks



We use three simple benchmarks to determine whether something is "classical".  The first benchmark is age.  The second is its ability to cross ethnic boundaries, and third is class associations. 




                   *Age - It is the first benchmark to come to anyone's mind.  It is generally acknowledged that for something to be considered classical, it must have great age.  This seems simple at first, but it begs the obvious question of how one determines age.  Clearly every performance exists in the here-and-now, so the performance itself cannot be used.  Although the performance may not be used to determine age, we might consider using the genre.  This would be acceptable to many people; however if this is used, it is surprising how recently some genre have developed.  For instance Bharat Natyam as it is thought of today, only goes back to the early 20th century!  Since the genre also produces ages which are not acceptable in traditional Indian world views, most Indians would use the tradition to define age. (The relationship between performance, genre, and tradition will be discussed later.)
                 *The ability to span different ethnic group – It is an another common benchmark. This is best illustrated by a simple model put forth by the anthropologist, Robert Redfield in the early to middle part of the 20th century.  According to Redfield's model, there are "great" and "little" traditions.  We may simplify theses concepts by saying that "little" traditions are the folk traditions while the "great" traditions are the classical traditions.  The "great" tradition of European classical music was able to span the different ethnic groups that extend from Russia, throughout Europe, and even into the new world, yet the "little" folk traditions remained isolated to smaller geographical areas.  It is in this same manner that Carnatic classical music spans the diverse cultures of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Carnatica, or Andhra Pradesh.

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