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19.10.2002 General News

Doris Green: Fighting the Deterioration of Africa's Traditional Music

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American Doris Green, authority on music notation and African music, on Wednesday gave the last in a series of seminars at the University of Ghana's School of Performing Arts. Hailed as a "path-finder", Green developed Greenotation, a system for writing African music which is aligned with dance in a single score.

Green stressed the importance of written documentation in preserving musical traditions. Without written documentation, African music has been degraded by the academic world of the west, she said. She also criticised sole reliance on oral tradition in preserving tradition and stressed the value of a written record.

"When you die, what you don't pass on is lost," she said. Written sheet music, she said, preserves musical traditions that might otherwise be lost through the generations.

Greenotation allows for written representation of music specific to African styles.

"The western quarter-note cannot tell you to hit the drum with half your hand, your whole hand, a stick..." she said. "It deals mainly with melodics, not rhythm." For rhythm- and beat-driven African music, Green devised a new system attuned to these needs.

Her seminar classes were held before about 20 excited and enthusiastic performing-arts students. The classes focused on learning traditional African dance performance through the use of Greenotation and Labanotation, another notation system used for documenting dance steps and body movements.

To the untrained eye, Greenotations consist of bars of triangles, rectangles, lines, circles and numerous other esoteric details printed on long bars. To someone familiar with Greenotation symbols, those triangles and lines convey the intricate aural details of a drumbeat and methods of beating the drum to produce those sounds.

According to Green, Ohio State University is the only university with a music notation certification program, which teaches transcription of music into written symbols. Reading music notation, however, can be accomplished with far less formal training.

Fighting the deterioration of Africa's traditional music, Green has spent her career studying and performing African music. She has studied and taught music in more than 25 African nations and was a Fulbright award winner in 1986-1987. She's the author of Greenotation: Manuscripts of African Music and Dance. Green is in Ghana with sponsorship from the U.S. State Department.