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The translation of cuatro learning in open and closed systems of transmission in Colombia: Towards an aural/oral approach in higher education

Samper Arbeláez, Andrés; (2018) The translation of cuatro learning in open and closed systems of transmission in Colombia: Towards an aural/oral approach in higher education. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This study investigates the cultural and educational elements involved in learning the cuatro, a traditional Colombian and Venezuelan plucked four-string instrument. I set out to investigate the basis for an identification of two, what I call ‘transmission paradigms’. In one paradigm, learning takes place via relatively ‘open systems of transmission’. These occur in contexts such as family, friends, social gatherings, festivals and self-directed learning. They involve mainly aural/oral and holistic practices. The ethos is relatively unsystematic, random and strongly situated in extramusical cultural practices. In the other paradigm, learning occurs predominantly in relatively ‘closed systems of transmission’. These are common in institutional settings, from the university to the private lesson. They tend to relate to learning that also involves a strong presence of imitation, but through graded exercises and pieces. The ethos is relatively systematic – based on isolation of knowledge, linearity, and tending towards fragmentation. In the first paradigm, both explicit knowledge (e.g. technical abilities) and tacit knowledge (e.g. feel and expression) are permanently at the centre of learning; with the second paradigm, however, one tends to privilege explicit knowledge since it is more easily isolated, objectified and fragmented. A mixed methods approach was used, combining interviews and ethnography. Interviews were conducted with 44 cuatro players from Colombia and Venezuela who had contrasting profiles in terms of age and musical experience. Participatory and nonparticipatory observations took place within open transmission paradigms consisting mainly of large and small group gatherings at festivals; observations were also conducted within closed paradigms consisting of classes and one-to-one lessons at music academies and universities. Analysis took into account three crosscutting categories: ways of learning and teaching, contents of transmission, and teachers and learners’ perceptions. The most relevant findings of the study are that, although there were a number of contrasting elements between the two transmission paradigms, there were also many areas of similarity; in addition, some areas, such as the use of notation, turned out to be less contrasting than I had expected. Most importantly, a variety of what I call ‘processes of translation’ occurred between them. Moved by personal interest, cuatro players learn through musical paths that include, to differing degrees, both paradigms of transmission. All of the participants had been exposed to open systems of transmission settings, and at least 30 out of the 44 had also had some type of contact with closed systems of transmission. Open settings are usually embedded in socio-cultural contexts that enhance the emergence of intense processes of early music enculturation, while most closed systems of transmission settings evidence intentional efforts to establish explicit contact with cultural contexts such as active participation in music festivals. With the exception of universities and private tutelage, where individual lessons are at the centre of learning, most cuatro transmission takes place within collective spaces of music making. In general terms, cuatro transmission is based on imitation. Notation is usually subsidiary and open, in the sense that musicians usually invent personal codes. While in open settings of transmission learning is rather holistic, in closed settings transmission generally it does imply linear and logical simple-to-complex sequences. Musicians are very versatile in terms of their ability to play different instruments and their capacity to accompany dancing. Within all contexts there is some level of integration of performing, improvising, arranging and composing. Building on these findings, the present project puts forward a proposal for the teaching of the cuatro at local universities. Specific focus is placed on the idea of a ‘mestizo’ pedagogy that juxtaposes modern systematic approaches – which tend to be more of the closed type mentioned above – and local traditional aural/oral approaches in music transmission, which are more unsystematic and holistic in nature and are thus related to the open systems of transmission that were explored. This proposal suggests collective music making as a methodological axis of transmission within the university setting, and seeks to enhance the development of individual artistic voices, feel, celebration of music and vital contact with the cultural contexts that frame musical production.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The translation of cuatro learning in open and closed systems of transmission in Colombia: Towards an aural/oral approach in higher education
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10049300
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