In this highly praised and seminal work, Alan Merriam demonstrates that music is a social behavior—one worthy and available to study through the methods of anthropology. In it, he convincingly argues that ethnomusicology, by definition, cannot separate the sound-analysis of music from its cultural context of people thinking, acting, and creating.
The study begins with a review of the various approaches in ethnomusicology. He then suggests a useful and simple research model: ideas about music lead to behavior related to music and this behavior results in musical sound. He explains many aspects and outcomes of this model, and the methods and techniques he suggests are useful to anyone doing field work. Further chapters provide a cross-cultural round-up of concepts about music, physical and verbal behavior related to music, the role of the musician, and the learning and composing of music.
The Anthropology of Music illuminates much of interest to musicologists but to social scientists in general as well.
One of the nice things about the arts is that information does not become out of date as fast as it does in the sciences. This book was written in 1964, and I still found it largely useful. There were a few areas in which it showed its age, especially the use of "men" when the author clearly meant all the members of a society, tribe, group, etc. But I still got a lot out of it. I went to Wesleyan University, which has a very good ethnomusicology program. My focus was more on piano, composing, and contemporary music, but I did take a couple of classes in world music, and I was very much aware of the world music studies going on around me. Reading The Anthropology of Music, I felt like I was filling in some of the the gaps of my knowledge of ethnomusicology. The book isn't really about specific music traditions or studies, although it has abundant examples drawn from ethnomusicological studies. It's more of an explanation and exploration of the concerns of ethnomusicology in general terms. According to Merriam, ethnomusicology had, prior to the mid 20th century, concentrated heavily on the analysis of the music itself. Thus, he concentrates on the anthropological and sociological side of the discipline: how music functions in a society, the role of the musician, how music is learned and transmitted, what music can tell us about a culture and its history, etc. It provided me with plenty to think about.
This is Alan P. Merriam's attempt to standardize the language of musical anthropology, and from what I understand, he did a rather good job. Some of the theory is a little dated, since he was writing over 50 years ago, but every other musical anthropologist I've read cites him repeatedly to ground their claims. Each chapter is its own entity that tackles a specific concept in the study of music. I luvs it.