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Course description

This course explores the musical sounds, practices and concepts of selected areas of Inner and Central Asia, with specific emphasis on areas that are broadly characterized by the presence of Persian-speaking peoples or by cultural and artistic expressions that are related to or influenced by Persian literature and culture. The focus of this course is on the musical cultures of Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Northern Afghanistan. Issues addressed include music repertoires and structures; musical practices and concepts; the relation of musical practices, concepts and meanings to historical, social, ideological and political contexts; the relationship between music and learned or popular literary traditions; tradition, modernization, westernization and globalization; popular music, new technologies and the media. In addition, the course will be concerned with exploring Iranian and Central Asian musics in Edmonton. No formal knowledge of music theory, analysis, history, notation or ethnomusicology is a prerequisite for taking this course. Undergraduates should enroll in Music 465; graduates should enroll in Music 565.

Aims and objectives

to become acquainted with a number of musical genres of Inner and Central Asia, including Tajik-Uzbek art music, Tajik and Northern Afghan folk musics; Iranian art music and the regional music of Iranian Khorasan; Tajik and Iranian popular musics. to study local musical idioms and aesthetic perceptions in relation to their socio-historical contexts, and to develop a critical understanding of the role of music in identity construction and political-ideological processes in Inner and Central Asia. to explore the interrelation of music and poetry in Inner and Central Asia, and to appreciate its spiritual, ethical and social implications. to consider the role of the Persian language and Persian literary traditions as transnational unifying factors, and to evaluate their role in the formation of musical identities vis-a-vis other paradigms such as religion, local or national identities, ethnicity, inter-ethnic or syncretic cultural practices, global flows. to thereby become acquainted with the diversity of cultural practices, collective histories and identity perceptions in the context of the areas in question, and to critique the concept of “Persianate world” in the light of notions such as difference, subculture, minority and hegemony. to acquire extensive knowledge of the resources available for the study of the musical cultures of Inner and Central Asia, and to develop the critical and methodological awareness necessary to undertake independent research.

Course requirements

Class attendance and participation – including taking part in discussions and in the CFE (see next)

Collective field exploration: this entails searching for Iranian and Central Asian musics in Edmonton by identifying music or dance performers, attending performances whenever possible, mapping out the circulation of audio-visual materials, etc. Our aim will be to outline a directory of Iranian and Central Asian musics in Edmonton by the end of the course, and to thereby pave the way for fieldwork-based research in town. The CFE will develop over the entire duration of the course. It will rely upon your individual contributions and mine, on coordinated planning to be devised and discussed in class, and may also entail small assigned tasks.

Weekly reading and listening reports, to be submitted every week by and no later than Monday 9:00pm (by e-mail). Reports should be concise (not exceeding two paragraphs per reading and two pages overall). They should include a short description as well as a critical evaluation of your readings. Personal points of view are welcome, provided that you support your argument/s by referring to other relevant readings or materials, theory or class discussions. Please be prepared to discuss your readings in class.

Completing and submitting one additional exercise by week 8. This may be EITHER: An exercise in transcription and analysis, or a short composition based on one relevant musical idiom. The content of your exercise will be chosen by you depending on your interests, but I recommend that you discuss your choice with me before beginning your work. Transcription/composition exercises are meant to encourage attentive listening and facilitate familiarity with musical structures, aesthetics and performance techniques. Transcriptions and analyses need not be lengthy or highly detailed, and short compositions need not be masterpieces. However, they should be accurate and show a basic understanding of the musical idiom under consideration. OR: A review of two relevant CDs of your choice. You should comment on the content of recordings and booklet, on the selection of pieces made by the compiler/producer/record company/artist, and on the relevance of your chosen items to the scholarly study and public perception of Inner and Central Asian musics. Your reviews should be conceived as short essays (of about 1,000 words each): they should be polished, show critical insight and include bibliography or discography where applicable.

Research proposal – to be submitted by week 6 – on the topic of your final paper. Your proposal should be short (1-2 pages) and include topic description, provisional bibliography and proposed method.

Oral presentation in class (20-30 min) on a subject of your choice – which may or may not be the subject of your final paper. Presentations on a topic other than the final paper topic are automatically upgraded by 1 point on the numeric scale of evaluation (see below).

Final paper, due by 11 December. For undergraduates (Music 465): 5,000-6,000 words; for graduates (Music 565): 7,000-8,000 words. Word limits do not include bibliography, but do include footnotes, captions, graphics with a textual component, etc. Papers that do not respect the word limit margins set above will be penalized and automatically downgraded by 1 point on the numeric scale of evaluation.

No final examination.


Each assignment will be marked according to the numeric scale of evaluation given below. Individual assignment marks will be combined to obtain a final numeric grade, which will be translated into the correspondent final letter grade. As a general rule, expectations for graduate students will be higher than for undergraduates.

A 4.0

A- 3.7

B+ 3.3

B 3.0

B- 2.7

C+ 2.3

C 2.0

C- 1.7

D+ 1.3

D 1.0

D- 0.7

F 0.0

The relative weight of each assignment on the overall grade is as follows:

Attendance and participation (including CFE): 10% Reading reports: 20% Transcription-analysis/composition exercise and reviews: 15% Oral presentation: 20% Final paper: 35%

Please note that research proposals will not be assessed. However, it is essential that you work carefully on your proposal and submit it on time. This will help you to prepare your final paper. For all assignments, unjustified late submissions will be penalized by one third of point per day (late submissions of research proposals will affect the grading of “attendance and participation”).


You are invited to see me for assistance on any issues relevant to the course during office hours or by fixing an appointment. In addition, a round of individual tutorials will be scheduled for week 7; tutorial sessions will focus on the proposed topic of your final paper.


There are no required textbooks for this course. Levin 1996 and Berg 2004 (see Bibliography) have been ordered at the University Bookstore and are recommended for those of you who intend to purchase books for this course. A number of relevant books, articles and sound recordings have been put on reserve at the Music Library and others will be made available on reserve in the near future. Please notice that some of the articles required for this course are available online. Relevant bibliographic or audio-visual materials that may not be available at University Libraries will be handed out in class, included in this Wiki site or made accessible in my office. Also, substantial additional audio material from my personal collection and field recordings will be used.


(Part 1)

Week 1 – Sept 6 “The Persianate world”: a viable concept? Introduction to the musics of Iran and Central Asia

Week 2 – Sept 13 Music, politics and society in 20th century Central Asia

Week 3 – Sept 20 Mountain music of Tajikistan (and Northern Afghanistan): folk and popular traditions, contexts and meanings

Week 4 – Sept 27 Tajik-Uzbek art music (Shashmaqom and related genres) – repertoire, structure, history and contemporary practice

Week 5 – Oct 4 Mountain music of Tajikistan (and Northern Afghanistan)(continued): ritual and poetry among the Ismailis of Badakhshan

Week 6 – Oct 11 The voice, sung poetry and religion in Central and Inner Asia: aesthetics and ethics

Research proposal due.

(Part 2)

Week 7 – Oct 18 Music, politics and society in 20th century Iran

Research proposals tutorial week

Week 8 – Oct 25 Introduction to Persian art music: repertoire and performance practice, tradition, spirituality and ideology

Exercises due

Week 9 – Nov 1 Regional traditions of Iran: the music of Iranian Khorasan

Week 10 – Nov 8 Popular musics: globalism and local identity in Iran and Central Asia

Week 11 – Nov 15 Music and gender in Central and Inner Asia

Week 12 – Nov 22: Presentations

Week 13 – Nov 29: Presentations

Week 14 – Dec 6: Presentations

Final paper due Dec 11

“Policy about course outlines can be found in section 23.4(2) of the University Calendar”. (GFC 29 SEP 2003)

“The University of Alberta is committed to the highest standards of academic integrity and honesty. Students are expected to be familiar with these standards regarding academic honesty and to uphold the policies of th University in this respect. Students are particularly urged to familiarize themselves the the provisions of the Code of Student Behaviour (online at and avoid any behaviour which could potentially result in suspicions of cheating, plagiarism, misrepresentation of facts and/or participation in an offence. Academic dishonesty is a serious offence and can result in suspension or expulsion from the University.” (GFC 29 SEP 2003)