Changing Traditions

We have considered who gets to participate, where we participate, and how the answers to these questions stand at the intersection of musical inclusion, narrative building, and tradition at Dartmouth. Several case studies have illustrated the complex role music plays in preserving social powers within the Dartmouth community. Often, the preservation of these status quos inadvertently (sometimes advertently) pushes people outside of the arbitrary social bounds that students and administrators have created. Thus, I am inclined to ask: how can we make music at Dartmouth a force that includes all communities?

During the spring of my freshman year, I took a course with Professor Lynn Patyk hosted by the Department of Russian. The course focused on folklore, its role in Russian society, and its ties to the contemporary world. Folklore is any form of tradition that gets passed by word of mouth, and while it may harken images of primeval forms of storytelling, it is a dynamic process that remains alive today. I began thinking of musical traditions, and it got me thinking: 1) when does a tradition become a tradition rather than being a temporary idiosyncrasy within a community and 2) when does anything actually get passed by word of mouth at Dartmouth, especially in the digital age?

To answer the second question, the importance of passing down musical traditions through word of mouth is evident from the moment a new student steps onto campus. During my freshman year trips, my trip leader taught me the "Alma Mater" line-by-line. Upon my introduction to the men’s swim and dive team, a junior walked me through the team cheer to ensure I knew every word, every pronunciation. Fraternities pass songs along to new pledges in the fall. Sororities teach their new members chants. Teams pass down cheers not on paper, but through their words. As it happens, music at Dartmouth, especially the forms of music that this project has analyzed, relies heavily on word of mouth to be taught. Just think about the dozens of songs that there are lyrics for. Many of these songs were set to music at some point, but as they fell out of favor, the Dartmouth community lost their melodies and harmonies. Thus, teaching through word of mouth remains an important facet of the musical lifecycle at Dartmouth both as a pedagogical method and as a way to preserve tradition.

Finally, there is the question, “when does a tradition become a tradition rather than being a temporary idiosyncrasy within a community?” In truth, there is no good answer to this other than to say, “whenever people decide so.” Much like paper cash, something that if you think about has no intrinsic value of its own, gets its status and worth from people designating it so, a tradition may start as a one-off event, bequest, or music, but if repeated over time, can morph into something that the community chooses to accept as a permanent staple. If everyone in the Dartmouth community contributed to the tradition-making process, the sounds that are performed on our campus might just expand beyond the walls of exclusivity and be welcoming to members of the institution who have historically been ousted from participating. This being because we, the Dartmouth community, would likely begin to accept new traditions (read, inclusive traditions) that push our music out of the social stasis that it has been in for several decades.

In essence, the change we are looking for begins with us.

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