Oral perfomances in a (post-) literate society

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  • Giuseppe Sanfratello
The attempt of the present paper is to introduce the following question: How is
it possible to still talk about “oral performances” in a literate, indeed “postliterate”
society? In order to stress the relevance of such a topic, I will examine
some achievements in research fields both dealing with literary studies and
musicological enquiry. Taking into account some instances of oral musical
traditions gathered during ethnomusicological fieldwork, e.g. the singing of
mandinàdhes (couplets of improvised rhymed verses) from Crete and the
Byzantine liturgical chant of the Albanians of Sicily, I will analyse the process
both of (re)writing a poetic-formulaic tradition by adapting itself to the modern
multimedia technology (i.e. the “media literate poets” case on Crete) and
developing techniques of oral safeguarding without the usage of musical
notation (i.e. the case of the Sicilian-Albanian community). This very last
example will show how one can talk about “aliterate” performers, who choose,
on purpose, not to write down their own singing tradition, although they do
know how to read and write.
These cases might seem a bit more complicated to look at if one just
considers that, in the so-called Facebook Era, it has become increasingly
difficult to define a clear border between orality and literacy. Indeed, we should
observe the striking switch from the relationship of “writers and readers” to
that one of “bloggers and followers”.
Finally, by studying such musical phenomena, it is possible to deduce that
– since the systems of oral performance have significantly changed over the
last century – we can still find a relevant bond between techniques of oral
musical transmission and written safeguard in a (post-) literate society.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7
JournalM&STE: Elektronisk tidskrift för konferensen Musik & samhälle
Issue numberNr 1, 2016
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2016

ID: 166739100