Musical sounds and native ecologies exhibit. Photo courtesy of Terri Skillman

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library and the Music Department’s Ethnomusicology Program have collaborated on an exhibit in Hamilton Library’s Bridge Gallery—Musical Sounds and Native Ecologies: Musical Instruments and Cultural Sustainability. The exhibit is on display through August 15, 2013, and highlights the valuable instrument collection which is also a teaching resource that is housed in the Ethnomusicology Program. The Ethnomusicology Instrument Collection is part of the University Museum Consortium directed by Karen Kosasa.

Musical instruments not only make music—they are often the oldest objects that document a musical tradition. As tangible objects they draw upon the physical environment, the land, where a people takes root and a society establishes its identity. Thus instruments are not only part of a society’s expressive culture, they are part of the history of its material culture and its ecology as well. That ecology has both physical and societal aspects, both of which are subject to development and change.

Sustainability of a culture’s music as part of its identity is linked to the sustainability of its natural resources. Resources can change through environmental degradation. Two examples that impact music—the disappearance of virgin strands of Hawaiian bamboo due to urbanization and the lowered tensile strength of Japanese silk through air pollution.

Resources also change through innovation and discovery. Metal technology enabled bells to replace sonorous stone and for metal to replace gourd as holder for bamboo pipes. The changes in technology and material resulted in an economy of working time and a greater availability of the instrument.

Cross-cultural contact can also generate change in resources and materials. For example, the sardine can and the cardboard box become “fair game” for instrument building in Africa and Polynesia, respectively.

The exhibit is guest-curated by Ricardo D. Trimillos, UH Mānoa professor emeritus of ethnomusicology and former chair of Asian studies, with Teri Skillman, curator for the Library.

The exhibit is free and open to the public during summer building hours, weekdays from 8 a.m.–5 p.m.

For more information read the UH Mānoa press release.

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