Rhythms and Songs for the Orixás: Pedagogy and Practice of Afro-Brazilian Candomblé Drumming

Kay Speidel, “Rhythms and Songs for the Orixás: Pedagogy and Practice of Afro-Brazilian Candomblé Drumming”
Mentor: Andy Miller, Dance
Oral Presentation Block 2

American universities historically have prioritized Western classical music as the object of study. This has led to the development of time-efficient strategies for learning, primarily using written notation and explicit verbal instructions to quickly prepare for public performances. There is an increasing amount of non-Western percussion music being studied in the university percussion curriculum (Steel Bands, Gamelan, African Drumming, etc.) However, these non-Western percussion genres are typically learned over a long period of time through the process of enculturation, which is primarily achieved through aural learning. Unfortunately, learning non-Western music within Western institutional limitations (time, space, expectation of public performances) often results in compromising the learning methods used within the original cultural context. This leads us to our primary research questions: 1) How can music transmission within Candomblé be recontextualized to the university percussion ensemble? 2) What comprises a lesson plan that effectively emulates the transmission processes of Candomblé music? For our research, we taught Candomblé rhythms and songs to the UWM percussion ensemble from November 2021 to February 2022, resulting in a public performance. Preceding this, we studied Candomblé and investigated how it is transmitted in cultural context through conversations with master drummer Jorge Alabê. Based on this research, we developed and taught lesson plans to the percussion ensemble that centered aural and holistic learning as the central processes. We collected student reflections which revealed significant pedagogical themes. While aural learning was a challenging new process, students felt that it resulted in better visual communication within the ensemble and a more holistic conception of how each part fits together, contributing to the feeling of group unity. The conclusion of this study highlights the importance of emulating how music is transmitted within cultural context, thereby supporting institutional shifts in the university percussion curriculum to adapt to the mode of transmission needed for each musically genre studied.