The University of St. Thomas


Nerenhausen, Rebecca

Nerenhausen, Rebecca

Music Educator as Fieldworker: The Collection of Egyptian Children's Songs
Rebecca J. Nerenhausen

The search for accessible world music children’s songs continues as global issues and communications intermingle and as music organization’s prescriptions, including the Music Educators National Conference’s National Standards for the Arts, require the incorporation of world music in the music classroom. Due to limited resources, music educators are discovering the need to extend their research beyond the scope of their own music libraries. In addition to research, comparing and utilizing the music to fit the western curriculum is an additional responsibility.

The purpose of this project was to create a collection of Egyptian children’s songs. The demand for this collection stemmed from a lack of accessible Egyptian children’s music in the elementary music library at Cairo American College. With an Egyptian enrollment of 13%, this deficiency needed to be addressed. The fieldwork approach used in this study was guided by the discipline of ethnomusicology.

The fieldwork process was condensed into three areas: (a) preparation, (b) gathering data, and (c) music analysis. Preparation consisted of gathering adequate equipment, including a cassette tape recorder, microphone, and video camera, and preparing permission forms and an outline for fieldwork record keeping. It also involved researching the host country’s music, identifying informants, and studying interview techniques for gathering information. The second area, gathering data, appeared to be the most unpredictable step. Working within a foreign culture can bring unexpected results; sometimes exhilarating, sometimes disappointing. The last area was the music analysis, determining what is typically Egyptian and its transcription into an accessible format. Egyptian music often uses scales which do not fit the western diatonic mode, and variances from this mode needed to be addressed.

There were two major challenges during fieldwork. The first was the identification of informants. Unlike an ethnomusicologist, I was not conversant in the host country’s language. In addition, with the limited amount of time for the project, and as an adult and a foreigner, it was nearly impossible to get close to rural Egyptian children, those less influenced by western culture and the bearers of contemporary Egyptian children’s songs. Consequently, English-speaking, musically educated Egyptian adults were asked to recall childhood songs. The second challenge was the transcription process. How could I identify melodies which did not fit western diatonic scales? I decided to use a downward arrow over notes to indicate an approximate 3/4 step interval. This notation is found in the collection’s “A Ramadan Song.”

The collection results revealed songs which contain universals within global children’s songs, including narrow ranges, duple meter, short forms, and similar text subjects; all accessible for use in the music curriculum. Sample lesson plans included in this project proved successful, bringing out connections between many expatriot students who recognized the Arabic and the host country students who helped with pronunciation and translations. Many of the activities (including playing on the table [drum]) crossed all cultural boundaries. As well, sessions were fun and challenging.

Capstone Advisor
Robert Young Walser