Music in Society—Webinar 1

Friday 20 May, 2022 | 12.00-1.00 pm

‘The bones of songs’ and China’s cultural heritage: why Chinese minority songs matter 

Dr Catherine Ingram

Senior Lecturer, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

The University of Sydney


“They are just listening to the melody,” commented one of my Kam (in Chinese, Dong 侗) song teachers from Guizhou province on the audience reaction to a Kam song performance, “they aren’t listening to the bones of the song.” For experienced Kam singers, it is the lak ga – the bones of songs, the Kam name for song lyrics – that is still the most important aspect of a song and its performance. Kam songs, including Kam ‘big song’, the multi-part Kam choral genre recognized by UNESCO as world Intangible Cultural Heritage, are mainly sung in the Kam language, a Tai-Kadai language with no widely used written form that is completely different from Chinese. The lyrics are by turn educational and philosophical, dealing with historical, social, environmental, agricultural and cosmological issues that have been important to Kam people for centuries. In this lecture I draw upon my extensive research on Kam song over an eighteen-year period, and my experience joining Kam friends and teachers in many Kam song performances, to explain how Kam song is understood by Kam people and why songs of Chinese minorities such as the Kam minority continue to be significant today.

Catherine Ingram with Kam Women in Guizhou. Credit Xie Zi-chong Catherine Ingram with Kam Women in Guizhou. Photo credit: Xie Zichong


Catherine Ingram 

Dr Catherine Ingram is a senior lecturer in ethnomusicology at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney. She has previously held research fellowships at SOAS (University of London), the International Institute of Asian Studies (the Netherlands) and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and during 2016-2017 was a visiting expert with the Chinese Music Ecology Research Team, Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Since 2004 she has conducted extensive research on Kam (in Chinese, Dong 侗) minority musical culture in southwestern China, and since 2015 Catherine has also undertaken ethnographic research on music-making within various sectors of the ethnically diverse South Sudanese Australian community. Her numerous publications mainly center on Kam minority music while also encompassing issues concerning gender, the environment, language-music connections, digital fieldwork, anthropological studies of ‘tradition’ and notions of intangible cultural heritage. Catherine has co-authored or co-edited four volumes, including Presence Through Sound: Music and Place in East Asia (Routledge, 2020), Environmental Preservation and Cultural Heritage in China (Commonground, 2013) and Taking Part in Music: Case Studies in Ethnomusicology (Aberdeen University Press, 2013), with papers in numerous other publications including The Oxford Handbook of Musical Repatriation (2019), Ethnomusicology: A Contemporary Reader Volume II (2017) and Music as Intangible Cultural Heritage: Policy, Ideology and Practice in the Preservation of East Asian Traditions (2012). Her monograph on Kam big song is forthcoming with Oxford University Press, and her ethnographic research in Kam minority communities in China featured in two documentaries produced by Guizhou Television (2006, 2011) as well as other Chinese media. Catherine is currently undertaking an Australian Research Council-funded Discovery Project on musical resilience within marginal groups in culturally diverse societies.

Prof Jonathan Stock 

Dr Jonathan Stock is Professor of Music and former Head of Department of Music and former Head of School of Music and Theatre at University College Cork, Ireland. He specialises in the music of East Asia, China and Taiwan and is also interested in applied ethnomusicology, English folk music, music education, musical analysis, and the global history and theory of ethnomusicology. He completed a PhD at the Queen’s University of Belfast and was a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and then Lecturer at the University of Durham, before moving to Sheffield to found a new programme in ethnomusicology, where I served as Lecturer, Reader and then Professor of Ethnomusicology. From 2011-12, he was Associate Dean for Research, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney. Jonathan has also acted as a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council panel chair (Music, Drama and the Performing Arts; Beyond Text Special Theme Commissioning Panel; and Annual Postgraduate Awards Panel). He has been editor of several journals, including The World of Music, and, more recently, co-editor of Ethnomusicology Forum.  He has published widely, and received and directed grants in Chinese music research, the study of Taiwanese musical culture, English folklore, Chinese studies and Korean nationalism.  Jonathan has been primary supervisor for 18 successfully completed PhDs (secondary supervisor for another 12), 12 research masters and 32 taught masters.


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