Summer Community of Scholars

Who's immersed in other cultures?

David Ree


As a music major, my interest in music does not stop at classical music. Nor does it stop at the music which I write and play for myself on the guitar and other instruments. One of my fascinations, which I have developed through various experiences of exposure during my life, is in ethnic music from around the world. Over the past two summers I have spent time in the Republic of Georgia, Bulgaria, Italy and Ukraine learning folk music from the people of those countries, as well as some from other regions of the world such as South Africa. All of this has been through the organization Village Harmony. This past summer I was aided in my endeavors by a generous grant from the Bickman Scholarship Fund, a fund that supports Visual and Performing Arts students who have planned summer projects.

What ties the music of these regions together is that they have all independently developed polyphonic (that is, music sung in different parts, usually from 2-4), often a-cappella, vocal music. It is fascinating to compare music from these different locales both between each other, and between what we are most familiar with, namely the western tonal system. While there are many similarities, differences abound in what is considered pleasant harmony and tone quality. For example, in Bulgaria the traditional music is filled with seconds; the locals love to sing songs based on this interval. Similarly, across the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia, the inversion of this interval, the ninth, combined with open fifths, is a dominant feature of the music. In Bulgaria, a very nasal tone quality is used which would be completely unacceptable in western classical music. These are all large generalizations, and many much finer distinctions and variations exist, but these examples give a sense of what I find so fascinating.

In the western world, I think that it is becoming easier and easier to detach music from daily activities and festivals. While travelling in these developing countries, I have had the opportunity to see how music is integrally tied to the festivals and daily lives of the locals; songs of friendship and hospitality, of nationally defining historical moments are sung at meals; dances played and sung at festivals, music in churches… the list goes on. Studying ethnomusicology is not only studying music, but also the culture in which it is found.

As a direct result of these experiences, I have started an a-cappella group on campus with a friend, the Clark International Achords (CIA), which specializes in this kind of polyphonic a-cappella music.


When not singing, I’m a very busy student at Clark. I founded the Clark University Pool Club and am a co-founder of Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights. I am in the Clark Concert Choir and Chamber Chorus, dance with the Clark Salseros, and play as many intramural sports as I can. Besides being a music addict, I am also passionate about my second major, Global Environmental Studies (GES). As I feel graduation drawing ever near, I am beginning to think about grad school in music theory/composition after a year off spent travelling, playing my music, and hopefully learning more about the music and traditional cultures of the world.