Sue Miller – Cuban Flute Improviser, Writer & Academic

Cuban Flute Style: Interpretation and Improvisation review in Latin American Music Review JournalDecember 20th, 2016


Cuban Flute Style: Interpretation and Improvisation
by Sue Miller

Review by Sunni Witmer in Latin American Music Review, Volume 37, Number 1, Spring/Summer 2016, pp. 125-127 (Review) Published by University of Texas Press

SUE MILLER. Cuban Flute Style: Interpretation and Improvisation. Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow Press, 2014. 356 pp. ISBN: 9780810884410.

‘In his seminal work The Anthropology of Music, ethnomusicologist Alan P. Merriam (1964) posited that any true analysis of music in culture should include three analytical levels: music as sound, music as behavior, and music as idea (i.e., the theoretical). This approach has had lasting and influential relevance, especially regarding the importance of behavioral and theoretical analysis. Even a cursory review of post-1960s 126 ethnomusicological literature will show that most research places a focus on the theoretical, with supplemental analysis of the music, as sound, used to support social and theoretical constructs. Publications of full, indepth analyses of performance practices and instrumental performance techniques are less prevalent. Sue Miller’s work on the Cuban musical tradition known as charanga, and its emphasis on flute virtuosity, is a welcome addition to the shorter list of published research done on what Ki Mantle Hood (1960) called bimusicality. In ethnomusicological research the reasons more emphasis, as well as credibility, has been placed on theoretical analysis are varied, but perhaps most important, because some early ethnomusicologists felt that “bi-musicality was too subjective, too self-indulgent, too unscholarly, too unscientific, too much fun, [and] too much like the music-ed business (what the late Alan Merriam at Indiana called ‘sandbox ethnomusicology’)” (Titon, 1995, 289). Miller’s research defies this notion and shows that in-depth, detailed, and thorough transcription and analysis of music as sound, combined with an emic command of performance practices, is as valid a contribution to our understanding of any musical experience as the intellectualization of it. In many ways, Miller’s approach is typical of current research. Her work focuses primarily on the research and analysis of the Cuban charanga style of flute playing and, by extension, charanga music in general.’


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