Deconstructing Hierarchy in the Traditional Performing Arts of Japan: A musical discourse of Kamigata rakugo

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Friday 07 December 2018


Basham Room Baldessin Precinct Building


Catherine Hallett


Catherine Hallett

Thesis abstract: Rakugo, the art of staged comic storytelling of Japan, is generally classified as and perceived by audiences to be an oral tradition performed without significant musical accompaniment. Music is nevertheless an indispensable component of the Kamigata rakugo tradition. The literature on Kamigata rakugo documents the presence of theme songs and sound effects, and states that the music comprising these components derives from traditional Japanese music genres. The significance of music and the centrality of those who perform the music are, however, neglected in the literature on the tradition. The field of Kamigata rakugo has therefore been inadequately documented. The central research question guiding this study is why are the musicians and music not given due recognition in Kamigata rakugo? To answer this question, I conducted ethnographic research on music in Kamigata rakugo. This included undertaking a temporary apprenticeship with a master musician as well as interviews with performers, observation of performances and archival research. My research reveals the presence of two parallel musical discourses that are negotiated by storytellers and musicians: they are the official discourse as documented in the literature, and the unofficial musical discourse that comprise tunes deriving from popular music genres, and pre-recorded sound effects. In exploring the ways in which and reasons why storytellers employ either the official or unofficial musical discourse in their performances, I analysed how the role of the storyteller or musician in the discrete performance spaces (on-stage and off-stage) of the theatre shapes the play of power and determines hierarchy. I argue that hierarchy in Kamigata rakugo should be disengaged from directionality. The hierarchy cannot be viewed as a simple linear structure; rather, it is dynamic. The connection between performance space and role of performers is of importance to re-evaluating hierarchy in musical traditions.

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