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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Organs and bodies : the Jew's harp and the anthropology of musical instruments Morgan, Deirdre Anne Elizabeth


The Jew’s harp is unique among instruments, and in its apparent simplicity it is deceptive. It has been adapted to a wide array of cultural contexts worldwide and a diverse range of playing techniques, which, upon closer examination, reveal much about the cultures that generate them. Drawing on perspectives from organology, ethnomusicology, comparative musicology, ethnography, material culture, and the anthropology of the body, I situate my approach to the study of musical instruments as one that examines the object on three levels: physically (the interaction between the human body and the body of the instrument), culturally (the contexts in which it is used), and musically (the way it is played and conceptualized as a musical instrument). Integrating written, ethnographic, and musical evidence, this study begins broadly and theoretically, then gradually sharpens focus to a general examination of the Jew’s harp, finally looking at a single Jew’s harp tradition in detail. Using a case study of the Balinese Jew’s harp genggong, I demonstrate how the study of musical instruments is a untapped reservoir of information that can enhance our understanding of the human relationship with sound.

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