on my mind . . . how is “historical significance” defined in Hawaiian music?

Following on the previous post, here is one more set of thoughts before I post my selection of “Top Ten Albums of Hawaiian Music–The View from 2012.”

What is historical significance?

Is historical significance defined by the achievement of excellence in maintaining tradition, or its equally opposite value–the achievement of breakthrough innovation?

Is historical significance defined by lionizing iconic performers at the top of their game, or by its equally opposite value–registering the emergence of artists with game-changing ideas that become influences and models to others?

Is historical significance defined by significance to the community who produces the music, or by its equally opposite value–the community who consumes the music, and whose consumption statistics reflect “popularity” and the spread of reputation and renown?

Is historical significance defined by time-honored repertoire of great antiquity, or its equally opposite value–the appearance of sensational new repertoire that trumps stalwarts and warhorses?

How do we weigh and/or balance significance to make selections from among artists, songwriters / haku mele, repertoire, and popularity / record sales?

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One Response to on my mind . . . how is “historical significance” defined in Hawaiian music?

  1. Russell Letson says:

    How many different histories are there? (He asked Socratically.) How many different communities? On a guitar forum I frequent, we regularly heap scorn on the periodic Rolling Stone “Top 100” lists–“What? No Doc Watson/Joe Pass/Eddie Lang/Bert Jansch/whoever? How dare they!” And eventually we admit that the Rolling Stone audience/contributor/tame-celebrity community differs from us (middle-aged white guys with acoustic guitars) in any number of ways, so what can you expect.

    Years ago I was part of a big project for Acoustic Guitar magazine, to compile a list of the 100 “essential” acoustic-guitar CDs. My section was “folk,” and the general rules were that the CDs (not LPs) had to be currently available and only one could be a compilation or anthology. On top of that, the categories for blues, bluegrass/country, fingerstyle, singer-songwriter, Celtic, and “world” (oops, there goes slack key) had been given to other writers, so I had to come up with ten “essential” “folk” CDs that didn’t step on anyone else’s turf. I wound up defining my turf as the roots and branches of the Folk Scare, though I didn’t announce that principle in my copy. (BTW, the article is still up on the magazine’s web site: http://www.acousticguitar.com/issues/ag45/feature45.html.)

    I think the narrowing of criteria that was forced on me helped make for a coherent (if hopelessly short) list, since I was forced to answer the crucial question “essential to whom and for what purpose?” Once I decided that the “who” was the cohort of listeners whose tastes were formed by the folk-boom of the early Sixties (which happens to include me), I had a principle of inclusion.

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