Pop music examined

2010-01-19 00:00

A PIETERMARITZBURG author travelled to the University of Strasbourg in France last year to give his verdict on a thesis which references his book, Origins of the Popular Style.

Peter van der Merwe’s book looks at the origins of 20th-century popular music and how traditional ­African music and European music came together in North America. In print for some 20 years, Origins is one of the few books written on the subject and “tackles pop music from a scholarly point of view”.

Van der Merwe, who works in the cataloguing department at the ­Bessie Head Library, was asked to take part in the event by the student Elvio Cipollone. “He wanted me to be an examiner on his thesis,” he ­explained. “In the ‘sustaining the thesis oral exam’, the person ­expounds their thesis, the examiners ask questions and the student ­responds.

“It was very flattering, but I didn’t want to do it initially. But, even though it was stressful, I’m glad I did it and, if I got a similar invitation in the future I’d do it again.”

Cipollone, who hails from Verona in Italy, worked on his thesis — ­Harmonic Patterns of Popular Music and its Relation to the Principals of Tonality — for five years, but only discovered Van der Merwe’s work after he’d already started this study.

Van der Merwe, who has a reading knowledge of French, was able to read Cipollone’s work before he and the three other examiners tested him on his literary ability, how well he ­argued his case and how he ­managed to explain the technical aspects of the thesis.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to talk privately to the Italian student, something he regrets.

“I would have liked to spend some time with Elvio, talking about ­academic styles and standards,” said Van der Merwe, who released a second book, Roots of the Classical in 2004.

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