Postal Workers Canceling Stamps
Elise Moab
Music 3824
Spring 2003


Who created it?

This piece was created by four postal workers in Ghana.


When and where was it created?

This particular piece is a field recording that was recorded by James Koetting in 1975. The music was created by the postal workers canceling stamps in the University of Ghana post office in Ghana. The whistled part is from the hymn "Bompata," by the Ghanaian composer W.J. Akyeampong (b. 1900). This type of music is created daily as a normal part of life for the Africans in Ghana.

Why and for whom was it created?

The music is not intended for performance. In fact, the creators do not even consider what they are doing as music. They basically created it for themselves as a work song. The music probably helps the postal workers to pass the time at work and to help them somewhat enjoy the monotony of what they are doing. The music helps the workers to control the mood of the workplace.

What is the subject?

The music does not have a distinct subject. I suppose the subject could be work (since to the workers it is not considered music), or social engagement and participation. The subject of work music functions as making boring and repetitive work more interesting. In this instance the workers have turned life into art. This type of music also welcomes social engagement and participation because they all join together to make a complex creation. Anyone is welcome in participating in the "song" and complex rhythms. "Much African music shares this generous,open-hearted quality that welcomes participatio." (Tition, p. 91).

What is being expressed?

I believe that cooperation and an upbeat positive attitude are being expressed in this piece. The workers are working together in harmony (literally and figuratively) to get the work done and enjoy themselves while doing so. They cooperate to make rhythms and melodies together that turn their job into an enjoyable experience. The music greatly expresses the culture of and style of the African music-culture. As a generalization, the culture makes everyday happenings as well as social situations into music-making events. This music is expressed not in media, but just in the social context. This piece also somewhat expresses the style of African music with features such as polyrhythms, repetition, and improvisation. The piece expresses the African belief that music is a necessary and normal part of life.

What techniques did its creators use to help us understand what is being expressed?

As mentioned above, the workers express their cooperation by making intricate polyrhythms and harmonies. They make the rhythms by putting the letters on the table, tapping the table to add to the rhythm, inking the stamp, stamping or canceling the letters, and clicking scissors. One men whistles a tune from a Christian hymn and another joins him, creating a harmony. Through their actions while working, they express their culture by making regular occurrences and social contexts music-making events. Their positive attitude towards work is expressed by their techniques of using what they have to make rhythms and melodies.


What kind of structure or form does it have?

The music is improvised, but does have some repetitive patterns. There are continuous underlying rhythms that continue throughout the piece. These rhythms are repeated, but vary from time to time to add to the complex s
ound. The percussion rhythms are formed by three of the workers. Two men at a table slap a letter rhythmically several times to bring it to the position where it is to be canceled. They ink the marker, forming another rhythm in the percussion. A third worker has a pair of scissors that he clicks to add onto the complex rhythms. There is a melody from a church hymn that one worker begins to whistle. The form of this hymn that is repeated through out is an AABA form. This melody is added onto at different times by another whistler creating a harmony. Of course it is not a totally structured piece, and it would never be done the same twice, but there are some things that do take on some sort of form but are often improvised, varied, and added upon.


What does it sound or look like?

When I first heard this piece, and before I knew anything about it, the piece sounded to me like percussion instruments such as drums, and of course whistling. (I was right about the whistling but did not realize that th
e percussion is made from everyday items.) It sounds very complex and has a very rich texture. Much is going on at once, creating amazing percussion rhythms and many timbres. Now that I know how the piece is created, in my mind I visualize a very inviting setting where men are enjoying their work, are fun to be around, are friendly, and are cooperative. The piece does not sound like any type of post office I have ever been in, so it is fun to imagine what it would be like to walk by a post office, such as the one in which this recording comes from, and have it be just a regular daily part of life.



  • Worlds of Music: An introduction to the Music of the World's Peoples, 4th edition. By Jeff Todd Titon, General Editor. Published by SCHIRMER Thomson Learning: Belmont, CA, USA. 2002."
  • Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World's Peoples" 4 CD set. CD 1:1 "Postal Workers,"