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Music as artisan tradition

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This paper attempts to explain three widely-held 'stylised facts' about the recent history of north Indian classical music. First, in the precolonial period, music and musicians were patronised by the courts. Second, from the early colonial period patronage declined and music tended to be commercialised. And third, in the process, accumulated knowledge and the quality of crafts manship decayed. In a received view in music scholarship, the transition from patronage to market involved an institutional change and a diffusion of teaching from 'family' to out siders. Decay is attributed to the consequent reluctance of masters to teach well. The paper disputes this view. It suggests that the decay can be seen as an imperfect adaptation by individuals to the changing economic environment, and that this is a more general phenomenon than music scholarship believes. On the other hand, in the instructional system, which was primarily apprenticeship, there was substantial continuity. In this interpretation, music history can be seen to belong to a larger history of north Indian craftsmanship. The paper illustrates this proposition by drawing on the experiences of other skilled urban crafts.

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