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The challenges of institutionalization of musical knowledge

Les enjeux de l’institutionnalisation des savoirs musicaux
Los desafíos de la institucionalización musical
Ingrid Le Gargasson
Traduction de Ingrid Le Gargasson et Marianne Pasty-Abdul Wahid
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les enjeux de l’institutionnalisation des savoirs musicaux [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
Los desafíos de la institucionalización musical [es]


Les institutions musicales modernes ont participé à la pérennisation et au renouvellement de certaines pratiques musicales et favorisé, plus largement, la création artistique. Leur prolifération et leur rôle déterminant dans l’histoire récente d’un grand nombre de traditions musicales invitent à une réflexion anthropologique transversale. Le processus d’institutionnalisation engendre un ensemble de transformations qui affectent directement les savoirs musicaux : il participe à la redéfinition de l’espace social et géographique d’un genre ou d’un répertoire. En s’attachant au cheminement d’une pratique circonscrite ou d’une catégorie musicale, les auteurs de ce dossier témoignent de la multiplicité des contextes musicaux et de l’inscription des institutions dans différentes échelles temporelles et territoriales. Ils soulignent, en parallèle, la capacité d’action des acteurs face à la coexistence et la superposition d’institutions socio-musicales. Alors que le cadre institutionnel délimite un espace de performance au statut oscillant dans le temps et dans le champ musical, les dynamiques engendrées par l’interpénétration des différents modèles de socialisations musicales dessinent un paysage musical complexe aux frontières mouvantes.

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Music and institutions: a convergence with multiple implications

  • 1 Events to be considered here are a day-long seminar organized at Science Po in 2008 on the question (...)

1The development of music institutions and their crucial role in the recent history of a great number of music traditions invite a transversal and anthropological reflection. Despite being a regular subject dealt with in scientific literature through examples inscribed in specific spatial and historical frames, it has not often been looked at from a theoretical perspective using a comparative approach, particularly in the field of ethnomusicology1. Nevertheless, “music institution forms a space allowing us to question the relations between individuals, society and State” (Campos and Poidevin, 2011, p. 74).

  • 2 In these pages, an institution is defined as a more or less structured public or private establishm (...)

2What effect does the institution have on musical expressions? How far do modern music institutions2 modify the status of the musician and his role in society? How do we think about the articulations and interactions between music and institutions? And what does the process of institutionalization tell us about the very nature of musical practices? These are the main questions addressed by the five articles constituting this special issue devoted to the challenges involved by the institutionalization of musical knowledge. The institutionalization topic offers a fruitful gateway for the study of the dynamics involved in the constitution and definition of musical knowledge. It exposes artistic transformations, both contemporary and past, mirroring the changes within the societies that shape them.

Modern music institutions and the process of institutionalization

  • 3 For a summary of the history of modern music institutions in Europe see Basso (2006).

3There are currently a great number of musical genres that are taught in educational institutes (schools, conservatories, universities, etc.) and performed in dedicated organizations (radios, operas, theaters, concert halls, orchestras, etc.). Emerged in Europe during the 17th century, modern music institutions flourished during the following centuries on the Old Continent as well as in the rest of the world. Chronologies and stakes differed depending on the area, but since the 19th century and increasingly in the 20th century, their common backdrop was the development of nationalist concerns, collections of repertoires and musical sciences3. Several countries saw the creation of state apparatuses devoted to culture and in particular to musical affairs in the second half of the 20th century (Poirrier, 2011). Through their public policies, some states support and guide musical creation, or even lead it, either directly or indirectly, by a system of orders and subsidies as can be seen in France for contemporary music (Menger, 1983) and opera (Forin, 2016). While some States erect popular musical forms as national cultural emblems, others promote “art music” of the ancient royal and princely court or cultivated in the associated temples, churches or shrines, thereby contributing to their construction as “classical music”, as observed by the historian Janaki Bakhle (2006) for Hindustani music in North India and the anthropologist Pamela Moro (2004) for Thailand and Indonesia. This dynamic can be initiated by proactive music institutions as highlighted by Lakshmi Subramanian (2006) for Carnatic music in South India, through her analysis of the role of the prestigious Madras Music Academy inaugurated in 1928 in the eponymous colonial city.

  • 4 Examples for French situation are Bödeker et al., 2008; Chimènes, 2004; Cohen, 2004; Francfort, 200 (...)
  • 5 Written productions presenting the key figures and canonic authors have sometimes been initiated by (...)
  • 6 For example: During (1993, 2011) and Nooshin (2015) for Iran; Hassan (2004) for the Middle-East; Ho (...)
  • 7 Musical institutions do not represent a homogeneous whole: differences are noted both in terms of t (...)
  • 8 By applying anthropological methods, the work of Born (1995), Kingsbury (2001 [1988]), Nettl (1995) (...)

4Music is both an “issue of power and a vehicle for power” (Darré, 1996, p. 14) as was illustrated by the operating modus of important artistic institutes of European monarchies, be it the Paris Opera house under the Ancien Regime (Serre, 2010) or the Neapolitan theatres of the 18th c. (Traversier, 2009). In Europe, the institutionalization of public concerts, which resulted from the development of music societies and academies in the 18th c. (Bödeker and Veit, 2007), led to the proliferation of concert halls in the last decades of the 19th c. While the history of European music institutions is well documented, especially for those promoting “art music” forms4, the work still needs to be done for many countries5. Studies on institutionalization of genres of popular music deep-rooted in community practices are scarce. Several sociological studies have taken interest in the modalities and consequences of school teaching of different genres: for France, we can mention the works of Coulangeon (1999) on jazz, Brandl (2009) on rock and Deslyper (2018) for the modern music closely associated with the music industry. At first, anthropologists and ethnomusicologists have tended to consider modern music institutions as a perversion of the original tradition or the manifestation of “western imperialism or government oppression” (Cohen, 2009, p. 309) and have therefore left them on the sidelines of their fieldwork. Then, they studied them to highlight the close relationship between music and politics and to detail the aesthetic impact of institutionalization on the considered repertoires6. Here, musical institutions are often presented as an application, if not a legitimation, of the state ideology. The ethnographic approach makes it however possible to go beyond the conventional presentation of institutions – the one that is offered to the outside world - to underline what is at stake in the internal configuration and to shed light on the divergence of opinions between different music experts7. The study of the ethnomusicologist Sabine Trébinjac (2000) on the Chinese music institutions is exemplary in this respect. She describes a complex institutional system gathering a large number of government officers devoted to the collection of songs from all regions of the country, and their rewriting following musical prescriptions, the consequence being a sinicization and a canonization of the musical and poetical content as illustrated by the muqam repertoire in the Uyghur region of Xinjiang (Trébinjac, 2000; Harris, 2008; During, 2011). This approach deserves to be applied in Western musical establishments. Bruno Nettl writes the following in reference to university music schools in the Midwestern United States: “There are myths that expose the fundamental values of our music Schools and that explain, as do “real” myths, our behavior in the present and in the past, even if they have little to do with the historical version of the events” (2004, p. 341)8.

5Drawing on these works, this issue proposes to consider modern music institutions as “sites of learning” in themselves, as producers of knowledge and representations (Jacob, 2007 & 2014), especially since they have ensured the permanence and renewal of musical practices and largely fostered music creation. In the wake of Marc Abélès (1995)’s views and the anthropology of institutions, it is worth studying “what is generated in the institution” and “what the institution generates”, and to take interest on the one hand in “the materiality of the institution, [and] on the other [in the] daily relationships within it” (1995, p. 74-76). Our focal point of reflection is the phenomenon of institutionalization, here understood as a process of acknowledgment and (re)arrangement of a given knowledge through the establishment of “modern” public or private structures aiming at its promotion, dissemination and transmission. This phenomenon implies a “transition from informal groups whose existence firstly relies on emotional sociability, to the existence of institutions with interindividual relationships objectified in positions (or “posts”)”, with in addition a proper legal status and regulations (Brandl, 2004, p. 152). In this respect, this issue has a dual objective: to identify common processes of institutionalization of musical knowledge as well as regional peculiarities related to the diversity of encountered socio-political configurations, and to analyze what characterizes this knowledge in each situation under consideration using an interdisciplinary approach intersecting anthropology, (ethno)musicology, sociology and historical perspective.

Music Institutions, social institutions

  • 9 Thus, throughout the pages, the term "institution" sometimes refers to establishments embodying cen (...)
  • 10 While Lurton looks at the evolution of the status of choral singing in France over almost two centu (...)

6In order to understand how the modern music institution is added to or competes with preexisting networks, it is necessary to consider the continuous and multiple relationships that it maintains with its environment, that is to say, other forms of “institutions”. By using the same term to refer to different realities, the articles of this issue confirm and illustrate the polysemy of the word “institution”9. Even if the embodiment of political power is an important dimension of state artistic institutions, the musical institution cannot be reduced to governmental bodies or to a “top-down” imposition of a stock of knowledge, procedures and standards. Thus, by focusing on the journey of a given practice (choral singing in France, the Mongolian vocal technique of khöömii, tablā playing in North India) or of a music category (“contemporary Uzbek music”), the authors underscore the multiplicity of musical contexts and the inclusion of institutions in different temporal and territorial scales. All of the five case studies composing this special issue place emphasis on the actors, procedures and apparatus of creation, transformation and circulation of musical knowledge over a certain period of time10. Here, the institutional framework appears as a performance space with a status that oscillates not only over time but also in the musical field.

  • 11 The relationship between institutions and amateurism has also been the subject of reflection in the (...)
  • 12 Tournay (2011) rightly explains that “although the uses of the concept of institution are diversifi (...)

7A number of anthropological and ethnomusicological studies have already drawn attention to the joint inscription of musical activities in distinct social spaces. The work of Ruth Finnegan (1989) on amateur music-making in a small English town describing the multiple locations invested by music (schools, government bodies, churches, clubs, pubs, etc.) is one of them11. Music flourishes in community spheres, both religious or secular, whether it be the family network, a master-disciple relationship (Curtet, Bourgeau), or ritual celebrations (Zevaco), that is to say social institutions defined in this context as “collective ways of doing and thinking [which] have their own existence outside individuals” (Douglas, 2004). The aim here is not to skim through the abundant literature produced on the notion of institution, a key concept in social sciences, particularly in sociology, but with outlines and a definition that remain very flexible as noted by Virginie Tournay (2011). It is rather to question all the dynamics induced by the process of institutionalization from the perspective of an area of activity, that of music12.

Musical knowledge in a perpetual reconfiguration

8The papers expose the sinuous course of musical practices that continuously transform themselves along with technical, social, political and even economic evolutions. They are supported by various structures that are sometimes consistent with, but also sometimes breaking with the previous context, without forgetting periods of disinterest as portrayed by the history of choral singing in France. Along the same lines as what Guillaume Lurton described as “a long shift, from a music teaching institution, the choirs, to another, the conservatory”, the reader is invited to take note of the various socio-musical realities in which a knowledge or a skill is embedded. Starting from the musical landscape of Soviet and contemporary Tajikistan as a whole and the musical experience of several artists, Ariane Zevaco also adopts a relational perspective to emphasize the agency of actors facing this coexistence and interpenetration of social and musical institutions. The complex and unsteady relations between these institutions with distinct statutes – sometimes antagonistic and competing, sometimes complementary and partners – are central to the argument developed by some authors. The context is here considered in a broad sense: it doesn’t solely refer to a place, but also implies “material and technological artefacts; geography and architectural environment; and the myriad of social relations and activities that animate the "place"” (Kresse et Marchand, 2009, p. 3). Musical knowledge for its part appears as the result of dynamic and heterogeneous procedures and practices perpetually re-evaluated by actors, and not as a set of fixed and homogeneous knowledge existing independently from performance. Following the milestones laid by Christian Jacob, knowledge “takes place” through institutions.

9The contributors thoroughly highlight the aesthetic transformation that comes along and results from the institutionalization of a repertoire, a musical genre or category, in the light of vernacular concepts and theories, while questioning their changing social status, as in Johanni Curtet’s article on the Mongolian khöömii. He retraces the transition of the vocal technic from the art of timbre practiced in the daily life in nomadic and rural context, to an “art of singing” taught in cities within academies and presented through stage performances, in festivals and contests, and that gradually evolves to becoming a national emblem and a form of intangible cultural heritage. UNESCO’s discourses and actions have carried further the development state project of this technique as well as the already engaged processes of patrimonialization aiming at increasing its international reputation. This process is very often a continuation of the policies and actions carried out by a preexisting institutional and associative network, while adding to the latter to complicate the equation at a local level.

  • 13 Today, most national music productions are in constant relationship with the transnational and inte (...)

10In the introduction to the special issue of the journal Transposition dedicated to music and ICH, Elsa Broclain, Benoît Haug and Pénélope Patrix (2019) wrote that “almost two thirds of the elements inscribed in 2018 on the UNESCO lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity have a significant musical component”. In a time when the matter of heritage is omnipresent in the field of humanities, it seems difficult to investigate institutionalization without addressing patrimonialization. Both dynamics are intimately interrelated; they have often developed simultaneously in a context of promotion of national cultural heritage and result from a common wish to acknowledge and enhance a given practice or repertoire as already stressed by several authors (Amougou, 2004; Charles‑Dominique, 2012; Roda, 2018). Beyond the growing role of UNESCO within the framework of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, various foreign organizations intervene in local music life, whether they are sponsors (cf. the Goethe Institute in Lisack’s contribution) or non-profit private societies for development or cultural cooperation (cf. the Aga Khan Musical Initiative mentioned by Zevaco)13.

11By placing actors and practices at the heart of investigation as is done for the analysis of institutions, the articles allow to decompartmentalize contexts that are too often considered independently and to question the usual dichotomies: “traditional – orality” versus “modern - institutional – writing”. Even in the cases that seem to show a formal disjunction between the different environments of music production, the inscription of the interprets in numerous performance circles requires to reassess the common breakdown and to instead focus on the terms of circulation of experts and knowledge. The study of music through its institutionalization allows – and this is why it is interesting – to point out the heterogeneous and unstable arrangements between repertoires, values, systems and the fundamentally porous borders existing between the different musical spaces.

Objects and effects of musical institutionalization

Rationalize and objectify musical practices

  • 14 Cf. Szendy (2001), Hennion (2004), Maisonneuve (2007) and Fargeton & Ramaut-Chevassus (2019) for ex (...)

12The nationalist ideology which prevails in the creation of some artistic establishments associates the idea of revalorization of the national heritage with that of modernization. These organizations are often presented by their instigators as markers of musical contemporaneity. Regardless of the context, the modern institutional framework involves structured teaching and production of knowledge that values the written word. In doing so, it contributed to the development of music edition with the publication of anthologies and methods presenting repertoires that have been composed or taken from field collections. Musical notation is highlighted as an element of modernization of practices and their transmission. Schools, academies and conservatories generally offer a formal teaching framework with a predefined timetable and course program. This framework contrasts with the progressive incorporation of knowledge that is predominant in family and community learning, through participation in a group of practitioners. The rationalization of the musical experience also leads to a new organization of the sound space and participates in the development of new performance and listening behaviors. “Entertainment” being the main and even the unique function, attentive and silent listening by the public who maintains a distance with the interpreters is valued here. This physical and symbolic distance between the audience and the artists, who invest a dedicated performance space, contrasts with the contexts of community playing with their active participation of the audience that are characteristic of traditional music. The modalities along which music is being appreciated and listened to thus evolve from one institution to another, by inducing new techniques of the body14.

  • 15 Alice Aterianus-Owanga underlines a similar dynamic for the Gabonese National Ballet project, with (...)

13The composition and orchestration of works appear to be skills valued by many modern music institutions (Curtet, Lisack, Zevaco). Repertoires qualified as traditional, which enhance the melodic line and the monody in a horizontal perception of music, can be rearranged, staged and orchestrated according to the promoted musical standards (with a vertical approach to music). This arrangement can take the form of grandiose scenic productions meant to participate in the glorification of identity (see Mijit, 2015 for the Uyghur musical heritage). This movement of spectacularization is symptomatic of the heritage making process that is ongoing for some artistic forms. This is evidenced by the examples of the Burkina ballet, a “national cultural institution” founded in 1998 (Andrieu, 2007) and the Malian ballet studied by Elina Djebarri (2011, 2012). This movement involves a recomposition of the musical and choreographic material to adapt to the new scenographic requirements and performance conditions15. The singular aspect of an instrumental or vocal technique could favor this spectacularization of a skill that was previously circumscribed in its expression, as is the case for the Mongolian khöömii (Curtet, 2013; this issue). These examples question the instrumentalization of creative practices by nation states. The author also notes the contradictions inherent to the popularization and urbanization of a musical practice which draws its primary meaning from the intimate bond established by man with the surrounding nature. Here, we can speak of a dynamic of aestheticization or “artification”, to use the expression of the sociologists Nathalie Heinich and Roberta Shapiro, with the “transformation of non-art into art resulting from the complex work which generates a change in the definition and status of people, objects, and activities” (Heinich and Shapiro, 2012, p. 20). This “passage to art” (Tarabout 2003), which is a process underlying institutionalization and patrimonialization, implies the desacralization of certain practices and the redefinition of a relationship with religion or, more broadly, with the spiritual content of musical expression. Lurton shows that the process of secularization of the choir as a popular and moral practice ultimately allowed it to enter conservatories.

14Contrary to the holistic approach of some artistic circles in which the musician must master a set of skills that go beyond his own specialty (such as knowledge of poetry, mastery of the dances accompanying a musical repertoire, knowledge of different instrumental and vocal forms, etc.), a segmentation of knowledge and the disconnection of activities are often encountered in school and academic situations. Part of these changes, which directly affect the imparted knowledge, stems from the necessary “didactic transposition” when a class of students is taught in an out-of-context framework (Chevallard, 1991). “School knowledge” (Delbos and Jorion, 1990) must be generally applicable and transposable to various situations and must at the same time meet the expectations of a heterogeneous audience. The didactization involves a selection of the elements to be integrated in the curriculum. The development of a knowledge program thus leads to a reflexivity on the considered knowledge. While some practices or genres fall into disuse, others are revalued. All of the dynamics described (rationalization, secularization, segmentation of the repertoire, etc.) are underpinned by the very process of academicization which, moreover, implies a theorization of the practice.

15The acquisition of an analytical knowledge of music appears to be an important objective of modern music institutions. It is no longer just a matter of knowing how to interpret a work: you have to be able to analyze it in musicological terms. New skills are therefore developing, such as mastery of music theory (Curtet, Zevaco, Lisack, Lurton) or of a local musical writing system (Bourgeau). The institution constitutes the framework of a scholarly discourse connected with a scientific corpus and new procedures for the validation of knowledge. Music is as much conceived as a “science” as an “art”. For four of the examples developed, the prevailing knowledge paradigm is that of modern western science. Erected as a model by many local intellectuals, western art music – which spread widely throughout the world via a hegemonic cultural and political system – often constitutes the benchmark for the created musical structures.

Models under influences

16The institutionalization theme refers to the question of musical modernity in colonial and post-colonial situations. The three texts dealing with musical examples from the post-Soviet space echo each other in the description of the technical and academic systems implemented within the normative framework of musical institutions. They underline the importance of the Russian musicological model in Tajikistan (Zevaco), Uzbekistan (Lisack) and in Mongolia (Curtet), a model that is itself associated with European musicology and the codes and tools of art music (composition, harmonization, orchestration, use of the piano for vocal accompaniment, etc.). The doctrine of “socialist realism” was set in favor of musical modernity: “the ideological ambition was to transform musical and more generally cultural, artistic and “archaic” traditions into “modern” works based on the written word and supported by an authoritative historical and “scientific” (i.e. musicological) theory” (Zevaco). The cultural heritage of previous political regimes thus remains significant and transcribes as much through the musicological vocabulary as through the used musical categories. However, musical institutionalization can contribute to the revaluation of precolonial models of learned culture: the European scientific system is indeed not the only model, and institutionalization is not just a westernization as was also underlined by the ethnomusicologist David Fossum (2015) for the Turkmen situation he was studying. The presented systems are most often a hybrid model illustrating a fragile balance between musical values and/or local learning practices on the one hand, and international educational and musicological standards on the other.

  • 16 The redefinition and modernization movement of Hindustani music has been dealt with by numerous aut (...)

17The Indian example of Hindustani music eloquently illustrates the dialogue that was conducted for more than a century between a vernacular knowledge system and modern western science. At the turn of the 20th century, reformist musicologists established the music school as a new “place of knowledge” in the Indian subcontinent: the educational change is meant to contribute to the revitalization, preservation and also to the social enhancement of Hindustani art music16. Indian scholars recognize the need to establish a mode of learning that is more “modern” and “scientific” than the oral family transmission or the master-to-disciple teaching which prevailed until then. The definition of a standardized notation system appropriate for the nature of Hindustani music is the subject of recurring debates: some militating for a properly indigenous notation, others arguing in favor of a musical notation using staves. The debate is as pragmatic as it is ideological if the framework of the British cultural hegemony is considered. In the newly founded institutions, the musical knowledge is divided between “theoretical knowledge” and “practical knowledge”, two categories which themselves refer to two types of authority: the learned Indian musicological tradition as it transpires through the surviving Sanskrit treatises on the one hand, and the oral tradition of musical specialists on the other (Le Gargasson 2015). Following an ideological line that is also found in other fields of Indian knowledge, musical modernity is anchored in the Hindu Brahmanic context. In this process, the identity of Hindustani music is renegotiated. From a skill associated with hereditary groups, Hindustani music acquires the status of academic and literate knowledge. The claimed break with the old socio-musical structure has, in any case, a double consequence: the diversification of the social origin of the artists, and the progressive marginalization of its traditional practitioners, in particular the courtesans who were privileged interpreters of many sung and danced forms in the first half of the 20th century.

18The modern music institution is struggling to cut itself from the aesthetic and social codes prevailing in the master-disciple transmission, as demonstrated by Antoine Bourgeau for the university teaching of tablā. Drawing on data collected from two North Indian institutions, the author confirms that the indicators of orality persist in the institutional context. The academic world even reinforces the ideal of learning from master to disciple by instituting it as a place of excellence and as a site of authenticity. While posing the centrality of the score, the ethnographies presented by Curtet, Lisack and Zevaco also reveal the persistent importance of orality and the integration of the masters' knowledge. Despite an apparent opposition, the institution absorbs the intrinsic values of the tradition it incorporates, hereby recalling the hypothesis of Cohen (2009, p. 308) in which he sees modern music institutions as the place of “hidden traditions”.

Selection, legitimation and re-appropriation of repertoires

  • 17 According to the author, "the cultural legitimacy of a musical genre is not only based on the propo (...)
  • 18 The Institute for Acoustic / Music Research and Coordination was officially founded in 1977.

19Colonial contexts often established a new hierarchy of musical knowledge by legitimizing some practices through their insertion in modern western style musical institutions. This institutionalization confirms the social recognition of the established musical form or, at least, ascribes it another form of legitimacy and / or a new visibility. It also promotes the social status of its performers playing in this context, without generating systematic support for practitioners who remained outside this circle, as illustrated by the case of khoomii and that of tablā. The legitimizing dimension of institutionalization is thus highlighted by all the authors of the volume. In the case of discredited or marginalized music, the process opens the way to social acceptance as well as to the respectability of the profession of “musician”. This cultural legitimacy goes as much through the recognition of public authorities as through the academization of transmission with a progressive elitization of the public as noted by Lizé (2016) for jazz in France17. This entry into the institution of a genre or an initially marginal musical trend inevitably raises certain contradictions. Georgina Born (1997) for instance highlights the paradox induced by the institutionalization of the contemporary music’s avant-garde within IRCAM and notes the tension between a rhetoric of permanent experimentation (intrinsically linked with the ideology of rupture carried by the movement) and the extreme codification of the practices and esthetics that are accepted within the framework of the institution18.

20Each cultural context considers music using its own categories and terminologies. But regardless of the concerned situations, institutionalization tends to establish or validate a new categorization of knowledge that orders artistic forms by redefining them. In other words, the process contributes to the classification of musical knowledge. Therefore, revisiting the establishment of institutions provides insight into the formation of musical nomenclatures and clarifies the underlying prejudices and ideological biases. “Classical” or “art music” is a socially constituted category which ought to be historicized, as shown by several authors such as Matthew Gelbart (2007) for Europe. As Sara Le Menestrel (2006) rightly points out,

the distinction that is generally drawn between art and popular music [...] implies [...] a process of aesthetic exclusion, a fragmented and fragmentary perception that does not take into account the bridges, the borrowings, the intertwining of polysemic and multiform musical styles, which distinctive criteria fade away as soon as one attempts to define them.

21By revealing the successive stages and the commitment of a variety of actors to the construction of “contemporary Uzbek music”, Lisack underlines this multivocality within the adoption of the new paradigm. Analyzing the use of musical classifications and terminologies in a dialectical approach helps grasping the underlying questions of prestige and power and rethinking the common oppositions that are translated by the used taxonomy.

  • 19 The ethnomusicologist Max Katz (2012) goes further by speaking of "institutional communalism. This (...)
  • 20 This can be defined as a movement to reformulate and enhance an artistic form according to the stan (...)

22Finally, the process of institutionalization facilitates the (re)appropriation of musical knowledge by transferring a practice that was previously confined to a specific territory or a restricted social circle into the public space; the possible consequence being the renewal of its practitioners’ identities. In other words, institutionalization helps redefining the social and geographic space of a repertoire or a practice. Modern music institutions have thus directly had their share in the marginalization of certain groups of artists. India for instance saw the disappearance of the courtesan whose repertoire has been reappropriated by a new class of artists from the urban elite (Maciszewski, 2006)19. The spatial reconfiguration of knowledge even plays a more important role for rural musical forms since institutionalization almost always goes hand in hand with urbanization. The concerned music can receive a new artistic value, as demonstrated by the case of Tajik falak, a “popular” song based on poems of love, mourning or mystical poems that became a “national” genre through a classicization process (Zevaco, 2011)20.

The status of the musician under scrutiny

23Institutionalization often goes together with a new economic model. According to places and times, it leads to the development of amateur practices or, on the contrary, to a professionalization of musical activity with a new role devoted to the artist within society, as is the case for the former Republics or satellite states of the Soviet Union. The “professional music” category distinguishes here the musical forms that are performed by artists trained in a modern institute, from the repertoire of amateur musicians who pursue a different profession as main activity (Curtet, Lisack and Zevaco). Moreover, the bureaucratic dimension of modern music institutions favors the diversification of musical professions. The composer and the “state musicologist” entities appear to be essential components of the Mongolian, Tajik and Uzbek state institutions marked by Soviet musical ideology. The collection of regional musical repertoires and the composition of new pieces in accordance with the "modern" aesthetic canons constitute important aspects of the musical production of these organizations, as developed by Zevaco for Tajikistan and Curtet for Mongolia.

24As a symbol of an accomplished education, the diploma is endowed with prestige even if it is not systematically associated with high performance skills. In addition, the gap between musicians who have graduated from an institutional education placing notation and / or composition at the heart of pedagogy, and those from family or community training celebrating orality can gradually widen. While different modes of legitimization for musical knowledge as well as different knowledge regimes coexist or overlap, tensions can emerge between the different figures of musical knowledge. The anthropological approach sheds light on the differing ways actors address institutionalization depending on their own position in the socio-musical context. It also highlights the constant adaptation of the positions and speeches of musicians with regards to multiple stakes connected with changing aesthetic, socio-religious and political requirements. The prevailing competition urges musicians to join simultaneously different networks as much associated with institutional scenes as with other performance areas. They use the range of possibilities to continuously adjust their actions as highlighted by Ariane Zevaco. Some are for example engaged in a double training, academic and “traditional”, under the guidance of a master, and directly participate in the evolution of ways of doing things within these two spheres of knowledge. The articulation between the different musical spheres thus shines through the very journey of the actors. The varying types of socialization experienced by the individual, who can resort to various logics of action, in a diachronic or concomitant manner, echo the concept of "the plural man" developed by the sociologist Bernard Lahire (1998).


25Considering the intersections, superpositions and overlaps between the different spheres of musical knowledge in the light of musical practices, rather than focusing on oppositions, leads the researcher to rethink the usual categories, between the “traditional” and “institutional” milieu, between the world of orality and that of writing. Instead of confronting the different logics of musical production and transmission, it appeared essential to consider the dynamics generated by the coexistence of different models of musical socializations. The musicians circulate between the different universes disregarding the ruling standards and thus multiplying their chances of establishing themselves as recognized performers in an extremely competitive environment. The circulation of artefacts and actors between institutions and the contexts they represent draw a complex musical landscape with shifting borders.

  • 21 Nettl summarizes it as follows: The School is a hierarchy of repertoires and people who are closel (...)

26Institutionalization allows for new collective identities to be expressed and for the produced knowledge to be re-semantized. It acts as a transformative force for a tradition: it constitutes a means of ensuring the continuity of knowledge while at the same time relying on the idea of rupture. The actors of modern music institutions recontextualize, reshape and objectify a repertoire or a musical practice, but they also go beyond that: they produce their own musical aesthetics. The process ultimately illustrates the reformulation capacities that are specific to musical traditions. Several avenues are still to be explored on the theme of musical institutionalization, a multifaceted and complex phenomenon which is here mainly presented via Asian examples (Central and South Asia). As we have seen, music can partake in the decolonization process of representation regimes: the colonial artistic and musicological heritage sometimes gives rise to negotiations in the context of post-independence; at the same time, a new hierarchical scale of musical knowledge takes shape and reflects social and economic issues, whether stated or latent21. The remarks in this volume parallel the reflections carried out in recent years in ethnomusicology and anthropology on the links between music and colonial and post-colonial situations. Looking at the functioning of modern music institutions and at their inclusion in the considered musical field from an anthropological and historical perspective, allows us to tackle the question of musical modernity in a more nuanced and pragmatic way.

I thank Shirish Athavale, Tiziana Beltrame, Lucille Lisack, Natalia Parrado, Marianne Pasty-Abdul Wahid, Dominique Vinck and Ariane Zevaco for the proofreading of this introduction. I also thank the participants of the first workshop  The rules of Art. Crossed-cultural Studies of the Institutionalization of Music, from India to Central Asia held in Paris in June 2017 as part of the 6th French Network for Asian Studies International Conference  of which this volume constitutes the outcome and an extension thanks to the call for contributions.

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1 Events to be considered here are a day-long seminar organized at Science Po in 2008 on the question of music institutions and the associated publication (Bardez, Donegani, Mahiet and Moysan, 2011), and the fifth Sibelius Academy Symposium on Music History devoted to the issue of musical institutionalization held in Helsinki in 2018: "Inside, Outside, and In Between: Institutionalization in Music History".

2 In these pages, an institution is defined as a more or less structured public or private establishment with a legal existence.

3 For a summary of the history of modern music institutions in Europe see Basso (2006).

4 Examples for French situation are Bödeker et al., 2008; Chimènes, 2004; Cohen, 2004; Francfort, 2004; Hennebelle, 2009; Ledent, 2009; Pasler, 2015 [2009]; Weber, 1993.

5 Written productions presenting the key figures and canonic authors have sometimes been initiated by the music organizations themselves, with a purpose of documentation or self-promotion.

6 For example: During (1993, 2011) and Nooshin (2015) for Iran; Hassan (2004) for the Middle-East; Howard (2006, 2016) for Korea; Levin (1996) for Uzbekistan; Rodmell (2012) for Great-Britain; Trébinjac (2000) for China; Weintraub (1993) and Sutton (2001-2002) for Indonesia.

7 Musical institutions do not represent a homogeneous whole: differences are noted both in terms of the formalization of knowledge and in terms of their bureaucratization.

8 By applying anthropological methods, the work of Born (1995), Kingsbury (2001 [1988]), Nettl (1995) and Small (1987) on Western institutions of scholarly music appears innovative.

9 Thus, throughout the pages, the term "institution" sometimes refers to establishments embodying central, regional or local political power, and sometimes to organizations existing outside the state apparatus, whether they are NGOs, private or associative groups.

10 While Lurton looks at the evolution of the status of choral singing in France over almost two centuries, Lisack bases her study on the period from 1996 to 2019. The other contributions are based on the last decades.

11 The relationship between institutions and amateurism has also been the subject of reflection in the sociology of culture: Antoine Hennion (2007) focuses for instance on all of the mediations connecting music to its audience by considering the diversity of its medium (stage, instrument, score and disc).

12 Tournay (2011) rightly explains that “although the uses of the concept of institution are diversified and widespread in just as many theoretical frameworks, the implicit explanatory of this term remains strongly influenced by the Durkheimian stance. According to this orientation, the institution is equivalent to an essential component of the social body determined by a structure or a system of social relations, and endowed with a sort of stability over time as well as a restrictive character”.

13 Today, most national music productions are in constant relationship with the transnational and international level. Some artistic forms are disseminated through networks of individuals and associations located outside the governmental spheres (cf. Aterianus-Owanga and Jardinon (2018) for the example of the Bwiti, a Gabonese initiation rite with an important musical dimension). Others are integrated in a globalized market economy via the cultural industry's institutions and production networks. This aspect of the subject is not developed here as it is not dealt with in the selected case studies.

14 Cf. Szendy (2001), Hennion (2004), Maisonneuve (2007) and Fargeton & Ramaut-Chevassus (2019) for example.

15 Alice Aterianus-Owanga underlines a similar dynamic for the Gabonese National Ballet project, with adaptations in terms of movement, positioning on the performance area, costumes and gestures” (2017, pp. 63-64).

16 The redefinition and modernization movement of Hindustani music has been dealt with by numerous authors over the past two decades: for a summary, see Bakhle (2006).

17 According to the author, "the cultural legitimacy of a musical genre is not only based on the proportion of upper classes within its audience. It is also based on its degree of recognition by the State, its place within general and specialized educational institutions and consecration bodies (cultural media, awards, academies, demonstrations, etc.)” (Lizé, 2016).

18 The Institute for Acoustic / Music Research and Coordination was officially founded in 1977.

19 The ethnomusicologist Max Katz (2012) goes further by speaking of "institutional communalism. This concept draws on the theory of "ideological apparatus" developed by Louis Althusser to qualify the ideology supported by certain Indian musical institutions (in particular the first music schools). This would be one of the causes of the progressive marginalization of the Muslim hereditary musicians from the cultural and economic life in contemporary India.

20 This can be defined as a movement to reformulate and enhance an artistic form according to the standards and tastes of the elite, with a possible rapprochement with an "erudite" heritage.

21 Nettl summarizes it as follows: The School is a hierarchy of repertoires and people who are closely associated with them” (2004, p. 346).

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Ingrid Le Gargasson, « The challenges of institutionalization of musical knowledge »Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances [En ligne], 14-2 | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2020, consulté le 11 juillet 2020. URL :

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Ingrid Le Gargasson

Doctor in social and historical anthropology at EHESS and associate researcher in the Research Centre of Ethnomusicology (LESC-UMR 7186). Her work focuses on the history, transmission and institutionalization of Hindustani music in North India. She has been working as artistic advisor and project manager for the Maison des Cultures du Monde – CFPCI since end of 2018.

Address: Maison des Cultures du Monde - Centre français du patrimoine culturel immatériel, 2, rue des Bénédictins, FR- 35500 Vitré (France)
Email: ingridlegargasson[at]

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