Western Classical Music in Mumbai: Global Music, Local Meanings

Hannah Marsden

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis is an ethnographic and historical investigation into the roles and meanings of Western classical music Mumbai and Goa, India. My core argument is that the values and ideologies held by those involved in Western classical musicking in Mumbai do not always correspond with local values and ideologies prevalent in the city. Tensions are thus created, as a transnational music historically rooted in European high art cultures meets local values in a post-colonial site.

Chapters one and two present a historical account of Western classical music in Mumbai. Drawing on extensive archival research as well as on oral histories, I outline how Western classical music was established in the city, and what it meant to the communities involved in it. The rest of the thesis is based on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in Mumbai in 2014 and 2015. In chapter three I take three case studies, a local music competition, an amateur orchestra and a Catholic choir, to explore various ways in which Western classical music can be employed as signifier of, and can participate in the construction of, multi-layered and nuanced identities. I show how practitioners of Western classical music in Mumbai are subject to questioning from within the locale and from international audiences regarding their identities as Indian Western classical musicians. Chapter four focuses on the Symphony Orchestra of India. In the first section of this chapter I place the orchestra within local discourses about social status and class. In the second half, I unpack the role of the orchestra within cultural diplomacy, and question its significance an internationally recognised marker of soft power (Nye 1990). Chapter five focuses on the role of Western classical music within social development projects. I suggest that ideologies and values underpinning notions of music being an agent for social change do not always correspond with local ideologies and values. I question the ethics and effectiveness of three socially focused music projects in Mumbai and Goa. In chapter six I examine music education praxis in Mumbai. Taking Lucy Green's argument that education participates in the construction and perpetuation of ideologies about musical value as my starting point (Green, 2002), I suggest that music schools and music curricula within local International schools legitimise Western classical music as an academic discipline, and have the capacity to influence local ideologies about the value of Western classical music.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ramnarine, Tina K., Supervisor
  • Morcom, Anna, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Mar 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019


  • Ethnomusicology
  • India
  • Western classical music
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Music education
  • Ethnography
  • Mumbai
  • Social Development
  • Archival research
  • Identity
  • Colonialism
  • Post-colonialism
  • Orchestras
  • Cultural relations
  • Soft power
  • Music

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