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Playing Music, Performing Culture: The Pedagogies of Community-Based Thai Music in the United States

April 15, 2019 @ 1:30 pm - 2:30 pm

A practice paper presentation by
Nattapol Wisuttipat

“Playing Music, Performing Culture: The Pedagogies of Community-Based Thai Music in the United States.”

Thai classical and traditional music, as a part of the nation’s intangible heritage, enables the imagination of the Thai community in diaspora. A cultural symbol, it is widely and popularly taught in almost every Sunday School, mostly held at Thai Buddhist Temples in the United States. What makes such classes interesting is that it is removed from native setting, thus forcing emigrant Thai instructors to adjust certain strictly-held customs regarding musical transmission to allow for performance practicality. This paper critically examines the pedagogical approach used by an instructor at The Thai Cultural and Fine Arts Institute of Illinois to transmit both musical and cultural knowledge to Thai American students. Drawing on the concept of cultural performance that regards specific social organizations as a medium containing cultural particularities, I argue that learning the process of music-making is equally, if not more, vital as the performance itself. In addition to musical competency, such process instills specific affective behaviors that galvanize Thai cultural identity. Rather than attempting to locate authentic or correct practices, this paper highlights what is culturally at stake, such as musical secularization and deauthorization of teacher, when balancing musical processes and product outside their “home” context; and illustrates the agency of music in maintaining cultural identity in a diasporic community.

Nattapol will present this paper at the symposium Passages: Locating Global Traditions in Southeast Asian Music and Performance, hosted by Indiana University. Please come provide your feedback and suggestions. Nattapol is a first-year Ph.D. student in ethnomusicology. He holds an M.A. in ethnomusicology from Kent State University, and this presentation is drawn from his M.A. thesis.


April 15, 2019
1:30 pm - 2:30 pm