Treloyn—Intergenerational Knowledges

Intergenerational Knowledges: Change and Continuity in Music Transmission and Ethnomusicological Praxis

Sally Treloyn

Abstract: Intergenerational knowledges have long preoccupied music researchers and scholars in allied fields, particularly in relation to the persistent theme of musical transmission and studies of age-based cohorts. Intergenerationality also permeates research praxes, especially in participatory disciplines such as ethnomusicology. In research and praxis, complex issues arise when individual musicians and listeners, members of communities, and/or researchers in academic fields value intergenerationality in differing ways. This article considers how attention in music research to gender, kinship, place, and changing institutions has transformed ethnomusicological characterizations of intergenerational music transmission. Rejecting heteronormative assumptions about gender and lineages as well as the notion that musical knowledge is necessarily passed along in a vertical manner, scholars in the field have come to see processes of music transmission as complex and changing. The article draws on the extensive literature on music transmission in Indigenous musical contexts in Australia with some consideration of musical transmission in South Asia and elsewhere. It considers the enduring topic of transmission and musical change and examines the targeting of intergenerational transmission as a tool of coloniality. Written by a non-Indigenous ethnomusicologist who studies Indigenous musical practices in Australia, the article finds that contextual and historical perspectives on intergenerationality have implications for ethnomusicological praxis, with regard to the ethics and techniques of participant-observation fieldwork, applied ethnomusicologies, and approaches to music sustainability, resilience, and vitality.

Keywords: intergenerational knowledges, music transmission, applied ethnomusicology, ethics, music sustainability, Indigenous music

Sally Treloyn is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Intercultural Research in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music at the University of Melbourne.

Treloyn, Sally. 2022. “Intergenerational Knowledges: Change and Continuity in Music Transmission and Ethnomusicological Praxis.” Music Research Annual 3: 1–27.
ISSN 2563-7290

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Intergenerational knowledges are an enduring preoccupation in ethnomusicology as well as allied fields, from musicology and popular music studies to music education and music cognition. The topic of intergenerational knowledge permeates research on the “evergreen” theme of musical transmission (Mason and Walker 2017, 3) and is also central to the music of age-based cultural cohorts (Turino 2008, 110). When transmission of music and other cultural knowledges from one generation to another is valued in musical communities and by researchers, many complex issues emerge. Complexities also appear when new media for transmitting and disseminating musical knowledges are introduced and when colonial regimes target intergenerational knowledges. As musical worlds have changed in the past four decades and ethnomusicologists have inherited insights from scholars—both within their own discipline and from allied fields of study such as anthropology, cultural studies, gender studies, and Indigenous studies—appreciation of the complexity of intergenerational knowledges has expanded. With a view to exploring these complexities and broadening frames of reference, this article discusses the English-language literature in ethnomusicology on intergenerational knowledges, with particular attention to the scholarship on musical transmission in Indigenous musical contexts in Australia and also with some consideration of musical transmission in South Asia and elsewhere.

Intergenerational knowledges are not only at play in music-making; they are also a key part of research praxes. Scholars may approach and create musical settings that involve participants from multiple generations, engage in applied ethnomusicology, and also do work in community music research, music education, and music therapy. As graduate students, youthful by age or intellectual position, ethnomusicologists may approach elders or older musicians; some ethnomusicologists may work with children, and others may work with aged populations and communities. As ethnomusicologists study and, in some cases, live with musicians and their families, we may share intimate aspects of the lives of our research participants—some younger than we are, some our contemporaries, and some older than ourselves. Likewise, we may share intimate aspects of our own lives and those of our own family. Entwined with economics, access to resources, and gender, ethnographers may take on a sociocultural, economic, or other role as a member of an intergenerational family (Kan 2001). The relationships that an outsider ethnomusicologist has with a music community may be brief but often are long-term, sometimes lasting throughout a career. Sometimes, the student ethnomusicologist may inherit the relational world of their teacher(s) and, likewise, may pass on relationships and kinship ties to their students. As the ethnomusicologist ages, they may witness new generations of musicians and musical scenes. The ways in which cultural cohorts regard and engage with the ethnomusicologist may change as well, as children encountered early in the ethnomusicologist’s career may themselves become elders; the ethnomusicologist may move from younger-than to contemporary-of to older-than the musicians and interlocutors with whom they engage, and, in some cases, the ethnomusicologist may be regarded as an elder or expert by new generations of musicians. Some ethnomusicologists, irrespective of age, may view themselves “as a child,” like some of their anthropologist colleagues do (Clifford 1997, 201). Regardless of their age, the ethnomusicologist who takes up a new area of study or works with a new cohort of research participants may once again be regarded as inhabiting an “as a child” identity, or the people they work with may regard them in that way. Reflexively, the ethnomusicologist may understand that these relational identities and assumed familial belonging may be multiple, ambivalent, and punctuated by relational failures (Rosaldo 1993), entwined with disciplinary traditions or personal and professional orientations, and privileged in relation to access to knowledge due to structures of colonialism.

While the summary so far privileges the range of experience of outsider ethnomusicologists, it is important to note that insider ethnomusicologists may have additional and distinctive experiences of intergenerationality as they negotiate particular “personal, social, and political dynamics” in their home societies and in the traditions of the Western academy (Bracknell 2015, 209). The reflections of insider ethnomusicologists challenge the distinction between intergenerational knowledges as topic and as praxis. For example, in cases where the insider ethnomusicologist may be a proponent of the musical tradition that they study, their research may have a lasting impact on its practice (e.g., Bracknell 2015). For Indigenous ethnomusicologists, legacies of colonization, which are felt personally and collectively over generations, may complicate and shape research methodologies and aims (Bracknell 2015), and the researcher may have particular long-term responsibilities and accountabilities to their communities (Barney and Proud 2014, 94).

The complexities of generation-based music practices and the critical reflections by ethnomusicologists on their practices as musicians and scholars have thus broadened the frame within which music scholars consider intergenerational knowledges in music. Seeking to elaborate this point, this article draws on ethnographic and historical studies of music from around the world. The first part discusses the scholarship on intergenerational music transmission in a wide range of contexts, with a particular focus on musics of Indigenous peoples in Australia, where my own research experience is located and where intergenerational knowledges are prominent, and on musics in South Asia, which have received a great amount of attention in the field of ethnomusicology. This literature has revealed complex forms of intergenerational transmission, where gender, kinship, place, and changing institutions may be important factors in musical continuity and challenge vertical (that is, elder-to-younger) and heteronormative tropes. In the second part, I focus my attention on intergenerational knowledges in Indigenous musical contexts and consider the implications of colonization for intergenerational transmission in Australia and other settler-state countries. Through both parts of the article, I consider how assumptions about intergenerational knowledges have been at play in ethnomusicology and, in turn, how ideas from allied fields and perspectives of Indigenous and insider researchers have contributed to a broadening of research praxis.

Intergenerational Knowledge Transmission

From Generation to Generation: Hereditary and Customary Lineages

Among its multiple meanings and usages, the term “tradition” refers to the continuity of practices from one generation to the next (Morin 2016, 39), and “a tradition” indicates a custom or belief that has been received or continued from those in the past.1 In the context of music transmission, intergenerationality and the practices of tradition in the sense of continuity of a practice and traditions are thus integral to each other. In the literature, a multitude of statements by musicians attribute current knowledges to earlier generations. In an interview with anthropologist Véronique Audet, Jean-Charles Piétacho (Innu Chief of Ekuanitshit, Canada),2 for example, described a transmission chain of teachings received by elders and passed to subsequent generations (Piétacho, cited in Audet 2012, 376).

Across many fields of music research, examples of the specific case of parent-to-child (or grandparent-to-child) transmission are plentiful, with scholars, musicians, and culture-bearers describing the passage of musical practices, traditions, and cultures. Often such accounts reference gender, as the following examples show. “We have an oral culture which is passed on from mother to daughter, father to son,” explains legal scholar Larissa Behrendt (Eualeyai/Kamillaroi, Australia) of Eualeyai practices and beliefs (1994, 56). Musicologist Ruth Rosenfelder refers to Jewish Sephardi songs that “have been orally transmitted from mother to daughter in communities as far afield as Turkey, Morocco, Bosnia, Greece, and Holland” (2012, 87). In Gaua and Merelava in northern Vanuatu, the Mwerlap water music genre vus lamlam practiced by women and girls “has been handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter for generations” (T. Dick 2014, 396). And Haudenosaunee (Canada) singer and cultural specialist Sadie Buck spoke to ethnomusicologist Beverley Diamond about their father learning from their grandfather (Buck and Diamond 2012, 138).

Alongside and intersecting with hereditary transmission, a perennial preoccupation of music studies that traverses ethnomusicology, musicology, music education, and other fields are traditions of transmission in dyadic, group, and institutional contexts, referred to variously as “guru/master-disciple,” “master/teacher-learner,” “master-apprentice,” “preceptor-preceptee,” and so on.3 Research on Indian classical music from music studies, dance, theater, and other disciplines has paid significant attention to Hindu guru-śiṣya paramparā and Muslim ustād-śāgird silsila transmission (Neuman 1977; Slawek 2000; Sanyal and Widdess 2004; Qureshi 2009; Morelli 2010; Rahaim 2012; Widdess 2013; Banerji et al. 2017). Work on intergenerational knowledges in these contexts centers around transmission from an elder knowledge holder to a younger student in one-on-one, family-based, face-to-face contexts. Having music “in the blood” (i.e., according to familial inheritance; Neuman 1977, 241) and seniority (Napier 2004) are both primary factors in the recognition of who counts as an authority in these cultures and contexts.

The intergenerational transmission of musical knowledge is also a perennial concern in Western classical music, where it has been central to studies of instrumental music, vocal music, and composition carried out in musicology, music education, music psychology, and elsewhere. In literature on instrumental and vocal music teaching and learning, the nature of “master” and “apprentice” roles in conservatory and other music education settings have been widely discussed (Burwell 2013). Predominant themes include acquisition of musical skills, student (as opposed to solely teacher) perceptions of teaching and learning, technique and style, experiential learning, imitation, emotional attachment, and the interpersonal impact of the “master” on the identity and musical development of the student (Jørgensen 2000; Carey and Lebler 2012; Burwell 2013).

A cursory glance at the cases of generational transmission referenced above may leave the impression that musical knowledge always descends vertically; however, in music cultures around the world, horizontal transmission is common as well. In this article, I follow the definitions of vertical and horizontal transmission used by Olivier Morin:

The term “vertical transmission”…refers to cross-generational transmission in general, inside or outside of kinship ties. All it takes for transmission to be vertical is a substantial age differential between participants.… Symmetrically, the phrase “horizontal transmission” is used here to refer to any case of transmission where the age differential between participants is small or negligible. (2016, 176)

A closer look at ethnomusicology and oral literature scholarship up to the 1980s may also leave the impression that male-line transmission is the primary means by which music is passed from generation to generation. Ethnomusicologist Bernard Lortat-Jacob provides a classical example of this in the Barbagia region of Sardinia, where the son learns from his father, recreates his practice, and ultimately replaces him (1981, 194). Similarly, Albert Lord’s (1960) study of Yugoslavian oral epics, a tradition of improvised, sung poetry accompanied by the gusle (a string instrument), shows how a male youth will learn the practice by listening closely to an elder, imitating his singing, and finally, having acquired the necessary expertise, starting to perform at informal gatherings (see pp. 22–24). Irrespective of the significance of these studies, the attention to male-to-male transmission in music research may have given readers the impression that most music was “an archive of knowledge transmitted from father to son,…in Derrida’s terms, a patri-archive” (Muller 2002, 412; see also Derrida 1996, 90). Accounts of transmission that reference patrilineal and vertical roles and directions have transformed over the past four decades or so. Both within music studies and beyond (e.g., Morin 2016, 180), scholars have focused attention on non-vertical and non-patrilineal transmission, a topic I explore more below.

Complicating Vertical Transmission: The Roles of Gender, Kinship, Place, and Changing Institutions

Gender and Kinship. The predominance of men’s knowledges in music scholarship prior to the 1970s and 1980s may be attributed to the prevalence in the discipline of researchers who identified as men. Gender plays a role in the intimate relational work of musical field research; it is often a norm for men to work with men, and it is these interactions (with exceptions such as those as outlined below) that defined the literature. In the 1970s and 1980s, the work of women ethnomusicologists including Ellen Koskoff (1987) and Marcia Herndon (1990) began to shift this situation. While the topic of gender in ethnomusicology does not solely refer to women’s knowledges or experiences, attention to women in music research has helped to amend an older patriarchal bias, and since the 1980s, mother-to-daughter lineages have gained the attention of music scholars. For example, female hereditary performance has gained prominence in studies of tawa’if (courtesans) in South Asia (e.g., Post 1987; Qureshi 2006; Chakravorty 2008; Walker 2014). Particularly significant in this regard is ethnomusicologist Regula Burckhardt Qureshi’s discussion of the phrase sīna ba sīna in the context of patrilineal Hindustani music. Literally “heart to heart,” the phrase stems from patrilineal transmission from “father-to-son” (Qureshi 2009, 170). Viewing dyads of musical transmission in communities of sarangi (instrument) players in terms of kinship, Qureshi revealed the potential importance of the maternal line, and of daughters’ marriages, for musical systems that are patrilineal (170–171). More recently, ethnomusicologist Louise Wrazen (2010) has unpacked the nuanced ways in which gender roles have changed in the transmission of Polish Górale music and dance in Canada, finding that “gender considerations can dynamically and variously provide a crucial component of ethnomusicological inquiries into transmission processes as they are now found within conditions of displacement and transnationalism” (57).

As Kaley Mason and Margaret E. Walker have observed, the new attention to maternal lineages in ethnomusicological and historical studies of music transmission, coupled with cultural studies research, widened “the scope for critiquing patriarchal and heteronormative constraints” in South Asian contexts (2017, 4). The same can be said of Indigenous music research in relation to developments in Australian anthropology and ethnomusicology, where the 1980s and 1990s brought attention to the erasure of women and the silencing of women’s voices (Rose 1996), as well as to the complicity with coloniality of tertiary educational institutions and academic disciplines (Rose 1986). For example, since the 1980s, Australian ethnomusicologists Catherine Ellis, Linda Barwick, Helen Payne, and others have turned their attention to songs and ceremonies in women’s domains (Mackinlay 2000), providing a body of research that has at its center women’s musical knowledges (Brock 1989; Ellis and Barwick 1989; Barwick 1990, 1995; Bell [1998] 2014; Barney 2006; Barwick and Turpin 2016). Like work in the South Asian literature, this scholarship shows how kinship intersects with gender in the intergenerational transfer of knowledge and reveals the complexity and diversity in the transmission of song repertoires and practices. Barwick and Myfany Turpin’s (2016) study of the custodianship of Central Australian awelye (also known as yawulyu) songs, for example, demonstrates a nuanced interplay of gender and kinship.

Traditionally, the individuals that one spends time with and observes to learn from them are specific categories of kin. For women’s yawulyu/awelye songs, these are usually a woman’s father’s sister(s) and father’s father’s sister(s). Elders we consulted recalled these categories of kin as the people from whom they learned. This is because ownership of ceremonies, like Country and totems, passes patrilineally through one’s father’s father. While people own the ceremonies belonging to their father’s father, people also have a relationship to the ceremonies belonging to their mother’s father. (Barwick and Turpin 2016, 117–118)

Similarly, ethnomusicologist Peter Toner (2003) provides much insight into the complex extension of both cross-gender and kin-based knowledge-holding in the practices of listening to and managing recordings of manikay (songs) among Yolngu of northeast Arnhem Land, Australia.

The establishment of a clear genealogical connection to a singer, particularly a relation of father-son (malu-gathu) or mother’s mother’s brother-sister’s daughter’s son (märigutharra), was sometimes part of an assertion of authority over a recording. To demonstrate carefully that one is the oldest son (gathu) of a singer on a recording, or a senior sister’s daughter’s son (gutharra) or daughter’s son (waku) could be a key part of a broader assertion that one has rights not only to hear the recording, but to control access to the recording by others. (Toner 2003, 10)

Place. As in the growing attention to gender in culture, an increasing cognizance of the centrality of place and land-based knowledges in anthropology, ethnomusicology, the new fields of environmental and eco-musicology, and the broad theoretical movement known as posthumanism has coincided with richer and more refined understandings of the role of place in intergenerational knowledges, particularly in the context of Indigenous musics in Australia. In this regard, scholarship by Indigenous researchers has played a pivotal role. For example, feminist scholar and activist Aileen Moreton-Robinson (Goenpal, Australia) provides an introduction to Indigenous women’s life writing that shows the centrality of place for intergenerational transmission and creative expression. “Indigenous women’s life writings are based on the collective memories of inter-generational relationships between predominantly Indigenous women, extended families, and communities.…These relationships are underpinned by connections with one’s country and the spirit world” (Moreton-Robinson 2000, 1–2).

Speaking of Indigenous song practice in Australia, Noongar ethnomusicologist Clint Bracknell highlights the role of precedents set by ancestors and Country4 in contemporary musical creativity:

Rather than consisting of simply repeating static aural artifacts, Aboriginal song traditions are perhaps better understood as ongoing creative processes, in which performers continue to create music based on that of their Country and ancestors, embellishing and adapting particular musical elements for practical or stylistic reasons in efforts to continue to manifest the essentials of the tradition, as defined by the community and Country. (2019, unpaginated)

Intersecting with kinship and gender, place-based transmission of musical practices may manifest as rights to perform and rights to manage, or as care for a song or repertory. Alongside lineage, kinship, and gender, place is therefore an important topic in the literature. Patrilineality and matrilineality are often embedded in places to which song holders, owners, and practitioners have hereditary and/or customary rights and ties. In this context, the positionalities of father, mother, children, grandparents, and other kin, which guide song transmission, are often intertwined with patrilineal inheritance of Country.

Barwick (2011) has made related observations in work on the Daly region of northern Australia. Historically, the social system here has been arranged patrilineally, where “ownership of land and everything that springs from it—plants and animals as well as cultural products like songs, language and stories—is handed down from father to son” (Barwick 2011, 321). In this context, knowledge comes to new generations not just from older or past generations but from place and Country—a formulation of intergenerational knowledge that requires a significant reorientation of ethnomusicological thinking about transmission toward Indigenous epistemological frameworks for the agency of place, history, and futures.

The importance of continuing to broaden our approach to generational transmission in music is demonstrated by the use of research about land-based song and associated ceremonies in legal claims for land rights under Australian federal and territory laws (Koch 2013). Lineal, customary, and hereditary knowledge transactions have been studied by ethnomusicologists for several decades. Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, this work pushes against the characterization of ancestral Indigenous knowledge solely as a form of mythic consciousness, which “mystifies human agency in the construction of forms of sociality” (Rumsey 1994, 121), and shows that such knowledge is a form of historical consciousness, one in which “a society experience[s] themselves as shaping, through their interaction, significant aspects of their social experience” (Turner 1988, 246, cited in Rumsey 1994, 117). This shift is particularly significant in the legislative context of land rights in Australia, where, as anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli (2002) discusses, government decisions privilege heteronormative and structural-functionalist constructions of lineage, namely patrilineal descent (p. 210), over adaptive modes of intergenerational connection to place, which involve cognatic descent (see chap. 5).

In many Native Title and Land Claims, ancestral, totemic, land-based songs have been recognized as evidence of connection to place.5 These are songs and ceremonial genres that reference the travels of ancestral land- and law-forming creative agents and that have been passed intergenerationally and transgenerationally since. In contrast, a significant body of song has more recent origin and was created by remembered or living composers, and carried through hereditary and customary lineages. These song practices express connection to place in the complex contexts of changing cultural, linguistic, physical, and social environments. In societies where the state and its settlers have sought to systematically interrupt both connections to place and the expression of culture (including language and song; see below), these music genres have been vital. For the proceedings around the 1998 Kenbi Land Claim, ethnomusicologists Allan Marett and Linda Barwick and linguist Lysbeth Ford offered an extensive expert report that identified the ways in which songs of recent origin show a people’s connection with place. In the proceedings, Marett gave live evidence on the musical lineages, repertoire, and practices of the Belyuen group affected by the claim. In recommendations made in 2000 by Aboriginal Land Commissioner Justice Peter Gray, Marett’s evidence regarding wangga song was cited at length as evidence that the group performs ceremonies and music that enacts their responsibilities to the land to which they laid claim (Gray and Office of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner 2000, 132–133). In legislative contexts such as this, where the self-determination of Indigenous peoples with regards to identity and change is undermined by legal constructions of continuity, music research that is attentive to transmission as complex and dynamic, rather than vertical and fixed, is critical.

Changing Institutions. Characterizations of music transmission as solely vertical have been further challenged by changes that have come to the institutions in which musical traditions are taught and learned. For example, attention has been paid to the emergence of new institutions and modes of teaching in India. In a study of peer-group immersion in Kathakali drumming at the Kerala Kalamandalam (a center for performing arts training in southern India), ethnomusicologist Rolf Groesbeck (2009) showed how the advanced disciple, who, in the past, would have learned the music only from their primary teacher, now also learns by observing and improvising with peers in a studio that involves drummers, singers, and actors, potentially developing elements of practice that are distinguished from those of their mentors (see p. 146); Mason and Walker summarize Groesbeck’s finding that “intragenerational peer-group immersion in pedagogical settings complicates the hierarchical ideal of intergenerational master-disciple training” (Mason and Walker 2017, 5; emphasis Mason and Walker). Institutional contexts in which the “master-disciple” model is employed have also been considered (Alter 2000; Ramanathan 2000; Schippers 2007), as have new tools for transmission, such as new media and online platforms (Groesbeck 2009; Roy 2016; Srivastava 2016).

Similarly, in the contemporary Western conservatory, where one-on-one teaching has retained aspects of nineteenth-century European styles of education and experiential aspects of earlier apprenticeship training, individuality among advanced students, combined with the role of peer-to-peer influence, recordings, and new media, are all considered as part of the modern pedagogical practice (Burwell 2013). Most recently, in South Asian contexts, attention to the negotiation of tensions between generations in transmission further nuances our understanding of the flow of knowledges from generation to generation (see, for example, McNeil 2017). Indeed, Mason and Walker (2017) propose a new frame of “generational frictions” that develops new knowledge about gender, class, nationality, and race/ethnicity. This development draws ethnomusicology closer to popular music studies, where “scenes” are approached as multigenerational complexes involving changing communities of practice and audiences (Straw 1991; Bennett and Peterson 2004).

Implications for Praxis

The grave importance of land rights for Indigenous peoples’ lives and the role of changing institutions in which music is performed starkly highlight the contexts in which applied ethnomusicology has arisen, as well as the need to apply a reflexive frame in relation to intergenerational knowledges. The critique of ethnomusicological approaches to intergenerational knowledges is not new, nor is it exclusive to Indigenous and settler-colonial contexts. In this regard, Mason and Walker’s (2017) notion of “generational frictions” can provide insights into today’s participatory research methods, the pursuit of “bi-musicality” theorized by ethnomusicologist Mantle Hood (1960), and John Baily’s (2008) more recent notion of “intermusability.” Participation can help us develop contextualized and emic understandings of the music of others, but it can also contribute to, perpetuate, or reinforce colonial relationships and structures. Interdisciplinary scholar Pavithra Prasad and ethnomusicologist Jeff Roy (2017), for example, problematize scholarly participation in guru-disciple pedagogical processes in Indian classical music. They note that a scholar can gain credibility by writing about and achieving status within a gharana (family or lineage), and this may be based on the time that they have spent studying the music, the number of rags and talas that they have learned and can perform, and their virtuosity or mastery of their instrument. However, these kinds of participation can also reinforce status hierarchies within a system of music genres and obscure aspects of power and privilege (what they call “colonial hangovers”) that enable scholars to participate in the first place and that historically privileged some musical forms and expression over others (Prasad and Roy 2017, 198; see also Babiracki 1991; Weidman 2006).

Reflexive critique of ethnomusicological praxis may also be relevant to methods for preservation in relation to intergenerational knowledges. Preservation has long been an important part of applied ethnomusicology, where audiovisual technologies and documentation, and ethnographies born of participatory fieldwork, have been used to create enduring records of musical practices. Scholars may tacitly assume that this approach to preservation will benefit communities. However, a critical reflection on notions of benefit can challenge that assumption and broaden the frame of preservation praxis to include contemporary transmission rather than focus solely on the potential for future intergenerational knowledge transmission. As Bracknell explains,

Research outputs from Aboriginal song projects often include scholarly articles, chapters and books, mostly based on the results of linguistic and musical analysis or advances in archival dissemination strategies/technologies. While this enquiry is certainly valuable, the main point—in my mind—for projects on Aboriginal song is to help get the right people together and fund the necessary time and space to consolidate repertoire and encourage performance. (2019, unpaginated)

One article spoke in particular to the ways that outsider interventions in the course of intimate and relational aspects of long-term ethnomusicological fieldwork can affect local flows of music transmission. In a 2014 article, I (an outsider ethnomusicologist working with Ngarinyin, Worrorra, and Wunambal First Nations song communities in the Kimberley region in northern Western Australia) and community researcher Rona Goonginda Charles (Ngarinyin/Nyikina, Australia) considered the impact of my preservation work conducted in 1999 to 2002 on the transmission of knowledge from elderly song holders and practitioners, who were reaching the end of their lives, to younger generations. With Charles, I showed that my involvement with these traditions subsequently contributed to a resurgence of intergenerational knowledge transmission, but we also showed that this work changed the transmission process as well (Treloyn and Charles 2014). Coming to similar conclusions, many decades earlier Catherine Ellis described that she recorded a song series in a community, only to discover later that community members thus considered these songs as “given” and they had, consequently, removed the songs from local circulation (1992, 268). As exemplified by a recent two-volume study edited by Beverley Diamond and Salwa Castelo-Branco (2021), ethnomusicologists have recently begun to engage in critical self-reflection about scholarly privilege and the importance of considering differences that exist in the epistemologies and ontologies of scholars and practitioners when conducting applied research.

Intersecting with gender studies and Indigenous studies, the field of children’s and youth studies has also informed understandings of intergenerational knowledges in music and corresponding research praxes. Historically, scholars have assumed that knowledges flow from older people to younger ones, and this idea implies that children and youth are incomplete or partially “empty” of knowledges. New feminist approaches to childhood in the fields of anthropology and childhood studies have helped scholars see that children are fully formed subjects, not people who are merely “becoming adult” (Helleiner 1999; Caputo 2001). Informed by earlier research in ethnomusicology, such as Constantin Brailoiu’s ([1954] 1984) work on the rhythm of children’s vocal expression (see also Minks 2002), John Blacking’s ([1967] 1995) writings on Venda children’s music in South Africa, and Margaret Kartomi’s (1981, 1991) studies of children’s music in Central Australia, child-centered approaches in the past two decades have begun to treat children as actively involved in knowledge expression and production (e.g., Campbell 1998; Turino 2008; Marsh 2009; Downing 2019; Emberly 2019). The appreciation of children’s knowledges as fully formed and culturally complex challenges the methodological assumption, noted in the introduction to this article, that the musical anthropologist or ethnomusicologist can approach a new cultural world “as a child” (Clifford 1997, 201). Assuming that the fieldworker can learn as a local child does subsumes the distinctive knowledges of children into our preexisting notions of childhood and limits the ways in which children’s knowledges are represented in scholarship. Realizing this can help change our fieldwork and allow us to position children and youth as researchers of their own musical traditions (Emberly 2019).

Moving away from the idea that children are empty vessels and transmission is always vertical, scholars have begun to examine peer-to-peer and multidirectional transmission in family-based studies of urban environments (e.g., Wu 2018) and in diverse playgrounds (Marsh 2009). In the Kimberley, children and youth lead and follow one another in their practice of the junba tradition. Suggesting an inversion of the top-down (elder-to-younger) flow of knowledge, and informed by Indigenous kinship models and perceptions of childhood agency in Australia and Canada, children and youth can, at least in some contexts, be viewed as teachers and drivers of intergenerational knowledge transmission (Emberly, Treloyn, and Charles 2017; Treloyn et al., forthcoming). It is worth noting that there is much crossover with popular music here, where peer-to-peer transmission is often the norm.

Continuity and Change in Intergenerational Knowledges

While critical views of intergenerational knowledges in music research have been informed by developments in cultural studies, anthropology, and other fields, they have also been influenced by the ways that music cultures and musical lives themselves are changing in the contemporary world. In the ethnomusicological literature, issues of sustainability, including the topics of musical continuity, accumulation, loss, historical change, and resilience, have emerged as important themes.

Transmission, Sustainability, and Changing Technologies

In their general theory of cultural transmission, Olivier Morin (2016) argues that knowledge flows in many ways—vertically, non-vertically, horizontally, and quasi-horizontally; it is a combination of these processes, Morin argues, that enables the continuation of traditions. Exploring music transmission, ethnomusicologist Timothy Rice (2001) has examined four dimensions of music transmission, described as the technical, social, cognitive, and institutional, all of which impact the diverse ways in which music knowledge is passed along. Analyzing the history of the literature in this area, Rice shows how music scholars have moved from studies of oral transmission like those of Lord (1960, discussed above) to more contemporary work that attends to the role of media in musical transmission and the maintenance of cultural traditions. In the twenty years since Rice’s review, studies in music cognition, embodiment in music practice, new media, and sustainability have flourished, furthering knowledge of intergenerational transmission in parallel with new perspectives from allied fields and the changing lives of musicians.

The field of music cognition has contributed knowledge regarding the role of reflection and imitation, entrainment, intentionality, iteration, and complexity in music transmission (Cross, Laurence, and Rabinowitch 2012). This research, of course, crosses over with the earlier work on oral epics by Lord, who observed how imitative techniques, formulas, and formulaic systems enable the oral epic performer to recall long and complex poetic narratives and pass them on to future generations (1960, 22–26). More recently, the role of embodiment knowledges in musical transmission has gained prominence in ethnomusicology. For example, Groesbeck   explains that at the Kerala Kalamandalam, “[o]ne ideally assimilates the influences of one’s preceptor through bodily imitation over time, and in this way a canon regenerates. Knowing bodies beget other knowing bodies” (2009, 143). Here, attention to embodiment not only provides insights into the practices by which music is transmitted; it also shows how those practices are sustained through generations. Thus, it is not only repertory or style that is passed through embodied knowledge, but rather the tradition of guruship itself (Groesbeck 2009, 143).

The topic of music sustainability is, understandably, a primary site where intergenerational knowledge is discussed, particularly in the context of the relatively recent ecosystem approaches, which are attentive to a broad range of factors influencing the health of musical practices and traditions (Titon 2009; Schippers and Grant 2016). Any time scholars study how musical knowledge is shared across generations, the continuation of musical practices, and thus sustainability, is implied. As ethnomusicologists Huib Schippers and Catherine Grant explain, “In all sustained music practices, some aspects are transmitted from one individual or group to another” (Schippers and Grant 2016, 334). Both older approaches to music sustainability (Titon 2009) and newer ones (Schippers and Bendrups 2015; Schippers and Grant 2016) enshrine intergenerational knowledge transmission as a cornerstone of continuity. Recent systems for assessing music endangerment—such as the Graded Genre Health Assessment (GGHA; see Coulter 2007; Harris 2017) and Grant’s (2014) Music Vitality Endangerment Framework—identify intergenerational knowledge transmission as a primary consideration. These systems built upon earlier work on the endangerment of languages, such as the Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale developed by linguist Joshua Fishman (2001) and the UNESCO paper “Language Vitality and Endangerment” (UNESCO Ad Hoc Expert Group on Endangered Languages 2003), which identified intergenerational language transmission as the first of nine factors required for language vitality.

These models and tools do not only seek to understand musical continuity. The phenomenon of historical change in music features prominently in Grant’s (2014) assessment of music sustainability, for example. For ethnomusicologist Jeff Todd Titon, a resilient musical system is one that can “recover and maintain its integrity, identity, and continuity when subjected to forces of disturbance and change” (2016, 2). In the context of this article, we might thus consider the extent to which historical change factors into intergenerational knowledges—how the music of one generation differs from that of another. In the case of popular music, for example, we might ask how music scenes differ in their notions of authenticity in relation to generation, and how notions of authenticity within a scene may be heterogeneous and variable (Bennett 2013). It is well known that individuality and creativity are valued in teacher-student models of musical transmission. For example, this can be found in Groesbeck’s (2009, 162–163) work on the Kerala Kalamandalam and also in the Japanese kata (martial arts) tradition, where creativity and individuality are seen as paths to expertise (Trimillos 1989; Matsunobu 2011). For such traditions, the cultural continuity necessarily includes diversity and musical change. As Groesbeck concludes, Kalamandalam disciples

may develop a degree of individuality that is greater than a model of mere rote repetition might suggest. The presence of individuality within a group of disciples who share a common pedagogical lineage problematizes the idea that knowing bodies are merely replicated. (2009, 144)

Considering music and evolution more broadly, musicologist Gary Tomlinson (2013) argues that change plays an integral role in the intergenerational feedback loop of coevolution, “whereby a species’ interactions with the external world alter that world, thus reconstructing the species [itself]” (650). Not merely vertical and imitative, intergenerational transmission is thus cumulative as well as reconstructive and innovative.

Passed through generations, cultural archives can create specific systems of information that give rise to their own internal developmental tendencies and vectors, depending on the cognitive, bodily, and environmental constraints they involve. Once formed, these informational dynamics can exercise their own constraints on the evolutionary loops they enter.… Their dynamics can provide not merely additional strands in those loops but other, external circuits outside them, sprouting…from cultural transmission and accumulated archives of behavior. (Tomlinson 2013, 651)

The evolutionary loops, strands, and archives of Tomlinson’s account echo ethnomusicologist Victoria Levine’s (1998, 19) study of the way that historical change works in the musics of Indigenous cultures in North America, wherein cyclical, rather than linear, processes are evident: here, change involves adoption, adaptation, and syncretism, rather than displacement, radical innovation, or succession. Ethnomusicologist Thomas Turino (2008) theorizes related dynamics in the music of Shona people of Zimbabwe, where the progressions of habits over generations—including the introduction of new habits by new generations and the socialization of these habits within the group—create a new tradition or cultural formation. Transmission must occur across generations, Turino argues, if new musics are to emerge and take hold.

While it is certain that new ideas and beliefs may impact the life of a tradition (Morin 2016, 177), insights into the place of individuality, creativity, and change in the continuity of music across generations push back against the concerns and fears that music scholars might have about the phenomenon of historical change, particularly the concern that new technologies may harm a tradition, render it inauthentic, or endanger it in some fundamental way. One of the oldest debates is about the impact of literacy on oral transmission and oral art forms. For Lord (1960), literacy was opposed to orality, and the memorization of printed texts served to disrupt tradition. After Lord’s work and that of Walter Ong (1982), the effects of notation, and written representations more broadly, on musical practice has been a frequent topic of consideration. Ethnomusicologist Judith Becker (1980) has discussed the effects of the introduction of musical notation as a pedagogical tool in East Java, noting that, in one context, its adoption led to “a great deal of [musical] homogeneity” and in another, it led to a loss of “regional style, diversity, and variety” (22). Such studies imply a depletion of the practice from one generation to the next.

But not all ethnomusicologists or musicians hold the view that orality is opposed to literacy. For instance, R. Anderson Sutton (2001) found that in Java, some teachers of the kariwitan music genre used notation to inscribe in the students’ multiple versions of a piece, which helped them learn the style of one or another expert. He suggested that this practice is not a fundamental transformation to the tradition “but rather a shift back toward continuity with transmission in the past” (Sutton 2001, 81). Likewise, ethnomusicologist Richard Widdess’s (2014) extensive fieldwork and analyses of Indian classical music demonstrate that “the relationships between orally transmitted, written, and performed versions of a song are not static but dynamic, involving potential feedback between versions” (15). Of course, music practitioners balance the utility of notation alongside implications of notation for practice in their approach to teaching. For example, music education researcher and ethnomusicologist Patricia Shehan Campbell (1991) recounts how a group of children learning the koto (zither) in Japan were forbidden from using notation as a tool to assist their learning, as their teachers believed that it “detracts from the observation of correct performance position” (120).

A similar range of views exists about the impact of new media and recording technologies on music, a topic that has concerned researchers since at least the early twentieth century. Early accounts were attentive to potential harm to local musical practices resulting from the influence of new global technologies and mass media (e.g., von Hornbostel [1905] 1975, 270; Lomax 1968, 4–6). In recent work, scholars have discussed how musicians and scenes adapt transmission processes in relation to new media technology, such as Web 2.0 platforms and personal audio and audiovisual devices (e.g., Schippers 2007; Srivastava 2016; Perea 2017; Tan 2017; Bracknell 2019).

Recent discussions of music resilience, such as those by Titon (2016), illustrate the capacity for diversity and responsiveness in the transmission of music cultures—their ability to suffer loss and yet recover in the face of massive changes brought about by the movements of people or shifts in political regimes, languages, and new media. For example, Titon’s discussion of old-time string band music in the US shows how the community’s capacity to reorganize, restructure, and reform allows it to survive, despite the changing environment of a new festival scene, the rise of jam culture, and new audiences and communities of practice. Here, continuity in instrumentation, repertoire, and playing styles sustains the tradition through these significant changes (Titon 2016). While the notion of sustainability may be relatively new, ethnomusicologists have long sought to detect musical continuity in the wake of massive social changes. For example, Allan Marett (1985) found traces of Tang dynasty melodies in the shō and biwa parts of musical items of the Japanese tōgaku genre, parts that were otherwise considered to depart from their musical origins.

Contrasting accounts of continuity, themes of endangerment and loss often appear in accounts of musical change. For example, ethnomusicologist Jennifer Post found that the social and institutional developments of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries “ultimately destroyed” the musical traditions of professional hereditary women musicians in India (1987, 107). The literature on Indigenous musics is filled with accounts of endangerment and loss, to the point that discourses of “dying” and “lost” musical cultures are mainstream (Grant 2015).

Insights into the intersection of musical resilience and decline can also be found in popular music studies. From jazz to roots music to rock and roll, the “death” of genres and practices has been a predominant trope in discourses of popular music criticism (Dettmar 2006). Here, creativity, individuality, diversity, and invention are the forces seen by some scholars to threaten the life of a genre. For example, identifying a series of “stations” in the progression of a genre’s musical expansion, popular music scholar Kevin Dettmar writes that

[w]hen the list [of new styles that have emerged within a genre] gets too long—when jazz, or rock & roll, comprehends such a diversity that the centrifugal forces threaten to overpower the centripetal, and “the center cannot hold”—we arrive at the music’s third station. This is when rock & roll—or jazz, or alt-country, or disco, or shoegaze—is most in danger of being declared dead. (2006, 6)

Migration, mobility, and generational variation in music preference also play a role in musical change. For example, in their work on the Italian Australian popular music scene of Melbourne in the 1960s, musicologists John Whiteoak and Aline Scott-Maxwell (2010) describe a generational shift from traditional styles like cha-cha-cha, mambos, and pachangas, which were preferred by first-generation migrants, to rock and new forms of pop, which were preferred by the second generation.

Significant attention has also been paid to the effects of mass mediation and entertainment industries on the life of a genre or scene. For example, in their work on alternative music scenes such as goth and black/extreme metal, cultural theorist and music scholar Karl Spracklen (2014) develops a notion of the “heat death” of music scenes. Spracklen argues that “there has been a slow metaphorically entropic shift in alternative music, from a shared subcultural and counter-cultural leisure space—a space of direct political activism where potentiality and autonomy were possible—into one part of a globalized entertainment industry that has colonized the Habermasian lifeworld of leisure” (253).

Where ethnomusicologists like Alan Lomax (1968) focused their attention at the level of entire music cultures and viewed mass mediation and globalization as presenting risks to local practices (p. 4)—which, in some cases, turned out to be real, as attested to by situations such as that examined by Spracklen (2014)—more recent scholars have examined the experience of individual agents within these changing musical worlds. Ethnomusicologist Deborah Wong (1994), for example, considers Vietnamese diasporic karaoke markets and the rap scene in Los Angeles as involving flows that carry music from one consumer to the next in a manner that “encourages—no, invites—constant transformation” (165). Clearly, whenever humans respond creatively to changing demographics, markets, or technologies, musical change is inevitable. Popular music studies teach us that the crucial factor here is the way that changes in intergenerational knowledges are valued in a music culture or scene. For example, the perception of the authenticity of a musical practice may differ between generations, such as in the punk scene studied by sociologist and popular music scholar Andy Bennett (2013), where some punk practices were viewed as inauthentic by one generation of musicians and fans, but seen as authentic by another. Generational relationships in music scenes can be highly complex. Bennett argues that, on the one hand, notions of authenticity are often the site of conflict within popular music scenes that have multigenerational audiences; on the other hand, shared genres and repertoire, however differently valued, may contribute to intergenerational bonding (123–124). Thus, we see in the literatures from ethnomusicology and popular music studies a shift from a primary concern about musical decline and “cultural grey out” (Lomax 1968, 4) to a range of scholarly discourses about proliferation, recontextualization, creativity, and individuality. The role of media and mediated music in supporting intergenerational transmission is a topic of broad discussion, with many scholars arguing that media enable participants to overcome geographical and physical distance, political borders, and language barriers (see, for example, the chapters in Hilder, Stobart, and Tan 2017), and even overcome the death of knowledge holders (Treloyn, Martin, and Charles 2019). In this context, the complexity of intergenerational music transmission across national and cultural boundaries is a critical issue (Stokes 2004, 65), as is music repatriation, where music practitioners, communities of practice, researchers, and institutions grapple with the legacies of colonialism and other transnational processes (Treloyn and Charles 2021).

It is therefore not the quantity of change that dictates the continuity (or discontinuity) of generational knowledges, but rather, as Grant (2014) suggests, the nature of change in relation to a community’s particular musical practice and the ways that change and intergenerational knowledges are valued there. This is particularly significant in instances where intergenerational knowledges of one population have been deliberately targeted for interruption by another, as is the case in settler-colonial states such as Australia and Canada. The techniques and tools used to rupture intergenerational knowledges, and the impact that such ruptures have had on current generations of Indigenous musical heritage communities, are considered in the next section of this article.

Rupturing Intergenerational Knowledges

Settler colonialism leverages racist ideas about social evolution to justify its attempts to deterritorialize Indigenous peoples, physically removing or eliminating populations with one hand and rupturing chains of intergenerational knowledge transmission with the other. Indigenous peoples have long used musical knowledges as tools to cope with environmental change and foster cultural resilience. In this context, colonizers have sought to eradicate the songs, dances, and ceremonies of colonized peoples in an insidious attempt to assimilate, marginalize, remove, or otherwise control those whose lands they have invaded.

For a practice to be sustained—to change but not disappear—there must be opportunities for transmission in performance, practice, teaching, and learning contexts (Grant 2014, Schippers and Grant 2016), and knowledge-holding expert-teachers and learners of the practice must exist. Historically, colonial regimes have targeted the Indigenous knowledges of both elders and children by restricting or eliminating opportunities for musical expression. Stories told by elders today describe how, beyond massacres and genocide, bans placed on the uses of Indigenous language and song in missions, hostels, and residential schools had both immediate and lasting effects on the transmission and continuation of culture (see, for example, stories by Street in Breen 1989, 12). Legal scholar Irene Watson (Tanganekald, Meintangk, and Boandik, Australia) provides a powerful account of colonial practices in Australia: “They [the British colonizers] stopped the singing up of the country [enlivening through song places to which peoples hold hereditary and spiritual ties] by killing the song holders and moving those of us who survived the genocide to country that was of no lawful or cultural significance to the songs they carried” (Watson 1999, 185).

The report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which presented an overview of the history of colonial violence there, explained that the

assault on Aboriginal identity can be found in amendments to the Indian Act banning a variety of Aboriginal cultural and spiritual practices. The two most prominent of these were the west-coast Potlatch and the Prairie Thirst Dance (often referred to as the “Sun Dance”). Residential school principals had been in the forefront of the campaign to ban these ceremonies, and also urged the government to enforce the bans once they were put in place. (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada 2015, 1:55)

Children are the recipients, creators, and future carriers of cultural expression, and they often provoke its dissemination by elders; for these reasons, they have frequently been targeted directly by settler-state interventions. Physical removal of children from families, communities, and nations was one strategy to halt their acquisition of cultural knowledges and thus the continuation of Indigenous societies. Drawing on evidence from state policies as well as accounts from the survivors of those policies, an Australian national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families from their children, who were collectively known as the “Stolen Generations,” reported: “Culture, language, land and identity were to be stripped from the children in the hope that the traditional law and culture would die by losing their claim on them and sustenance of them” (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1997, 175). An elder interviewed by Ellis described the impact of these acts on children and social cohesion. As a result of this assault on Indigenous culture, they said,

We see everybody going to the pack [declining,] boys and even girls—they just do what they like. The old people that went through the [Indigenous] rules, they know better. White fellas interfered in our rules, stopping us from doing our corroborees [particular dance-song practices]. No songs—no rules. (quoted in Ellis 1968, 5)

Survivors of Canadian residential schools shared related experiences. Their accounts show how the schools tried to indoctrinate Indigenous children and describe a multitude of ways in which cultural activity was banned (Robinson and Martin 2016).

Survivor accounts from Australia and Canada confirm the arguments scholars have made about the prerequisites for the continuation of cultural knowledge. The point may seem obvious, but it is nonetheless worth stating: intergenerational transmission of knowledge and practice from elders in communities, including parents (and grandparents), to children is a prerequisite for the continuation of culture. This idea is a central tenet of literature on language endangerment (Fishman 2001, 466), and it is also central to the more recent work on music endangerment (Grant 2014). Population loss, the scarcity of culture-bearers, and the limitations placed on their access to subsequent generations directly impact the life of a cultural tradition (Morin 2016, 177).

Recent work on Indigenous music in settler states has focused on the enduring effect of these attacks on intergenerational music transmission. This work unambiguously shows that both colonial policies and their enforcement, which in some situations was harshly violent, had a direct and devastating impact on Indigenous music, which lasts even today. In the Australian case, for example, Allan Marett has described a “massive cultural extinction” of song (2010, 253), and the Australian/New Zealand Regional Committee of the International Council for Traditional Music (2011) has estimated that some 98 percent of the song traditions that existed in Australia in 1788 have since been lost.

This history of colonial suppression is experienced as a form of trauma that is at once intergenerational (passed down from one generation to the next) and transgenerational (experienced collectively across generations; Atkinson 2002). For healer and trauma researcher Judy Atkinson (Jiman/Bundjalung, Australia), song becomes entangled with “trauma trails” that “run across country and generations from original locations of violence as people moved away from the places of pain. These trauma trails carried fragmented, fractured people and families” (Atkinson 2002, 88). Discussing related ideas in the Canadian context, public art and sound scholar Dylan Robinson (Stó:lō, Canada) has described the way in which “sensory memory reverberates across time not only through the bodies of residential school survivors, but also through generations of families, through communities” (Robinson 2016, 44).

A number of scholars have addressed the histories of intergenerational and transgenerational trauma that manifest in musical practices, including the practices of contemporary popular music. Ethnomusicologists Katelyn Barney and Elizabeth Mackinlay (2010; see also Barney 2006, 2012) have discussed a large body of contemporary songs by Indigenous musicians that address the experiences and histories of Australia’s Stolen Generations, beginning with the song “Brown Skin Baby,”written in 1964 by “Tjilpi” Bob Randall (Yankunytjatjara, Australia). Another important song is Archie Roach’s “Took the Children Away” (see Roach 2019). Released in 1990, the song continues to receive significant radio airplay and has contributed to a shifting of public sentiment that cleared the way for national political action to recognize and investigate the targeting of children (T. Martin 2019). Both “Brown Skin Baby”and “Took the Children Away”are considered anthems of the Stolen Generations (Singley 2017; T. Martin 2019). A substantial corpus of songs explicitly reference interruption of cultural practices and the burden left for emerging generations, which continues to grow (Dunbar-Hall 2017). And it is not only individual songs or song corpuses that have been used to address intergenerational trauma. Significant events, such as the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, have been marked by major musical performance (e.g., Rotumah et al. 2008).

Particularly in Australia, an extensive body of research has addressed community initiatives and projects that seek musical revitalization and resurgence, and some of these have been conducted in collaboration with non-Indigenous researchers. I will return to this topic below, but here I wish to emphasize that, irrespective of its impact on the health of generational knowledges, trauma is attendant with many aspects of this work, including the challenges faced by community members when trying to learn music in new transmission contexts (e.g., Barwick and Turpin 2016). The endangered status of many Indigenous musical traditions in Australia may be traumatizing, as a signal of histories of colonial violence. Research directed at preservation or sustainability and revitalization is predicated by these histories. Moreover, initiatives to reclaim Indigenous musical practices may lead people to face the “double binds” inherent in interventions by non-Indigenous research and researchers (Rose 1986; Treloyn and Charles 2021). The discourse of “loss” that dominates discussions of music endangerment (Grant 2015) diverts the narrative way from its colonial causes and perpetuates a representation of Indigenous peoples as inherently deficient through a “deficit discourse” (see Fforde et al. 2013). As Diamond has argued, in the Canadian context, narratives of victimhood such as these risk further sacrificing Indigenous, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit lives and experiences to the Western and colonial gaze (2015, 268–270).

Addressing Intergenerational Trauma and Ruptured Intergenerational Knowledges

In songs such as Roach’s “Took the Children Away” that relate experiences of members of the Stolen Generations, healing is a dominant theme. Of “Took the Children Away,” Roach writes:

People ask me if I ever get sick of singing my song, “Took the Children Away.” I tell them it’s my healing song. Through songs, I have been able to deal with the pain and trauma in a more positive way. Every time I sing it, I let a little bit of the hurt and trauma go. I tell them that one day I will be singing it and it will all go…And I will be free. (Roach 2019, 357)

Healing is similarly a dominant theme in the music of many children, grandchildren, and so on of members of the Stolen Generations and their communities. Barney and Mackinlay (2010, discussed above) look to Atkinson (2002) to understand how individual and collective experiences of trauma are realized and expressed musically by Indigenous peoples in Australia. Singer-songwriter Emma Donovan (Gumbaynggirr/Naminjee, Australia) explained to Barney that the song “Ngarraanga” communicates hope in the wake of the 2008 National Apology to the Stolen Generations by Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd. “The idea of ‘Ngarraanga,’ ‘Remember,’ is also remembering that it [the removal of children] happened but also [doing so] with hope and with everything that’s happened now…The emotion is there, but you know it’s still keeping us strong” (quoted in Barney 2012, 85).

Speaking to repairing ruptures in intergenerational transmission of knowledge, Donovan explained to Barney that she used an Indigenous language in the song “to empower and ‘heal’ self and community through strengthening of identity” (quoted in Barney 2012, 85). In songs such as Donovan’s and those of numerous other Indigenous songwriters that were composed in response to the 2008 National Apology, music becomes a way to “break the silence” (that characterizes Australia’s denial of injustice towards Indigenous peoples) and attempt healing for the singer and their larger community (see Barney 2012).

A similar focus on individual and collective experience and healing is evident in Indigenous contemporary musical expression in Canada. Diamond (2015) provides a number of examples of Indigenous musicians in Canada who have created songs for their own healing and that of their families and society more broadly, either in relation to their own experience in residential schools or that of their parents or grandparents (275–276; see also Vollant and Audet 2012). As with the 2008 National Apology in Australia, songwriting has played an important role for healing following and in response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Diamond 2015). Along with other forms of artistic expression, songwriting in these contexts seeks to create change in the institutions and publics that, implicitly or otherwise, perpetuate harm to Indigenous people. Robinson and literature scholar Keavey Martin describe art-making in the context of the TRC as “taking aesthetic action,” where feelings are “mobilized towards particular political sensory experiences” (Robinson and Martin 2016, 3). Here, contemporary music is a primary mode of addressing histories of colonial violence against Indigenous peoples and their voices.

Returning to the topic of intergenerational knowledge transmission, the TRC has noted that by offering testimony, survivors of residential schools reclaim their role as transmitters of knowledge to new generations (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada 2015, 272). The same might be said of each of the singers and artists referenced by Barney (2012) and Diamond (2015). The repair of ruptures to intergenerational knowledge transmission has been a focus of many communities and individuals, and in Australia, this topic has interested scholars as well. Approaches are diverse, and often multiple methods or modes of recovery are practiced. These include the adoption or invention of new musical styles and genres (e.g., Barwick 2011; Fairweather, Matthias, and Whaleboat 2017, 333); education programs (e.g., G. Martin 2014; Grant 2017); community teaching (J. Dick and Hoefnagels 2012); theater (Harrison 2019); and the use of archival sources in revitalization projects (Bracknell 2019; Ford 2020; Treloyn, Charles, and Nulgit 2013). Research-driven interventions to sustain or revitalize intergenerational knowledge transmission are common in countries with Indigenous populations and, increasingly in Australia, these are led by Indigenous researchers working within their own communities (e.g., Bracknell, Ford). Each of the approaches referenced above exemplifies what Titon wrote about the US settlement school movement: “not archival preservation but sustainability within living cultural groups, in an effort to restore and maintain personal and cultural identity and integrity under the psychologically dislocating pressures of modernization” (2016, 16).

A primary method of addressing ruptures in intergenerational knowledges is the repatriation of audio and audiovisual recordings from archives and other sources. The treatment of archives here is very different from that of early work in comparative musicology and ethnomusicology. Then the archive was valued as a resource for the scholarly community, which allowed for the comparison of musical events across time and place, restricted only by recording format and access rights (Seeger 1986). The use of recordings in source communities for cultural revitalization is increasingly discussed in today’s ethnomusicological literature (see, for example, the chapters in Gunderson, Lancefield, and Woods 2019). Through recordings and written records, archives hold musical knowledges of one generation in trust for later ones; where recordings and their metadata are the bricks and mortar of archives, intergenerational knowledges lie in the crevices and shadows that those archival edifices cast.

Archival recordings can facilitate intergenerational transmission by giving contemporary people access to the musical knowledge and practices of past generations. For example, folklorist Amber Ridington (2012) worked with Dane-Zaa peoples (Canada) to repatriate the recordings made by anthropologist Robin Ridington (Amber Ridington’s father). Amber Ridington has shown how access to these materials allowed the community to see the variability of their tradition by comparing among recordings made over a forty-year period, thus contributing to the vitality of their musical practice. For Ngarinyin, Worrorra, and Wunambal (Australia), access to recordings has contributed to an increase in the size and diversity of their repertory and allowed greater musical participation (Treloyn, Charles, and Nulgit 2013). Elsewhere, musicians have used repatriated recordings to recover aspects of style and repertoire that were thought to be lost (Stubington and Dunbar-Hall 1994). Along with the sharing of recordings and the development of new media skills among community members, the notation of lyrics and/or music may also play a role in cultural recovery. Barwick and Turpin report that while writing is not a practice of their grandparents’ generation, younger learners of yawulyu/awelye songs in Central Australia write down the song’s lyrics to aid in transmission (2016, 122). Barwick and Turpin also discuss Ellis’s much earlier observations about the use of written lyrics by elder teachers at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music at the University of Adelaide in the 1970s and 1980s (Ellis 1985, 123).

Access to and use of recordings may also be guided by the same complex networks that shape participation in the intergenerational transmission of musical knowledges. Writing about the repatriation of recordings to Yolngu in northeast Arnhem Land, Toner explains that

[a]ssertions of authority on the basis of kinship over repatriated audio recordings fit in seamlessly with Yolngu processes of knowledge management and transmission, and there is a clear continuity between the management of repatriated cultural heritage and the management of contemporary ritual life: both are based on the foundation of Yolngu ancestral law (rom). (2003, 10)

Access to archival recordings may help revitalize a music by shifting the boundaries around performance context, as well as customary and hereditary rules of transmission. For example, Barwick (2017) shows how Indigenous youth and others used archival materials to help democratize music-making in the town of Wadeye in the Daly region of northern Australia. Speaking of joik songs practiced by Sámi singers of arctic Europe, ethnomusicologist Thomas Hilder (2017) found that the Internet allows transmission irrespective of generational boundaries (see p. 187) and that modern technologies for transmission have led to an increase in sampling and musical borrowing, which in turn has led to new ideas about individual ownership and musical subjectivity. Such cases are proliferating in the literature. In this context, communication scholar Jonathan Sterne (2016) has called for researchers to nuance our approach to recording and preservation by attending to the practices of contemporary musicians.

Once they are circulating in a source community, repatriated recordings may invoke a range of emotional responses. For example, singer and Ngarinyin and Wunambal elder Matthew Dembal Martin has reported experiences of sorrow when accessing repatriated materials (Treloyn, Martin, and Charles 2016), and ethnomusicologist Anthony Seeger (2019) describes a similar reaction to repatriated music among the Suyá/Kĩsêdjê in Brazil. Ethnomusicologist Richard Moyle (2019) explains that when he returned recordings of nationalistic Mau music from the New Zealand Broadcasting Commission to the people of Samoa in 2000, the public responded with anger. Toner (2003) gives a broad discussion of affect in an analysis of community response to the return of historical recordings in Yirrkala, northeast Arnhem Land, ranging from nostalgia to sadness and humor.

While useful for recovering repertoire, style, or musical techniques, recordings may be loaded with the liminal power of the event in which they were recorded (Koch 2019). This may render playback deeply meaningful to a listener who holds—or is recognized by their community to hold—hereditary or customary rights to the materials that were recorded. Further, recordings can also contain powerful links to members of past generations. Reflecting on the experience of listening to such recordings in the archive of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), for example, Matthew Dembal Martin explained:

[I]t was good (to) see those old, old things from old people, and the song. [We] pick the song from old, old people. They (the old people) are still there (in the recordings): like the old people are gone but their spirit is still there. What you call that place? (AIATSIS) They (the old people) are still there, they still remain. Can’t forget them. (Treloyn, Martin, and Charles 2019, 603, passages in brackets and parentheses in the original)

Based on the spiritual agency residing in the recording, Martin stated that we “must bring the whole lot [of recordings] back to country” to be reinterred in the same way that repatriated human remains are (Treloyn, Martin, and Charles 2019, 603). It follows that in cases where elders are no longer available to manage a return, playback—or even the handling of a USB drive or CD—can be viewed as a fraught, risk-laden activity. Such sensitivities can be aggravated by the format of return. Anthropologist Andrew Morrumburri Dowding (Ngarluma, Australia) describes how a group of Ngarluma elders became upset when they inadvertently heard sensitive portions of a recording that had been returned to their community in part due to long-format digital audio files (Treloyn and Dowding 2017).

For many Indigenous artists, the act of repatriation is not just the return of items from past generations to current generations for the sake of the future. It is also a repatriation of authority over knowledge, a process that is akin to rematriation—the “redistribution of power, knowledge, and place, and the dismantling of settler colonialism” discussed by education scholar Eve Tuck (Unangax̂, North America; Tuck 2011). In this context, the involvement of non-Indigenous researchers is laden with risk, and Indigenous sovereignty in research methods must be a primary concern. As recordings cross generations in transactions of repatriation, a host of ethical questions arise in Australia and elsewhere. For example, collectors and communities may have very different ideas about who holds the rights to recordings, how they should be accessed, and who should be responsible for an archive of materials (Koch 2019). Writing about South Africa, ethnomusicologist Diane Thram (2019) urges us to ask who has access to new technologies for the dissemination of recordings of musical knowledge and attend to issues of cultural equity. And as Diamond and Tulk (2019) observe, all acts of repatriation run the risk of repeating or at least “obfuscating” colonial violence.


This article has approached the broad and pervasive theme of intergenerational knowledges in music research, with a focus on work from the discipline of ethnomusicology. As a researcher engaged with Indigenous music communities, I initially approach this topic in terms of transmission—the passage of musical knowledges from generation to generation in relation to lineages of musicians, place, gender, kinship, and the agency of spirits, and in the changing contexts of culture, politics, and wider social environments. The literature shows that musical transmission is a multimodal phenomenon that involves oral/aural expression, dance, and story; notation and transcription; and a wide range of media and recording technologies, including the Internet and Web 2.0 tools and platforms. In recent years, the literatures on Indigenous musics in Australia and South Asian musics have moved away from characterizations of musical transmission as the passage of knowledge in a vertical, older-to-younger manner and have emphasized complex and multidirectional flows among generations. Across geographical areas, scholarship from insider and Indigenous ethnomusicologists and from allied disciplines has helped to challenge the gendered assumptions that researchers have inherited from previous generations, as well as the ontological and epistemological presuppositions that outsider scholars may bring to studying music of others. Studies from around the world also show how historical shifts in musical communities and their responses to new social environments can alter our understandings of core concepts like transmission, continuity, and historical change.

A crucial topic in the literature is the impact of settler colonialism on intergenerational musical knowledge. In Australia and Canada, for example, the state and its instruments have deliberately ruptured chains of transmission, and contemporary Indigenous movements have engaged in projects of cultural revitalization, musical reclamation, and survivance. This issue has been central to my work. As a settler academic working in Indigenous music, I have argued that scholars like myself have a responsibility to acknowledge that our participatory style of research, with its access to expert-teacher musicians and acquisition of advanced skills and knowledges, runs the risk of perpetuating colonial violence. In differing ways, outsider and insider scholars and community musicians exist in a frictional space between the demands of Western institutions, relational responsibilities that may cross generations, and their historical consciousnesses.

It is clear that the ways in which music research approaches and views generational knowledges has shifted over time, in response not only to allied fields such as anthropology, linguistics, and music education but also to research pertaining to gender, kinship, childhood and youth, new media, Indigenous knowledges, and Indigenous sovereignty. Diverse and developing, the recent literature on intergenerational musical knowledges has gone beyond the past preoccupation with intergenerational transmission to explore multigenerational scenes and age-based musical cohorts. Closely related to this work is the contemporary research on musical sustainability and community-led revitalization projects, which have stimulated scholars to reconsider their assumptions about the practice of music collecting for the sake of future generations and the nature of music archives. Such projects have oriented music researchers toward Indigenous epistemological frameworks regarding intergenerational knowledges, which are often rooted in ideas of place and spiritual agency. Informed by Indigenous and insider researchers and stimulated by events like postcolonial land rights cases and musical repatriation projects, the field of music research has developed new critiques of research praxis and developed new ideas about research ethics. These developments are shaping the way contemporary music scholars interact with musicians, musical communities, and archival collections. They also guide what we record, write, and publish, and will inform future generations of music research.


This article was produced as part of a project titled Singing the Future: Assessing the Effectiveness of Repatriation as a Strategy to Sustain the Vitality of Indigenous Song, which was funded by a grant from the Australian Research Council (FT150100141). The author thanks Beverley Diamond, Allan Marett, and the journal’s editors for indispensable responses to drafts and Shalini R. Ayyagari and Andrea Emberly for invaluable suggestions on sources in specific areas of scholarship to consult during the preparation of this article.


1 The concept of tradition has been considered at length in folklore studies (e.g., Ben-Amos 1984) as well as in ethnomusicology (Coplan 1991; Shelemay 1996) and elsewhere in music research.

2 When citing the First Nations and Indigenous/First Peoples of Australia, specificity is considered respectful. Accordingly, in this article I indicate the name of the First Nation/People(s) to which referenced individuals belong. Because the article references music from multiple countries and regions, I also name the political nation-state those Indigenous/First Nations lie within, though acknowledging their sovereignty and that they inhabit unceded land.

3 The term “master” is used with caution in this article in light of its historical association with slavery. It is a common term in many traditions of music transmission and scholarship, often with the intent of signalling a musician’s high level of skill and knowledge. In this article I have used the term when citing a particular source but otherwise substituted the terms “knowledge holder” or “expert-teacher.”

4 The term “Country” in scholarship on Indigenous cultures in Australia designates the places from which people draw ancestral, hereditary, or spiritual ties. The term is conventionally capitalized, signifying its distinction from “country,” as in nation-state, and as a marker of respect.

5 For a comprehensive overview of this topic in the Australian context, see Koch (2013).


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