Passing Traditions: Child-Directed Music as an Index of Cultural Change in Metropolitan India

This dissertation is one of the first forays into the living and evolving world of child-directed song practices in metropolitan India. It is an inquiry into how individuals living in India’s megacities of Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai sing to children, what these song practices mean for both children and adults, and why these practices are changing. It investigates the nature and effects of change on the intimate practice of lullaby singing and more the public, ritualized song practices known as sohars. A changing family structure, shifting gender roles, increasing economic mobility, rapid urbanization, and pervasive technology are irrevocably altering life and child-directed song practices in India’s megacities. In this work, I document the musical and textual features of some of the most prominent lullaby and sohar practices to show how they help transmit socio-cultural values, build connections between generations of people separated by time and place, and provide scaffolding for the creation, maintenance, and performance of an individual’s identities in the contexts of India’s fluid urban environments. My research primarily draws on ethnomusicological fieldwork conducted in India in 2011-2012, in addition to four research excursions in 2004-2010, to document how child-directed song practices help transmit and preserve traditions, mythologies, memories, and values while simultaneously creating new ways for individuals to interface with a changing world.