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Nepali Folk Performance: The Works of Subi Shah
Anna Stirr, University of Hawaii at Manoa

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Subi Shah’s Holistic Theory of Nepali Performing Arts: Implications for Research and Teaching (Article)
Title: Subi Shah’s Holistic Theory of Nepali Performing Arts: Implications for Research and Teaching
Author: Anna Stirr
Abstract: Subi Shah (1922-2008) was a Nepali performer and educator whose life’s work was to preserve and promote Nepali folk genres of music, song, dance, and drama, especially the wide variety of these that make up the tradition known as Pangdure. Raised in this tradition, he became one of its leading exponents. He did so outside of the academy and was thus free from disciplinary strictures. Although he was consulted and honored by state cultural policymakers in the 1980s and 1990s, many of his contributions remain unrecognized. This study analyzes five of his texts, building on my 20 years of engagement as a scholar and performer with the traditions described therein. The objectives of the study are to identify key aspects of Shah’s theories of performance. The study finds that Shah’s descriptions and analysis of integrated performance practice valorize a performance tradition with its own unique worldviews and theories. It concludes that teaching these worldviews and theories will help maintain the cultural sustainability of this and other Nepali performance traditions, by helping students make connections among the traditionally related aspects of performance: instrumental music, song, poetry, dance, and drama. Further, it demonstrates the broader applicability of Shah’s methods for holistic performance scholarship within and beyond Nepal, which contributes to decolonizing ethnomusicology by centering a non-Western theory and methodology from outside the academy.
Year: 2021
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Link to article in open access journal
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: DOI for article
Access Model: Open Access
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Jurai Sembah
Publisher: Jurai Sembah

Embodied Theories of Melody in Nepali Music: A Case Study from Central Dhading (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Embodied Theories of Melody in Nepali Music: A Case Study from Central Dhading
Author: Anna Stirr
Author: Lochan Rijal
Author: Mason Brown
Abstract: A decorated scholar-practitioner with a lifetime of music and dance training in the traditions of his village and their national-level iterations in the Nepal Army, Subi Shah wrote this manuscript based on his own experience as a flute player. He did additional research with the sahanai players of the naumati baja of his home village, Jyamrung, in Dhading. Introduction to Nepali Tunes offers a theory of melodic modes based on the musical instruments bansuri, murali, and sahanai, and discusses the relation of vernacular traditions with those holding “classical” status, illustrating his music-theoretical and social-theoretical claims with two or three notated example songs for each mode, plus his own written commentary. We assert that these instruments take on the role of “epistemic things” (Rheinberger, 1997) not simply technical objects used to produce pre-conceived sounds, but the sensory, experiential basis for understanding melody. Our broader argument, building on those of multiple ethnomusicological studies on embodiment, is that theories are not only articulated verbally, and attention to the act of performance and its technical and sensory aspects are also a way to develop, determine, and transmit theories. Subi Shah’s manuscript begins to translate this embodied musical theory into words and music notation. Our scholarship aims to carry its insights forward, explaining their relevance outside the case study of Shah’s central Nepali musical traditions toward a more expansive concept of what constitutes theory, and a greater appreciation for the depth of knowledge found in the vernacular artistic traditions of Nepal. This in turn is important for these traditions’ cultural sustainability and continued vitality.
Date: 07/29/2022
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Link to posted slides
Secondary URL: 10.13140/RG.2.2.12715.52003
Secondary URL Description: DOI for slides
Conference Name: Annual Conference on Nepal and the Himalaya