This essay focuses on the multiple definitions and conflicting narrative performances of meşk that coexist in contemporary Turkish practices of music transmission. In Ottoman contexts, meşk referred to the prescribed unfolding of transmission over a long period of time between a master and an apprentice. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Istanbul (during 2003 – 5), I examine contemporary interpretations of meşk as performances of history and memory directly engaged with musicians’ situatedness. Conflicting understandings of meşk within the distinctive discursive realms of the master-apprentice system, state-sponsored places, and consumer circuits indicate competing discourses that illuminate the workings of different hegemonic power structures. In performative statements of meşk, individuals are doing more than simply articulating practices of musical transmission. Rather, performances of meşk work to place individuals in a tradition in which their past, present, and future are fused together and constituted as social identity. In this essay, I unpack identity practices (how individuals position themselves through interpretations of meşk), performances (how individuals perceive and narrate themselves as belonging to history), and engagement with cultural and musical production (Turkish classical music and practices of transmitting the same) to come to an enlarged understanding of the historical composition of identity for musicians today.

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