The musical enculturation of Irish traditional musicians: An ethnographic study of learning processes

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Cawley, Jessica
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University College Cork
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The enculturation of Irish traditional musicians involves informal, non-formal, and sometimes formal learning processes in a number of different settings, including traditional music sessions, workshops, festivals, and classes. Irish traditional musicians also learn directly from family, peers, and mentors and by using various forms of technology. Each experience contributes to the enculturation process in meaningful and complementary ways. The ethnographic research discussed in this dissertation suggests that within Irish traditional music culture, enculturation occurs most effectively when learners experience a multitude of learning practices. A variety of experiences insures that novices receive multiple opportunities for engagement and learning. If a learner finds one learning practice ineffective, there are other avenues of enculturation. This thesis explores the musical enculturation of Irish traditional musicians. It focuses on the process of becoming a musician by drawing on methodologies and theories from ethnomusicology, education, and Irish traditional music studies. Data was gathered through multiple ethnographic methodologies. Fieldwork based on participant-observation was carried out in a variety of learning contexts, including traditional music sessions, festivals, workshops, and weekly classes. Additionally, interviews with twenty accomplished Irish traditional musicians provide diverse narratives and firsthand insight into musical development and enculturation. These and other methodologies are discussed in Chapter 1. The three main chapters of the thesis explore various common learning experiences. Chapter 2 explores how Irish traditional musicians learn during social and musical interactions between peers, mentors, and family members, and focuses on live music-making which occurs in private homes, sessions, and concerts. These informal and non-formal learning experiences primarily take place outside of organizations and institutions. The interview data suggests these learning experiences are perhaps the most pervasive and influential in terms of musical enculturation. Chapter 3 discusses learning experience in more organized settings, such as traditional music classes, workshops, summer schools, and festivals. The role of organizations such as Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and pipers’ clubs are discussed from the point of view of the learner. Many of the learning experiences explored in this chapter are informal, non-formal, and sometimes formal in nature, depending on the philosophy of the organization, institution, and individual teacher. The interview data and field observations indicate that learning in these contexts is common and plays a significant role in enculturation, particularly for traditional musicians who were born during and after the 1970s. Chapter 4 explores the ways Irish traditional musicians use technology, including written sources, phonography, videography, websites, and emerging technologies, during the enculturation process. Each type of technology presents different educational implications, and traditional musicians use these technologies in diverse ways and some more than others. For this, and other reasons, technology plays a complex role during the process of musical enculturation. Drawing on themes which emerge during Chapter 2, 3, and 4, the final chapter of this dissertation explores overarching patterns of enculturation within Irish traditional music culture. This ethnographic work suggests that longevity of participation and engagement in multiple learning and performance opportunities foster the enculturation of Irish traditional musicians. Through numerous and prolonged participation in music-making, novices become accustomed to and learn musical, social, and cultural behaviours. The final chapter also explores interconnections between learning experiences and also proposes directions for future research.
Irish Traditional Music , Ethnomusicology , Informal learning , Music education
Cawley, J. 2013. The musical enculturation of Irish traditional musicians: An ethnographic study of learning processes. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.