Who pays and who plays? Mapping the discourse of publicly funded instrumental music education in Ireland

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Deloughry, Ciaran
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University College Cork
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Instrumental music education is provided as an extra-curricular activity on a fee-paying basis by a small number of Education and Training Boards, formerly Vocational Education Committees (ETB/VECs) through specialist instrumental Music Services. Although all citizens’ taxes fund the public music provision, participation in instrumental music during school-going years is predominantly accessed by middle class families. A series of semistructured interviews sought to access the perceptions and beliefs of instrumental music education practitioners (N=14) in seven publicly-funded music services in Ireland. Canonical dispositions were interrogated and emergent themes were coded and analysed in a process of Grounded theory. The study draws on Foucault’s conception of discourse as a lens with which to map professional practices, and utilises Bourdieu’s analysis of the reproduction of social advantage to examine cultural assumptions, which may serve to privilege middle-class cultural choice to the exclusion of other social groups. Study findings show that within the Music Services, aesthetic and pedagogic discourses of the 19th century Conservatory system exert a hegemonic influence over policy and practice. An enduring ‘examination culture’ located within the Western art music tradition determines pedagogy, musical genre, and assessment procedures. Ideologies of musical taste and value reinforce the more tangible boundaries of fee-payment and restricted availability as barriers to access. Practitioners are aware of a status duality whereby instrumental teachers working as visiting specialists in primary schools experience a conflict between specialist and generalist educational aims. Nevertheless, study participants consistently advocated siting the point of access to instrumental music education in the primary schools as the most equitable means of access to instrumental music education. This study addresses a ‘knowledge gap’ in the sociology of music education in Ireland. It provides a framework for rethinking instrumental music education as equitable in-school musical participation. The conclusions of the study suggest starting-points for further educational research and may provide key ‘prompts’ for curriculum planning.
Instrumental music education , Publicly-funded education provision , Access and participation
Deloughry, C. 2014. Who pays and who plays? Mapping the discourse of publicly funded instrumental music education in Ireland. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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