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Music, Emotion and Identity in Ulster Marching Bands

Flutes, Drums and Loyal Sons

Gordon Ramsey

Ulster’s marching bands form perhaps the most vibrant participatory folk music tradition in contemporary Europe, and are one of the most significant and visible elements of working-class loyalist culture in the divided society of Northern Ireland. Their significance springs largely from the central place they have assumed in the lives of their members.
This book presents an ethnography of three County Antrim flute bands from the very different genres of ‘part-music’, ‘melody’ and ‘blood and thunder’. The author explores the emotional rewards of communal music-making and the way that identities are formed through the acquisition of tastes, competences and skills within specific communal contexts, paying particular attention to the impact of class position. These issues are examined in the context of the competitions, concerts and street parades that are central to the social lives of thousands of band members and supporters in Northern Ireland.

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Chapter 1 - Becoming a Bandsman: Contexts, Purposes and Methodologies - 1

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Chapter 1 Becoming a Bandsman: Contexts, Purposes and Methodologies It is a truism in western consumerist societies that our music is a part of our identity, and identity in consumerist societies is often seen as a product of ‘lifestyle choices’. We define ourselves, in our own eyes and in the eyes of others, by the CDs we buy, the concerts we attend, the styles of clothing, frequently inf luenced by musical role models, that we adopt. This book does not dispute the reality, or significance of such practices. But it seeks a more profound understanding of identity, and of its relationship with music, by examining a community within a western consumerist society whose deep engagement with musical practice is largely unmediated by the mechanisms of consumerism. This book seeks to explore the nature of identity by understanding how what we are, what we become, and what we conceive ourselves to be, is conditioned by the things we do, the ways we live our lives, and in particular, by the deeply emotional experiences of communal musical participation. The people who are the subject of this book do indeed make ‘lifestyle choices’ – choosing to acquire particular skills, connections and ways of being in the world that constitute their self-making projects, and thus con- stitute them as persons within particular webs of communal relationships. It cannot be said, however, that these are entirely ‘free’ choices, for they are made within the constraints of systems of class and ethnicity which limit the choices available...

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