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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 2 - Music and Embodied Identities - 37


Chapter 2 Music and Embodied Identities What is identity? Wenger (1998), has suggested that identity is not static – an essential and unchanging way of being – but dynamic, a constant becoming. Frith (1996:110) claims that identity is ‘an experiental process which is most vividly grasped as music. Music seems to be a key to iden- tity because it of fers, so intensely, a sense of both self and others, of the subjective in the collective’. To understand ‘the subjective in the collective’ we must consider identity in the context of community, and in order to understand the relationship of identity and community to musical practice, it is necessary to discuss how ‘practice’ has been theorised. I first examine the nature and significance of musical practice, before showing that the concepts of identity, community and practice are inseparably intertwined. I then examine the relationship of emotion and aesthetics to musical expe- rience, before showing how communities and identities are embodied through emotionally and aesthetically informed musical practice. Finally, I consider the ethnographic context in which these theoretical concepts are applied, with a particular emphasis upon the role of social class in forming musical aesthetics and practice. Music as Embodied Practice Small (1998) introduced the term ‘musicking’ to emphasise that music is not an object but a process, an activity, a practice. He defines musicking as taking part ‘in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by per- forming, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by … composing, or by 38 Chapter 2...

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