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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 4 - Playing the Field: Ballyclare Victoria Flute-Band and the World of the Flute-Band League - 101


Chapter 4 Playing the Field: Ballyclare Victoria Flute-Band and the World of the Flute-Band League Introduction This chapter gives an ethnographic account of my entry into the world of the part-music f lute-band, and the f lute-band contest. I describe the processes of musical learning I underwent in BVFB and consider the emo- tional ef fects of these practices and their implications for the shaping of identities, or ways of living in the world. The final part of the chapter explores the emotional rewards and costs to BVFB of maintaining these practices, and thus maintaining its identity as a championship winning band. The chapter will establish the centrality of the relationship between practice and identity which will form a basis for the comparison of the musical identities enacted in the melody-band SGWM and the B&T band BLSOU in later chapters. This comparison, in turn, will inform analysis of relationships between class-position, acquired habitus, aesthetic tastes and musical practices. 102 Chapter 4 Ballyclare Victoria Flute-Band I attended my first band practice at Ballyclare Orange Hall in January 2004. The statue of ‘King Billy’1 above the door seemed to declare that I was entering an exclusively ‘Orange’ space, but this was belied by piles of green dresses decorated with Celtic motifs which lay on tables inside left by the previous evening’s Irish dance class.2 The bandroom was bustling with over thirty band members setting up music stands and assembling instruments. Irwin greeted me and intro- duced me to Johnny McConnell, the...

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