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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 5 - Walking to the Field: Ballyclare Victoria Flute-Band, Sir George White Memorial Flute-Band and the World of the Street Parade - 121


Chapter 5 Walking to the Field: Ballyclare Victoria Flute-Band, Sir George White Memorial Flute-Band and the World of the Street Parade Introduction In July 2004, I was introduced to a new kind of music-making, for which I soon discovered that the skills acquired in the bandroom were quite inadequate. This was the street parade, in which BVFB had always par- ticipated, but which they no longer prioritised, due to their commitment to contest excellence. This chapter provides ethnographic description of my experiences in three successive Twelfth of July parades, the first two with BVFB, the last with SGWM, a band for which parading was central to their practice, aesthetic preferences and identity. My dif fering experiences over three successive years were conditioned not only by the dif ferent habitus of the bands with which I played, but also by my own developing competence. My analysis of these experiences will be informed by Bourdieu’s (1984) concept of taste as a a set of dispositions acquired in the process of learning to make distinctions through practice and Wenger’s (1998) relation of dif ferent identities to dif ferent kinds of competence. Through detailed consideration of practices in each band, I will examine how Bourdieu’s conceptual frame- work concerning taste relates to anthropologist Peter Wilson’s concepts of ‘reputation’ and ‘respectability’. Wilson, in his (1973) ethnography of the Caribbean island of Providencia, formulated these concepts as alternative strategies by which working-class people may seek status and fulfillment. By contrasting the dif ferent ways in which...

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