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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 7 - Crackin’ Tunes: The ‘Musical’, the ‘Traditional’ and the ‘Authentic’ - 185


Chapter 7 Crackin’ Tunes: The ‘Musical’, the ‘Traditional’ and the ‘Authentic’ If SGWM’s visit to Scotland was primarily an enaction of communal soli- darity, the aesthetics of ‘distinction’ were never entirely absent, even here. On parade, the band play marches and popular tunes in part-harmony as well as B&T tunes, and it was a source of considerable pleasure and pride when in 2005, they were awarded the trophy for ‘best visiting band’. If, in communal musicking in the Lily, the boundaries of the community are defined primarily against the absent, but symbolically represented ‘Fenian’ other, in the vast majority of the band’s practice throughout the year, those boundaries are defined primarily against other ‘Protestant’ groups, particularly other bands. The tensions and solidarities within and between these groups are manifested aesthetically and are mediated by social class. In this chapter I will explore the aesthetic negotiation of identity in the melody-band, SGWM, and in the B&T band the Ballykeel Loyal Sons of Ulster (BLSOU), with which Sam and I have also played for three years. From ‘B&T’ to Respectability: The Melody Aesthetic in SGWM In order to understand SGWM’s transition from the B&T to the melody genre, it is necessary to consider the nature of the social environment in which they operate: the village of Broughshane. On entering Broughshane in the summer, one is immediately struck by the profusion of colour. Flags 186 Chapter 7 f ly from every lampost and a colourful Orange Arch spans the...

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