Abstract

The purpose of this ethnographic study was to explore how Celtic traditional music was taught and learned by North American adults at the Goderich Celtic College (GCC), an annual weeklong event held in the town of Goderich, Ontario, Canada. The GCC provides instruction to adult learners in Celtic instrumental traditions from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, and the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and Ontario. Other activities occurring outside of the regular school day, including concerts and informal music sessions, are a significant part of the College week. Participants were asked to describe their comfort levels with both visual and aural/oral music learning, and this was because Celtic music is traditionally learned through aural/oral transmission and not through written notation. Many of the teacher participants at the GCC were traditional folk musicians who have learned in an aural/oral, non-literate tradition in informal social settings, and when "teaching," they employ various aural/oral approaches because those are the strategies with which they are the most familiar. Student study participants were North American adults, formally schooled, musically literate, and generally uncomfortable with aural/oral music learning when introduced to Celtic music as adults. Thus, when first learning Celtic music, they were both unfamiliar with and had difficulty learning the music in the manner in which it was traditionally transmitted, that is, through aural/oral learning in context. Therefore, in order to learn Celtic music in what was perceived to be the most natural and authentic way (aural/oral), participants developed self-teaching strategies designed to accommodate and/or supplement their aural/oral learning. Information gleaned from this study has implications for formal music education practice.

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