Academic journal article Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)

Adult Motivations in Community Orchestra Participation: A Pilot Case Study of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra (New Jersey)

Academic journal article Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)

Adult Motivations in Community Orchestra Participation: A Pilot Case Study of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra (New Jersey)

Article excerpt


Community orchestra participation is a viable and active form of adult informal education. In the state of New Jersey, where this study was conducted, there are sixty-five ensembles listed with the Association of New Jersey Orchestras (, only a handful of which are fully professional or youth orchestras. The existence of so many ensembles begs the question of what the motivations are of adults to participate in a community orchestra.

Adult education is an area of music education research that has been generally overlooked by researchers, yet has the potential to provide much insight into understanding music learning (Mark, 1996). MENC: The National Association for Music Education (hereafter referred to as MENC) has called for an acknowledgment by music educators that they are training the adults of tomorrow, so insight into why adults pursue music as an avocation is critical in developing school curricula that looks beyond high school (Yarbrough, 2000).

In addition, those in music education need to pay attention to the training of those teaching adult learners as music education students may eventually become community orchestra directors. Particular training is required in order to understand that segment of the learning population.

Community music-making is more than a group of people passing their leisure time dabbling with an instrument. It is a pro-active, important component of lifelong learning in music. An educational institution, community orchestras provide concert attendance opportunities for the public and technical and musical development opportunities for the players. In addition, community orchestras are a vehicle for continuing education for professional musicians. As orchestra members, they can continue to hone their ensemble skills, maintain their performance level and gain, in a practical format, new ideas for the ensembles that they direct.

Background in the Literature

Profile of the Adult Learner in Music

Kim and Creighton (1999) collected data on adult education reporting that "[p]articipation in adult education has grown steadily over the past three decades, increasing to 46 percent in 1999" (p. 1). It is unlikely that the growth has not waned in the years since their study. There are a plethora of musical activities pursued by adults such as Elderhostels, community music ensembles, adult piano classes, ethnic music groups and church choirs (Coffman, 2002a; Veblen & Olsson, 2002). While much of adult education in Kim and Creighton's general survey was of the required type, (work-related, professional development), or continuing-education oriented (ESL, GED, apprenticeship), the percentage participating in personal interest courses (of which community orchestras would be considered a type) was 21 percent, a healthy number. Considering that professional musicians participate in community orchestras, note should be taken of the statistics for work-related courses as well. In a study of adult learners, Kim, et al. reported that "the most frequently reported reasons for participation in work-related courses were maintaining or improving skills or knowledge (95 percent)." Having the opportunity to maintain one's knowledge of orchestral excerpts learned in college or to learn major solos can be a motivating factor in a professional's choice to join a community orchestra.

Stebbins (1992) categorized adult participation into the "P-A-P" system (Professionals, Amateurs, Public). This system applies to the community orchestra where the professional and the amateur are found side-by-side, both components serving the third component, the public.

Looking at the orchestra as both a community in itself as well as a part of the community at large was addressed in articles by Palisca (1976), Silverman (2005), Olson (2005) and Coffman (2002a).

Palisca commented, "the impersonality of the phonograph and radio has created a need for personal identification with live makers of music" while Silverman highlighted the act of coming together from different backgrounds for the purpose of making music together. …

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