How Participants Envision Community Music in Welsh Men's Choirs

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How Participants Envision Community Music in Welsh Men's Choirs

The United States is well known, worldwide for its school music programs that produce skilled musicians. Once students graduate, though, many opt to discontinue active participation in music. National assessments have documented this trend with low numbers of adults reporting engagement in music making (Jellison, 2000). Researchers have pondered why participation in school music may not translate to lifelong learning in music. The question is not an easy one, though. While Myers (2008) cited that there are actually large number of ensembles that are available to adults, and Leglar and Smith (2010) noted that community music is indeed prospering in highly populated areas, other issues may be at play in people's participation choices. For instance, young adults may need to balance job and family requirements with their own leisure time options (Rohwer & Rohwer, 2009). Retired adults may have the time to participate, but may have other issues such as health or finances to consider (Rohwer, 2010a). All of these issues as well as others may complicate a person's music participation decision.

Even in sites with stable community music environments, adult community groups may still be experiencing common challenges such as recruitment, retention, and aging. In order to address these possible issues in the most informed way so that lifelong music making can flourish, research is needed that can describe how groups work that are highly active and successful; what choices have these groups made and what are the members' perceptions about music participation?

In terms of community music, Wales is known world-wide for its men's choirs that rehearse in every small town, sometimes with even the smallest towns having multiple choirs. The following study will describe an investigation of community music in men's choirs in Wales in order to highlight community music making processes in an environment that has had a long and successful tradition of community music making. In this way, community musicians can become better informed of music making in what might be considered a model community music setting.


Wales is famous for its cultural festivals and community singing groups. Jones (1992) noted that the competitive festivals, called eisteddfods, are a part of the contemporary Welsh identity that has served to replace the industry-based mining identity. Trosset (1988) added that the eisteddfod is integrally linked to Welsh culture through the transmission of the Welsh language. Even with the strength and prevalence of the eisteddfods, however, Jones (1992) documented that the number of Welsh speakers has decreased over the years. Lindsey (1993) noted that even in the more Welsh-based area of North Wales, there are settings where English is far more acceptable than Welsh. Trosset (1986) stated that part of the challenge with Welsh is its diversity and complexity, making it a difficult language to master.

The issue of language usage in Wales has been integrally linked to changes in the structure of education throughout the 1900s. Historically, England and Wales have had challenges separating a national curriculum into the components that would be Welsh-based, with language instruction being one of the battlefronts (Daugherty & Elfed-Owens, 2003). The Education Reform act of 1988 added Welsh instruction to the schools in Wales and as of 1999 the Welsh Assembly Government had a voice in curricular discussions. But, as Sutherland (2000) stated, "it is unclear whether the enforced learning of the Welsh language at school will have lasting effects on the percentage of the adult population using that language" (p. 207).

Following suit with the national curricular discussions in the schools, Welsh music educators began discussions about a national music curriculum; basic issues such as the value of passive versus active music making and the importance of classical versus pop versus folk music have been debated, as well as curricular ownership hotbeds such as local or national control (Shepherd & Vulliamy, 1994). …