Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

Context and Culture in Music Education: Lessons from Last Century

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

Context and Culture in Music Education: Lessons from Last Century

Article excerpt


Ethnomusicologists and anthropologists place arts education practices as fundamental to cultural identity. (1) Cultural identity in the 21st century remains crucial despite or because of, increasingly sophisticated and pervasive global communications technologies. Histories of music education can provide lessons for teachers on contemporary developments and trends in music education by documenting teaching and learning practices, within and across contexts and cultures, and with technology.

A historical study of the music education practices of three cultural communities in North Queensland, Australia in the 20th century revealed that a culturally diverse population maintained and developed music teaching and learning processes both within and across cultures. (2) The music education histories of the Aboriginal, Anglo/ Celtic and Torres Strait Islander communities in the city of Cairns and the Aboriginal township of Yarrabah between 1930 and 1970 were researched to determine how music was learned and taught between generations within cultures and across differing contexts, and if any intercultural music transmission took place.

The music learning, teaching and performing documented in the study included rehearsals, performances, training, music and entertainment technologies, oral/aural and notation methods, local and outside experts, and were divided into three contextual fields, namely:

* formal music education that occurred in schools and institutions, initiated by government policy

* non-formal music education as found in the activities of community music and traditional Indigenous groups

* informal music education that occurred in family and social settings.

The work of private music teachers using formal examination syllabuses indicated both formal and non-formal contexts.

The study revealed how each culture's own music was practised and maintained to differing degrees in Cairns and Yarrabah in a multicultural community where multicultural describes different cultures co-existing alongside one another rather than interacting with one another, with each being largely self-dependent and relatively narrow in its activities. (3) Each culture's music also developed and diversified through varying degrees of intercultural contact, either with one or both of the others or outside cultures such as that of visiting troops during World War II; and through exposure to developing technologies at a time of rapid technological change in the recording and transmission of music. While much education occurred in the formal contexts of schools and private music lessons, a significant amount of music education was transmitted both intergenerationally and interculturally through non-formal and informal processes, aligning with studies by Lucy Green, (4) Goran Folkestad (5) and Don Lebler. (6) The study found that the music education histories of Cairns and Yarrabah effected the creation of some new forms of music unique to the district, and the development of musicians and ensembles that became prominent in local, national and international spheres.


A combination of historical research methodology with ethnomusicological perspectives and oral history methodology was used in the study.

Historical research

   Music education history is, by necessity, a social
   and cultural history that searches for sources
   about music teaching and learning. As Cox says:
   Research (in the history of music education) should
   be responsive to the social, historical, ideological,
   and cultural contexts in which the teaching and
   learning of music take place; due attention should
   be paid to the actual teaching and learning of
   music; and that music education is a broad area
   encompassing both formal and informal settings. (7)
   This advice is reflected in the sources that
   were researched for the study. … 
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