Context Matters: Reflections on the 24th International Seminar on Research in Music Education

By O'Neill, Susan | The Canadian Music Educator, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Context Matters: Reflections on the 24th International Seminar on Research in Music Education


O'Neill, Susan, The Canadian Music Educator


I am pleased to offer a few reflections based on my experience at the 24th International Seminar on Research in Music Education from July 8-13, 2012 at the University of Macedonia, Department of Music, Science and Art, Thessaloniki, Greece. The vision of the Research Commission is to hold as a central value that "the theory and practice of music education be underpinned by a strong research evidential base. The Research Commission promotes the development of an inquiry-based approach to the theory and practice of music education that draws on a range of research methods and techniques."

The Research Commission seminars bring together a broad range of participants from the various branches of music including music psychology, performance, theory, composition, sociology, and musicology. A common interest in the pursuit of inquiry and scholarship contributes to a learning environment for early career and experienced researchers alike that is characterised by hard work, strong scholarship, and collegiality.

According to the ISME Research Commission website, their mission is to:

* examine through research important issues facing music education worldwide;

* develop, refine and demonstrate a range of research approaches, methods and techniques for critically examining issues in music education;

* provide a forum for the communication, critical analysis, and dissemination of research innovations in music education; and

* deepen and develop the research knowledge base for practitioners, policy makers, and researchers in music education.

On the first day of the seminar, Ruth Brittin (University of the Pacific, USA) told us how being in Greece, and visiting the Museum of Archeology in Thessaloniki, provided her with a different context for situating and interpreting her research. She was reminded of Dionysus, one of the oldest Greek gods, and the museum's description of him as "embodied ambiguity, the breaking of limits, the mating of differences." These were indeed key features of the research seminar as it unfolded over the five days we spent together. The seminar gave us the opportunity to challenge our thinking, examine our practices through different and critical lenses, and expand the boundaries of our understanding of what music education currently is and the possibilities for what it may also become. Our different perspectives and approaches to research also gave us an opportunity to examine our values, our traditions and beliefs and consider how they come together in ways that create opportunities for new understandings. We asked difficult and challenging questions without becoming defensive about our own practices. We were able to thrive in our own traditions while still maintaining a critical and questioning approach to those traditions.

Music Student Engagement

The first day of the seminar began with two papers focusing on music student engagement. Engaging or motivating students has long been recognized as a central concern for music educators and a key component that "underpins learning and is the glue that binds it together" (Bryson & Hand, 2007). Effective music education requires teachers who try to figure out how to engage their students in ways that enable meaningful participation in learning activities from which students derive a sense of relevance, purpose, and fulfillment (O'Neill, 2012). There is converging research evidence about the factors that contribute to initiating and sustaining interest in learning to play a musical instrument. Susan Hallam (Institute of Education, University of London) presented a study focusing on practicing behaviours in relation to motivation and achievement in graded music examinations in England. Similar to findings from previous studies, she identified that the strongest predictor of music achievement is the number of months spent learning followed by factors contributing to the organization of practice (e.g., practicing with a metronome, starting practice with studies, doing warm up exercises, listening to a recording, recording one's own playing and listening to it), and motivation (e. …

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