High school music programmes as potential sites for communities of practice- A Canadian study

Countryman, J. (2009). High school music programmes as potential sites for communities of practice- A Canadian study. Music Education Research, 11 (1), 93-109.

Abstract:

This Canadian case study gathered data from interviews by the researcher with 33 former music students (one to six years after graduation) who had taken music as an optional subject during high school. The research question addressed what former high school students who discontinued formal music study upon graduation recalled about their school music experiences. Regardless of continuing with music after graduation, almost all students noted that the presence and act of belonging to a ‘community of practice’ was as or more important to them than the music education itself.

Key Findings:

Almost all students recalled notions of community and social interaction as the main reason for joining and continuing with the elective music program. Several themes emerged from their data. Most significant was the enormous importance of community as the umbrella for self-making and music-making.

Using a theoretical frame that outlines several key components of a successful music experience including musical engagement, joint enterprise, and shared repertoire, the research identified several characteristics of student engagement:

  • Musical Creativity: students had opportunities to improvise
  • Musical Independence: students felt encouraged to collaborate musically with their peers, and were able to make independent musical decisions that were legitimized and honored through public performances.
  • Musical Leadership: students were provided meaningful leadership opportunities

Significance of the Findings:

The research documents the positive impact of students’ participation in an optional high school music education program. Data reveals the potential of a musical community as an umbrella for self-making and sense of connection and community. There are clear benefits to participation that support a rationale for providing access to music programs for all students.

Methodology:

In-person interviews were conducted with 33 participants that self selected to be interviewed (individually and in pairs) after being contacted by the researcher (who was also their former music teacher) one to six years after graduation. The interviews were coded several times to draw out themes. These themes were then analyzed and organized according to various definitions of community.

Limitations of the Research:

Study participants self-selected into the process and represented students that matriculated into the music program. Students who dropped out of the group were not included. Also, two different interview approaches were used--though the same questions were asked, some were interviewed in pairs and some individually so there a lack of consistency in approach. Since the author was formerly their teacher, there are different relationship dynamics between each interviewee, possibly affecting the responses.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What is the impact on retention and inclusivity of music programs that embrace community building practices compared to other programs? Do community-building music programs result in better musicianship? Are there differences in the development of community between choral and instrumental music programs? How do these findings align with a youth development framework?