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Liminal or lifelong: Leisure, recreation, and the future of music education

Navigating the future is often aided by an understanding of the past. The
past is not necessarily a predictor of the future, however. As French philoso-
pher Michel Foucault has demonstrated, history is not teleological.
was not inevitable; today is the result of choices made in the past—whether
recent or distant. Valences can and do change—sometimes for obvious rea-
sons, but often for subtle reasons little understood at the time. In this chap-
ter I wish to draw attention to how the profession’s conception of rationales
for music in the schools in Anglophone North America changed over the
course of the 20th century, and argue for a reconsideration of leisure and
recreation as a worthy aim and purpose for music education, one that may
hold the potential to reinvigorate music education, both in the United States
and beyond, in the 21st century.
This paper derives from my work investigating the phenomenon of col-
legiate a cappella. For two years I conducted an in-depth study, observing
rehearsals and performances and formally interviewing 22 students drawn
from ten different groups at four universities in the Northeast United States.
My aim is not to offer generalizable “findings,” but instead to problematize
music education practices, especially the connections between music making
in school and music making later in life. That is, I seek to offer commentary
about the present and suggest ways in which the profession might move
forward in order to further the benevolent goal of a more musical, healthier
society—one where music is not learned as a disembodied subject for its own
sake, but as a rewarding leisure activity with which to engage throughout
the lifespan.
As “quality of life” researcher Mark Rapley (2003) points out, leisure, in
the sense of spare time and disposable income, is a Western construction
(p. 52). Nevertheless, leisure has, since the ancient Greeks, helped to define
how “the good life” has been understood in Western societies (e.g., Kaplan,
1978; Pieper, 1963; Winnifrith & Barrett, 1989). When considering larger
Liminal or Lifelong
Leisure, Recreation, and the Future
of Music Education
Roger Mantie
168 Roger Mantie
life purposes, goals, and ambitions, one rarely gets too far before consider-
ing three major issues central to leisure studies: the extent to which we have
control over our time (freedom and obligation), the ways we choose to use
our time (responsible and irresponsible), and the quality of our life experi-
ences and the satisfactions we derive from them. That is, leisure as a concept
and as a practice is central to our way of understanding and operating in
the world.
Not incidentally, the concept of leisure is historically tied to the concept
of education. The online etymology dictionary indicates that our modern
term school is derived from the Greek schol ( skhol ),
meaning “school,
lecture, discussion,” but also “leisure, spare time.” Sociologist of leisure,
Joffre Dumazedier, for example, translates schol as idleness and as school
(Dumazedier, 1974, p. 15), while leisure studies authority Donald Weiskopf
suggests that schol means “serious activity without the pressure of neces-
sity” (Weiskopf, 1982, p. 4). Notably, the origins refer to “a holding back”
or “keeping clear,” as well as a “getting” and a “holding in one’s power”
(“to have”).
Music’s connection with leisure and education dates back over two thou-
sand years. In Politica, Book VIII, for example, Aristotle writes at length
about music and whether or not it should be part of education, speculating
about music’s educative value. Elsewhere Aristotle discusses how music and
contemplation are the only two activities that qualify as genuine leisure.
Education for the ancient Greeks was, of course, restricted to those of noble
birth fortunate enough to be able to indulge in a life of leisure (i.e., educa-
tion), setting in motion a long history that connected leisure and educa-
tion with privilege. Similarly, instruction in music, as a leisure activity par
excellence, has been historically restricted to those who could afford private
The advent of state-sponsored, compulsory schooling altered understand-
ings of education. Although in many countries compulsory schooling arose
as part of nation-building projects and reflected the desire of governments to
inculcate particular skills considered advantageous to the country (e.g., lit-
eracy, numeracy) rather than ancient Greek educational ideals per se, there is
no question that compulsory schooling brought with it an egalitarian ethos
that helped to ameliorate the practice of education as exclusive or privileged;
education became something that everyone could “have.” The eventual
inclusion of music as part of the school curriculum in the 19th century in
many countries (see Cox & Stevens, 2010) similarly changed how the learn-
ing of music was viewed. No longer the sole province of those with sufficient
financial resources to afford private instruction, music (or rather, singing)
instruction was to be available to all. Arguably, however, music’s inclusion
in the curriculum was initially dependent on it fulfilling an explicit need of
society rather than based on any perceived specialness about music in and
of itself. In the case of Lowell Mason and the successful inclusion of music
in the schools of Boston in 1838, that need was functional singing in church.
Liminal or Lifelong 169
The rise of the Progressive Education movement (˜1918–1935) saw intel-
lectual learning broadened to include social and recreational activities.
Thus, music—the status of which was always somewhat ambivalent vis-a-
vis education—was viewed by many, or at least by those with an interest in
it, as holding the potential for educative value as part of state concerns over
the “worthy use of leisure”—number six of the seven Cardinal Principles
of Secondary Education , published in 1918. Consider, for example, the fol-
lowing rationalization statements in music education literature in the United
States and Canada from the 1920s through the 1950s:
• [Music in schools can] prepare the next generation for a healthier
enjoyment of their adult leisure activities.
• . . . training the student for a wise use of his leisure time.
• . . . when it is realized that education must take into account the whole
man and aim at enriching his personality, and when the wise use of
leisure is acknowledged as one of its chief objects, then the arts, and
especially Music, are seen to deserve generous recognition.
• [O]ne of the chief aims [of school music] . . . should be to develop the
child’s capacity to employ his leisure properly.
• [Music in schools can be for] recreation, pleasure, and [is a] worthy use
of leisure time. [No. 3 of 8 objectives for school music]
• Music education aims to contribute to recreation and to the fun of
Clearly, in the first half of the 20th century the learning and teaching of
music was connected with an appreciation of leisure and recreation, aspects
viewed as central to “the good life” and the “art of living.” Leisure was
not necessarily conceptualized by these early music educators in its purest
Aristotelian sense, of course, but, consistent with Progressive Era ideals that
considered education as a developmental process aimed at both vocation
and avocation, the learning of music in schools was very much rational-
ized on the basis of its potential for leisure time use. One learned music in
schools, in other words, in order to use it (i.e., play or sing it recreationally)
beyond the school years.
By the late 1950s, however, one no longer finds many references to leisure
and/or recreation in the scholarly discourses relating to the rationalization
or justification for teaching music. Max Kaplan’s (1955) Music in Recre-
ation: Social Foundations and Practices and Charles Leonhard’s (1952) Rec-
reation through Music appear to mark the end of scholarly concern with
leisure and recreation among most music education academics. The found-
ing of the International Society for Music Education (1955) and Journal of
Research in Music Education (1953), and the publication of Basic Concepts
in Music Education (Henry, 1958) and Foundations and Principles of Music
Education (Leonhard & House, 1959), all represent a shift in emphasis,
whereby music education was to be treated as a serious academic subject
170 Roger Mantie
concerned primarily with—at least until the 1990s—“aesthetic education,”
not the “nice but not necessary” interests of leisure and recreation. Notably,
the words leisure and recreation * (* here signifying a wildcard to account
for recreational ) do not appear in the index of Foundations and Principles
of Music Education. In Basic Concepts in Music Education the word leisure
(but not recreation , which appears only twice in the entire book) shows up
in the index under music, listed “as an activity of leisure.” The eight appear-
ances of the word leisure occur over the space of three chapters, although
only once is it discussed seriously, when John Mueller (1958), in his chapter,
“Music and Education: A Sociological Approach,” presciently writes, “There
are many who do not quite feel comfortable in the thought that music is an
activity for leisure. Such a function is not quite substantial enough and still
reflects a squeamish affinity with the frill” (p. 110). Although his discussion
makes clear he does not necessarily agree with this, he seems to have accu-
rately summarized prevailing thought with his appraisal.
Leisure and recreation do not currently register as the proper concerns of
music educators—or many other educators for that matter. Educational dis-
courses in the United States, especially those reflected in the popular media,
emphasize such things as accountability, parental choice, and standards.
JSTOR search of music education journals reveals a marked decline in the
presence of the words leisure and recreation * from the 1960s onwards, with
almost no appearances from the year 2000 onwards. The words leisure and
recreation do not appear in the Handbook of Research on Music Teaching
and Learning (1992), The New Handbook of Research on Music Teach-
ing and Learning (2002), or the two-volume Oxford Handbook of Music
Education (2012).
Nor do they appear in the indices of Bennett Reimer’s
A Philosophy of Music Education (1970, 1989, 2003) or David Elliott’s
Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education (1995).
What was
once such a fundamental part of thinking about music and education up
until the early1950s has almost completely disappeared from the profes-
sion’s vocabulary.
It could be, of course, that societal endorsement of education for leisure
and recreation growing out of the Progressive Education period was simply
a product of its time, and that the rise of the Cold War and the launch of
Sputnik resulted in wholesale changes in attitudes regarding schooling and
education, ones where leisure was relegated to the province of private, not
public, concerns. Strangely, however, the profession seems to have forgotten
its own history. Many music teachers of the 1920s through the 1960s clearly
understood their work as helping students prepare for a life worth living by
premising their own teaching of bands, orchestras, and choirs (in the case
of music educators in the United States and Canada) on at least the pos-
sibility of active music making outside of schooling.
Today’s concerns, as
evidenced in the pages of Music Educators Journal and Journal of Research
in Music Education, show little sympathy for such a view. As I argue via my
presentation of empirical analysis in the next part of the chapter, thinking
Liminal or Lifelong 171
of music as something used by people beyond K-12 graduation, rather than
as simply a quasi-academic subject to be learned during the school years,
provides insights into the possibilities for reviving leisure as a viable aim for
music education.
OMG, why am I here? Why did I waste my time coming to campus? . . .
I’m struggling to make sense of this phenomenon; I can see it working in
private, but on this stage it just doesn’t work; it is just TOO amateurish—
it feels like watching the American Idol audition episodes: you feel bad for
the people up there.
(Field notes: Sat., Feb. 4, 2012, International Championship
of Collegiate A Cappella quarterfinals )
In previous research (Mantie, 2013) I have argued that the college years pro-
vide what should be a temporal frame of great interest for music education
researchers, given that the college years are, in a sense, “liminal” (Turner,
1967). For many students the college years represent the first period of sus-
tained living apart from direct parental care; students are no longer children
but they are not quite adults, at least in the practical sense of the word
(see Arnett, 2000, Blatterer, 2010). It is during these years that students
exercise greater choice over their leisure, or discretionary, time. Thus, for
those who believe that school music should “make a difference” (Regelski,
2005), both immediately and, more importantly, later in life, how people
choose to spend their time when not influenced by authority figures (e.g.,
parents, teachers) provides a good measure of how successful music educa-
tion has been in its mission—assuming of course that making music beyond
the school years matters to the music education profession. This is not to
imply that making music is the only, or necessarily the best, way to experi-
ence music, nor is it to dismiss the value of the experiences had by students
in primary or secondary school music programs. Rather, it is to suggest that
the extent to which people engage in music making beyond the school years
is a significant indicator of how such an activity is regarded. What does it
communicate about the effectiveness of music education if people stop mak-
ing music at their first opportunity to do so?
The phenomenon of collegiate a cappella provides a fascinating case
study of recreational music making during this “liminal” stage in life. An
online directory of collegiate a cappella (Collegiate A Cappella Group Direc-
tory, lists over a thousand groups at colleges
and universities throughout the United States and Canada. Thanks to televi-
sion shows like Glee and The Sing Off, and more recently the movie Pitch
Perfect, 8
this form of musical activity has become more widely known in
172 Roger Mantie
recent years.
Significantly—and not always evident from The Sing Off
these groups are most often populated by non-music majors. While the spe-
cifics vary from institution to institution, in my own research I found that
most students were heavily involved in academics, with many sustaining full
course loads in “serious” degrees of study, such as environmental analysis,
aerospace engineering, neuroscience, bio-medical engineering, communica-
tions, human physiology, chemistry, business, international relations, and
so on. It also bears mention that the phenomenon of collegiate a cappella is
not limited to so-called second- or third-tier academic institutions. On the
contrary, prestigious institutions like Harvard and the Massachusetts Insti-
tute of Technology boast over two-dozen groups between them. That seri-
ous students at so many colleges throughout the United States volitionally
involve themselves with an intensive, time-consuming recreational activity is
intriguing. Why do these students choose to participate in this leisure activ-
ity when it takes time away from their academic studies? It is one thing to
enjoy singing and making music, it is quite another to do so while spending
substantial money to attend college in pursuit of an academic qualification
not enhanced by one’s leisure time pursuits (students typically do not receive
academic credit).
The majority (approximately 70–75%) of individuals I interviewed sang
with their high school chorus, with a minority of these “singers” also hav-
ing previously participated in high school a cappella, but only about half of
these participated in a form of a cappella analogous to the collegiate pop
Interestingly, however, other members had no previous singing back-
ground, with many identifying as instrumentalists (e.g., from a saxophonist:
“I’m more of a musician, less of a singer”). Surprisingly (or perhaps not), in
my research I found that the Music Director, or MD—an individual elected
from within and by the group, and who performs with, not in front of,
the group—was often someone who identified more as an instrumentalist
than as a singer. Although collegiate a cappella is a somewhat diverse musi-
cal practice,
most groups are student-run, comprise 12–16 members, and
rehearse 4–6 hours per week (or more), 2–3 times per week. Groups usu-
ally perform two or more times per semester, with intense activity groups
sometimes performing almost weekly.
Collegiate a cappella can be viewed as exemplifying many of the val-
ues and characteristics hopefully desired of an education in music. Groups
are self-run, self-directed, and perform self-arranged music. As a musical
performance practice, collegiate a cappella demands a level of musician-
ship that we might hopefully desire for all people: a good sense of pitch,
part independence, rhythmic embodiment, and not least, a strong sense of
musical expression. One cannot succeed as an a cappella musician without
these four vital components. Indicative of previous musical training perhaps,
many of the groups I observed used sheet music during at least part of the
learning phase (the arrangements were generally notated), but it should be
noted that reading was not necessarily a prerequisite for participation (there
Liminal or Lifelong 173
were some non-readers and even the occasional person with little prior for-
mal music training or involvement).
In my observations I was consistently impressed with the level of musician-
ship evident in rehearsals. Moreover, as a student-run and student-directed
group, a cappella requires a level of social interaction and cooperation that
Randall Allsup (2003) might describe as democratic. During part of each
rehearsal there was some form of business meeting where function and logis-
tics were discussed. Groups employ some form of executive, but I repeat-
edly witnessed a lot of cooperative decision making among all members.
Musically, I was continually impressed by the level of group involvement in
the process and product in rehearsals. Every single member demonstrated a
vested interest in “getting it right” and making the music better.
For this study I was particularly interested in learning about the partici-
pants’ perceptions of the balance between effort, excellence, and enjoyment,
aspects that speak to the heart of recreational involvement in music. I would
frequently challenge my interviewees: “If six hours per week gets you this
good [visualizing with my hands] and you wish to be better than that, why
not rehearse eight hours? Why not ten? Why not twenty?” In other words, I
wanted people to express the importance of musical excellence in relation to
their own enjoyment and the time and effort involved. Just how serious were
they about what Stebbins (1992, 1998) terms “serious leisure”? Although a
few participants expressed the desire for additional rehearsal time (e.g., “I
wanted to do ICCAs [International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella]
but the other girls aren’t as committed”), the vast majority felt the current
amount about right. Despite institutional variation vis-a-vis exact rehearsal
format (e.g., 2 three-hour vs. 3 two-hour rehearsals), I found it interesting
that six hours per week appeared to be the norm for all groups in spite of
the absence of formalized communications between colleges regarding such
matters. Six just seems to be the magic number that represents the maximum
regularly scheduled time that most students are prepared to commit.
Some groups do spend more than six hours in rehearsal and related activi-
ties, however. In addition to extra time devoted to preparation for concerts,
many groups record CDs.
The single biggest factor determining whether or
not a group spends additional hours in rehearsal preparation appears to be if
they decide to participate in the International Championship of Collegiate A
Cappella—a national singing tournament, organized by Varsity Vocals, that
occurs over a period of months with regional quarter and semifinals leading
up to (at time of writing) the final competition at New York City’s Lincoln
Center. From what I could gather, everyone involved with collegiate a cap-
pella knows about the “ICCAs,” and the decision to enter the competition is
a major determinant of group identity. Some groups enter every year, some
never enter, and some consider it on a year-by-year basis.
What I found intriguing in my conversations was how various par-
ticipants understood the very obvious pecking order that existed among
groups, a reputation and performance hierarchy with serious implications
174 Roger Mantie
for auditions and, subsequently, for how students’ tenure with collegiate a
cappella would play out. To explain, groups almost always stay intact. For
schools with multiple groups, there is usually an unwritten (or even writ-
ten) rule that stipulates that people cannot switch between groups. Thus,
acceptance into a group in freshman year dictates one’s fate as a participant
from freshman through senior year. That is, acceptance into a competitive
group means one’s collegiate a cappella experience will be competitive and
vice versa. Next, consider that groups are usually 12–16 in size. This usu-
ally breaks down to 3–4 people per academic year (freshman, sophomore,
junior, senior). Although the number of people auditioning for the open
3–4 spots per group (i.e., replacing the graduated seniors) is a reflection
of the size of the institution and number of groups at that institution, I
heard numbers as high as 150 auditioning for two open spots in a group. At
larger institutions, students usually audition for multiple (or all) groups to
increase their chances. The goal for most students is to get into the “best”
groups on campus.
These “best” groups usually compete in the ICCAs.
Most students, however, seemed to understand that just getting into a group
is an achievement, as most who audition do not make any group. In addi-
tion, while those in the lower tier groups I interviewed expressed their initial
disappointment of not making it into the group(s) of their choice (e.g., “I
wish we were more competitive”), they also, explicitly or implicitly, seemed
to understand the outcome as reflective of their own abilities. Moreover,
almost all admitted that the outcome was a blessing in disguise and that they
loved their a cappella group. (Without exception, everyone loved his or her
group.) This admission could be considered a defense mechanism of “sour
grapes,” but I sensed instead that it was, rather, reflective of their own satis-
faction of coming to a better understanding of who they were in the world.
Listening to the “best” collegiate a cappella groups live (rehearsal and per-
formance) can be quite exhilarating. A group at one university, for example,
regularly drew an audience of a thousand screaming fans reminiscent of a
rock or pop concert experience. In attending rehearsals, experiencing, in close
proximity, the power of good a cappella singing frequently gave me goose
bumps and sent shivers down my spine. As evident in my field notes above,
however, not all groups are at this refined level. Not infrequently I experi-
enced, according to Western performance norms, issues of pitch, balance, or
expression, which, for me, raised issues of public performance and associated
expectations. Just as one’s listening expectations for the elementary school
band or chorus are not the same as they are for the professional symphony
orchestra or chorus, I was left to ponder where this left the performance
efforts of recreational music making like collegiate a cappella. While I did not
personally observe any groups I would consider musically unacceptable, the
majority were, as public performing groups, just good or okay.
My own discomfort sitting through one of the quarterfinal competitions
of the ICCAs stemmed from what I perceived as a disconnection between the
purpose of the event and the raison d’être of collegiate a cappella. Attending
Liminal or Lifelong 175
this particular competition brought into stark relief the difference between
what Thomas Turino (2008) describes as participatory and presentational
music making. While collegiate a cappella does derive from a Western pre-
sentational aesthetic normed to “professional” performance standards, as a
form of amateur, recreational music making utilizing pop and rock reper-
toire it is fundamentally participatory. Although the groups do perform in
public, observing any rehearsal makes clear that the goods of the activity
reside in the joy of singing together each week. The musical embodiment I
witnessed in rehearsals was a reminder to me of what I would want for any
of my own music students. Each and every member of each group exhibited
an overt love of what they were doing irrespective of what more refined
Western trained ears might describe as flaws detractive from listening plea-
sure. However, when placed on the stage of an elegant concert hall designed
for presentational music, especially that of the high art music tradition, the
efforts of the “weaker” groups suddenly seemed unfortunate. The musick-
ing (Small, 1998) event of the rehearsal space—so intimate, personal, mean-
ingful, and amateur in the best sense—suddenly took on what I considered
to be the mean-spiritedness of the American Idol audition episodes that, for
the perverse amusement of the viewer, mock the efforts of hopefuls who are
apparently oblivious to the inadequacy of their amateur (in the worst sense)
efforts. What seemed to me as an admirable get-together of people with a
shared love of music in their rehearsal environment became, in the context
of a formal performance space, a spectacle highlighting their shortcomings
as performers (although not necessarily as musicians; it was their inexperi-
ence as performers that was glaring).
The thing about collegiate a cappella is, no one wants the party to end.
—Mickey Rapkin, Pitch Perfect
Commentators (e.g., Booth, 1999; Regelski, 2007) have lamented how the
expectation for professional level performance norms has been detrimental
for amateur music making—“amateuring” here meant in its sense of amare,
or “to love.” What is intriguing about collegiate a cappella is that the level
of passion exhibited by the students was uncorrelated with the performing
level of their group. While most students interested in collegiate a cappella
desire at the outset of their college experience to be in the high-level com-
petitive groups, the reality is that only a handful of available spots exist;
the majority end up in groups that vary from pretty good to just okay.
This, however, did not seem to affect their level of interest or commitment,
which appeared to me relatively consistent from group to group. Everyone
involved with collegiate a cappella, it seems, enthusiastically participates, as
Wayne Booth (1999) might put it, “for the love of it.”
176 Roger Mantie
And yet, this apparent love for what they do seems to blur an issue that
I believe speaks to a vitally important issue in recreational music making. I
discerned in my interviews a lot of what Isbell and Stanley (2011) describe
as “the competition paradox.” Participants generally were not willing to
sacrifice the hours necessary for the pursuit of a higher level of performance,
and were content with their group’s present level (e.g., “I don’t want to suck,
but I don’t want to put in a ton of hours to be just a little bit better”). As
the majority of participants pointed out to me, however, competition was
a regarded as a good thing and competitive performance events such as the
ICCAs serve as a necessary goal toward which groups can orient their efforts
(e.g., “you can only get so good without competition”). The paradoxical
nature of this rang through repeatedly, however. Not infrequently did people
tell me that the ICCAs were a necessary goal but that they participated for
fun, not because of the competition. As one person phrased it, “I like to be
good, but not at the expense of happiness.” The issue this raises, however, is
why a competitive goal is necessary in the first place. Is recreational partici-
pation alone—in this case, regular rehearsing and presenting the occasional
performance—considered insufficient? Are competitive events really neces-
sary for improvement and effort? Is recreational participation for its own
sake—doing something for the love of it—just a fictive notion masking a
deep-seated desire to be number one? Or, to put it in rather grand terms, is
the desire for competition driven by a conditioned, capitalistic ethic perva-
sive in Western society—one that, in its pursuit of besting others, stands in
the way of enjoying activities for their own sake?
In part, I believe the answer to this question is addressed by consid-
ering whether individuals as their participation regarded part of a life-
long involvement with music or merely as a transitional college activity.
A defining moment for me in almost every interview was the answer to
my question, “What happens after you graduate?” When coupled with
the participants’ responses to my earlier question, “Why do this?” their
description of future plans inevitably laid bare whether participants
viewed music making as a lifelong activity or merely something one did
during the college years. That is, when I asked people why they auditioned
for a cappella, most responded by saying how much they loved music or
loved singing (e.g., “I just want to be able to sing out loud and have it not
be weird”), or that they had always been part of music groups and could
not imagine not continuing to be in a music group. Others said that they
thought joining a cappella would be a good way to transition to college,
as they were likely to meet people with similar interests.
When asked about the prospect of collegiate a cappella coming to an
end, however, slightly over half of those I interviewed responded by saying
that they were scared or terrified (their words), although one or two of the
freshmen and sophomores feigned ignorance of the time-bound nature of
the activity: e.g., “I haven’t thought about it; I’ve concentrated on this last-
ing forever.”
Clearly, however, most had thought about it to some degree.
Liminal or Lifelong 177
Some pointed out that current collegiate a cappella members are more for-
tunate than those of 5–10 years ago thanks to the rise in what participants
referred to as “post-collegiate a cappella.” One person mentioned that she
would eventually become like several of her friends, who “are now trolling
for post-collegiate a cappella.” And while some people expressed possibili-
ties for future involvement (e.g., musical theatre, starting a band, songwrit-
ing) and emphasized their passion for music making (“I can’t live without
singing; if I can’t be part of a cappella I’ll take singing lessons”), what dis-
turbed me, as a music educator, were the number of people who saw their
music making lives ending (e.g., “I think singing ends for me”) and the
number who had virtually no clue about the ways they might continue to be
musically active post-graduation. One interviewee, confessing her frustra-
tion at the thought of not being able to continue with something she loved
so much, commented, “it would be awesome if there was some after college
group out there.”
A minority, about one in three, felt that collegiate a cappella was an
activity intended for and bounded by the college years. As a member of a
highly competitive group remarked, “Last year the thought [of this end-
ing] would have destroyed me, but now I’m okay with it. I’ve had my
run.” Or as another person put it, “You have your time and then you
should move on,” a comment that serves as a reminder that, in the minds
of some, collegiate a cappella is indeed a college activity akin to student
government, the student newspaper, other student clubs, or college rituals
such as Greek life or attending sporting events on campus. Graduation,
like the Jewish bar and bat mitzvah, marks the end of this liminal period
in one’s life;
the time for frivolous playful activities, like recreational
singing, is over.
Arguably, that so many people participate in collegiate a cappella speaks to
the potential success of school music programs. As I point out in previous
research (Mantie, 2013), however, this is a suspect conclusion. My previous
research suggests instead that recreational music making at the college/uni-
versity level is much more a reflection of students’ personal backgrounds—
their habitus, in Bourdieu’s (1984) formulation—than their school music
experiences alone. This finding, however, does not discount the possibility
of school music playing a greater role in fostering recreational music making
in the future. As presented in this chapter, I suggest that collegiate a cappella
is a quintessential example of recreational music making that represents so
much of what the music education profession (hopefully) cares about: the
volitional engagement, beyond the school years, with music making in a
social musical form. The challenge is in finding ways for the profession to
improve its efforts.
178 Roger Mantie
I believe there are at least three big takeaways from this study of col-
legiate a cappella. First is the importance of understanding the structural
factors and conditions that enable or disable recreational participation
in music.
For example, one of my questions to those in leadership roles
(those of my participants who were on the executive or who were the
musical director) was, “If you have so many people auditioning for so few
spots, why not have more groups to meet the demand?” As I learned, this
was frequently a problem of institutional rules and regulations. At two of
the four institutions I researched, club rules were very strict. At one, for
example, regulations stipulated that no new club could be formed that
duplicated the function of an existing club. Hence, the number of for-
mally recognized a cappella groups was capped by this restriction. (Groups
without club status would not have access to rehearsal space and other
logistical requirements and thus face an almost impossible existence.) Con-
versely, I also learned how the growth and expansion of multiple a cap-
pella groups at another institution reflected intergroup cooperation with
formal rules that, while they, intentionally or not, help to ensure that the
better groups stay the best and the weaker groups stay weak, also help
to ensure the long-term stability and longevity of a cappella by avoiding
potentially damaging conflicts and practices, such as stealing members
from rival groups and so on. Additionally, many a cappella groups have
established alumni associations in order to sustain both the legacy and
longer-term social cohesion of participation. Although likely logistically
somewhat unwieldy for high school music teachers years ago, one can
only speculate on the tremendous potential such a practice might hold if
instituted on a widespread basis today.
My point is that increasing life-
long participation in music is not simply a matter of, as some have argued,
substituting rock and pop groups in schools for anachronistic concert
bands. If music education is serious about increasing lifelong participation
it needs to involve itself to a much greater extent with helping students
negotiate such things as spaces, equipment, rules, policies, and so on. Lack
of participation, in other words, cannot be solely attributed to insufficient
motivation or musicianship.
The second takeaway is the matter of our obligations as music educators
to educate students, and perhaps ourselves, about musical options beyond
K–12 graduation. That so few of my participants could articulate future musi-
cal possibilities for engagement speaks to our failure as a profession to make
people aware of the range of human musical activity. I grew increasingly frus-
trated when the only thing that participants could name as a future activity
was taking more lessons. A love of learning for its own sake is fine, but surely,
given their school experiences as former band, orchestra, or choir members,
it might have been expected that more would name community ensembles
of this variety, but those responses were rarely forthcoming. Far too many, it
seemed to me, viewed their participation simply as an extension of their high
school music experience. There is certainly nothing wrong with students’
Liminal or Lifelong 179
desire for a transitional activity, one with a strong social component. How-
ever, the lack of knowledge about future possibilities among so many sug-
gests that there are likely many people in society who wish to be musically
active but who are simply unaware of the options available to them (see also
Mantie & Tucker, 2008).
Finally, based on the opinions and attitudes expressed by the participants,
it appears that a more nuanced understanding of competition is necessary in
order for people to see musical participation as healthy in the way that, for
example, exercise is healthy. This is in no way to suggest that competition is
necessarily bad or unhealthy. Rather, it is to emphasize that when competi-
tion becomes the sole raison d’être, participation ends when the competition
ends. If one’s participation in a collegiate a cappella group becomes only
about competing in the ICCAs, then it becomes a temporary rather than
lifelong activity. The value of participation under a competition orientation
resides in external recognition (e.g., “we’re kind of like rock stars on cam-
pus”) rather than in, as Robert Stebbins (1992) describes with his term seri-
ous leisure, the benefits that accrue germane to the activity as a calling, life
passion, or form of recreation—benefits analogous to what regular exercise
is to physical health.
We cannot undo the present state of the music education profession, but we
can make choices with the potential to change the future. We can choose
to resurrect leisure and recreation, long a fundamental rationale for school
music, as a legitimate aim and purpose for music education. Rather than
viewing “leisure” negatively, associating the word with privilege or frivolity,
we can restore its noble origins as the very definition of “the good life.” Fur-
thermore, we can restore recreational participation as a legitimate goal for
school music instruction. Appreciating music is fine; doing music, however,
holds greater potential for realizing more of music’s goodness as a healthy
and worthy use of leisure time.
Collegiate a cappella is but one example of how music is currently
engaged with recreationally for the purpose of leisure. It provides an inter-
esting case study because it occurs at a stage in life when young adults have
the autonomy to make individual choices over their use of time. That so
many choose to continue making music rather than stop at their first oppor-
tunity is encouraging. Whether or not they continue to do so after they
graduate from college will be the real litmus test of their commitment to
lifelong recreational music making, however. By continuing to study those
who remain musically active we can hopefully generate better understand-
ings that can help to orient our curricular and instructional efforts so as to
ensure that more people are able to make music a meaningful and desirable
part of their life throughout the lifespan.
180 Roger Mantie
1. See, for example, Foucault’s essays “On the Ways of Writing History,”
“Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” and “Return to History” in Aesthetics,
Method, and Epistemology, edited by James D. Faubion (New York: New Press,
1998). Foucault’s entire oeuvre, however, tends to emphasize this message.
2. The Greek word uses chi, hence the variations in Anglicized spellings (k vs. ch
vs. kh). Moreover, in contemporary Greek the meaning of skhol depends on
the accent: stressing the first syllable means school, stressing the second means
3. The first three of these are taken from Diana Brault’s (1977) dissertation, “A
History Of The Ontario Music Educators’ Association (1919–1974)” (The
University of Rochester). The first is from Roy Fenwick’s 1935 address to
music teachers (p. 167), the second from the 1935 Canadian School Journal
(p. 171), and the third from the Ontario government’s Chief Inspector’s Report
for 1930 (p. 505). The fourth example is from Alice Rogers’, “The Junior High
School Music Program and Some of Its Problems,” Music Supervisors’ Journal,
no. 13(1) (1926): 27. The fifth is from Joseph Leeder and William Haynie,
Music Education in the High School (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall,
1958), 100–101. The last is from a 1952 MENC publication, The Function of
Music in the Secondary-School Curriculum, 6.
4. These types of neoliberal discourses are not unique to the United States; it is
simply a context with which I am more familiar.
5. There are two very incidental references to leisure sociology (pp. 203 and 573)
in The New Handbook of Music Teaching and Learning. One, in passing, men-
tions Max Kaplan and his interest in leisure; the other simply mentions leisure
sociology as a field of study.
6. On page 7 of the first edition of Reimer’s A Philosophy of Music Education
there is a very brief mention of leisure in connection to the Progressive
Education movement.
7. As I have documented elsewhere (Mantie, 2013), this was often referred to in
the literature as “carry over.”
8. Pitch Perfect is based on a book of the same name by Mickey Rapkin, a jour-
nalist who studied three collegiate a cappella groups in the early to mid-2000s.
A similar project, but more academic in tone, is Duchan’s (2012) Powerful
Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A Cappella.
9. Contemporary interest in collegiate a cappella dates to the 1990s. Thus, it is
likely that in this case popular culture capitalized on existing social practices
before (arguably) fueling them.
10. Collegiate a cappella is technically over one hundred years old, dating back
to such groups as the Yale Whiffenpoofs. The current resurgence of interest
from the 1990s onwards, however, differs in that groups began to focus on
“popular” music (i.e., of the Billboard charts and the like) rather than, as had
been the tradition up to that point, singing published choral arrangements or
emulating barbershop or doo-wop styles. The term “collegiate a cappella”
is usually reserved for groups performing today’s “popular” music (although
many groups show great latitude in what they consider popular).
11. As per my previous note, I investigated mainstream collegiate a cappella. Many
specialized varieties, for example religious or culturally based, exist and provide
yet another potential layer of interest for researchers. My own concern was
restricted to mainstream groups without special motivators or agendas at play.
It should be noted that other forms of a cappella, such as barbershop based or
“glee” style, also exist, but represent more of a subcultural involvement com-
pared to the broadly based participation of mainstream collegiate a cappella.
Liminal or Lifelong 181
12. Clearly, however, people with no formal training must possess the requisite
musicianship: they must, in their auditions, exhibit a good sense of pitch,
rhythm, and musical expression.
13. There are websites devoted to collegiate a cappella recordings, such as www.
14. The gendered aspects of this are fascinating, insofar as the best group on cam-
pus is often all male. The all-female groups tend to lie at the bottom of the
pecking order. Alas, this aspect of collegiate a cappella requires an article of its
own and cannot be discussed here.
15. One needs to be an enrolled student to be a member. Although there are excep-
tions, collegiate a cappella is generally considered an undergraduate activity.
16. I am alluding here to the sense of liminality as a threshold, especially in rela-
tion to ceremonial markers ( a la Arnold van Gennep’s “rites of passage”). The
Jewish mitzvahs, for example, ceremoniously mark the end of childhood.
17. Space does not allow for elaboration, but I have based my discussion on
Patricia Stokowski, Leisure in Society: A Network Structural Perspective (New
York: Mansell Publishers, 1994).
18. I am thinking here especially of possible variations on sites like Facebook or
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... Insofar as it looks beyond the profession's comfort zone, the MLPP is by no means a pioneering endeavor in music education. The project would have been unthinkable without the trailblazing contributions of, amongst others, Audubert et al. (2015), Azzara (2011), Barrett (2011), Burnard (2012), Campbell (2011), Green (2001 Higgins (2012), Kaplan (1943Kaplan ( , 1945Kaplan ( , 1958, Mantie (2014Mantie ( , 2016, Partti (2012), Randles and Stringham (2013), and Söderman and Folkestad (2004). There is a tangible and increasing yearning in the music education community for a reflexive refreshment and re-invigoration of the profession from scholars and practitioners, to bring meaningful music experiences to all young people through the powerful means of the education system-not "just" so that people enjoy better musical lives, but so that, overall, people's lives, self-esteem and happiness might improve (Wright 2010). ...
... We view this project as part of a larger drive towards making music education more democratic, to expand the possibilities of what music education (and particularly school music education) means for individuals and groups (Horsley 2015;Smith et al. in press). As Lingard observed, "it is through pedagogy that schooling gets done," and we are concerned about experiences in and outcomes of school music education, particularly the "reductive effects on pedagogy" wrought by the high stakes testing culture in the US (2010, and elsewhere, and the pervasive music competition culture (Mantie 2014). These wider issues are discussed at great length elsewhere in the literature (e.g. ...
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This paper introduces the Music Learning Profiles Project, and its methodological approach, flash study analysis. Flash study analysis is a method that draws heavily on extant qualitative approaches to education research, to develop broad understandings of music learning in diverse contexts. The Music Learning Profiles Project (MLPP) is an international collaboration to collect and curate a large number of flash studies exploring musicking and music learning in a variety of contexts that fall outside traditional school music education. In this paper the authors present context, rationale, and methods for the project, along with indicative preliminary findings. The project aims to provide an expanding online database of music experiences upon which colleagues in music education and ethnomusicology research can draw, and to which they are invited to contribute. The MLPP aims to benefit the music education community and wider society by helping to democratize research to include more diverse experiences of music learning.
... Engagement beyond the school years is a related but slightly different problem. As I have argued elsewhere (Mantie 2015), the issue here speaks to how the learning and teaching of music are conceptualised. When music is viewed primarily (if not strictly) as a school 'subject', learning will fail to reflect what Lave and Wenger (1991) call legitimate peripheral participation, i.e. it fails to be understood as part of a real world practice. ...
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The four perspectives in this paper were first presented as an interactive research/workshop symposium at RIME 9. The purpose of the symposium was to connect new media scholar Henry Jenkins’s theory of ‘participatory culture’ (1992, 2006, 2009) to possible practices of ‘participatory culture’ in diverse music teaching and learning contexts. We ask: If participatory culture exists in music learning contexts – what is it? What are its dimensions? What does participatory culture look like and mean in other music cultures and different contexts/‘places’ (e.g. online, offline, and convergent settings)? Who can and who can’t participate? How might this idea cause us to re-think some of our practices?
Music education in the United States is typified by students in large ensembles, like band and orchestra, learning to perform pieces of Western art music. One organisation working to expand curricular offerings within the field is Little Kids Rock (LKR), which has invested millions of dollars training music teachers and providing instrument resources for popular music pedagogy. Though this organisation has demonstrated success in its ability to propagate 'modern band' programmes, the effects of its investment are not known. LKR administers an end-of-year survey to its participating teachers to assess teachers' perceptions of their music programmes. However, LKR do not publish meaningful information regarding the outcomes and impact of its activities. The present study examined free-response data from the 2018 end-of-year survey. Using the passive and active identity and learning realisation (PAILR) model as our analytical framework (Froehlich, Hildegard C., and Gareth Dylan Smith. 2017. Sociology for Music Teachers: Practical Applications. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315402345), the authors analysed themes using grounded theory to produce a logic model to describe the effects of LKR's investment. Results indicate participating teachers perceive a positive impact on students, including being more engaged in their learning, and more musically independent. Additionally, teachers believed they were more engaged and committed to their profession, and more able to teach previously disengaged students.
Although the value-laden, subjective nature of research is acknowledged in many disciplines (often to the point where it is yesterday’s news), music education research continues to adhere to notions of truth and meaning as if there is a “real” world waiting to be found and reported (i.e., naive realism). In this personal narrative I share aspects of critical incidents on my own journey as a researcher, and suggest that research in music education might be better served if research was taught less as methods or approaches to be learned, and more as a practice driven by impulses of control. Building on Michel Foucault’s power-knowledge and regime of truth, and Thomas Kuhn’s idea of scientific paradigms, I argue that pluralism in music education research will occur when we as a profession accept that there isn’t a “real world” waiting to be discovered, but instead a richly political world where various interests are promoted through the power-knowledge interplay embedded in each and every published study, i.e., when we recognize and accept our roles in sustaining privilege and commit to doing something about it.
Music education takes place in socio-political systems that institutionalise cultural hegemony and social stratification through perpetuating symbolically violent practices and unconscious assumptions regarding the purpose of music and music education in society. Education systems serve to perpetuate class divisions and structures, excluding the music and aspirations of many people through the imposition of an increasingly neoliberal ideology. This article discusses the pedagogical approaches of Musical Futures and Little Kids Rock, and their orientations to democratising learning in the school music classroom through incorporation of practices and perspectives in making and learning popular music, focussed around learner-led teaching and learning.
Sociology for Music Teachers: Practical Applications, Second Edition, outlines the basic concepts relevant to understanding music teaching and learning from a sociological perspective. It demonstrates the relationship of music to education, schooling and society, and examines the consequences for making instructional choices in teaching methods and repertoire selection. The authors look at major theories, and concepts relevant to music education, texts in the sociology of music, and thoughts of selected ethnomusicologists and sociologists. The new edition takes a more global approach than was the case in the first edition and includes the application of sociological theory to contexts beyond the classroom. The Second Edition: • Presents major theories in ethnomusicology, both traditional and contemporary. • Takes a global approach by presenting a variety of teaching practices beyond those found in the United States. • Emphasizes music education in a traditional classroom setting, but also applies specific constructs to studio teaching situations in conservatories (with private lessons) and community music. • Provides recommendations for teaching practices by addressing popular music in school music curricula, suggests inclusionary projects that explore musical styles and repertoire of the past and present, and connects school to community music practices of varying kinds. • Contains an increased number of suggestions for projects and discussions among the students using the book.
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Collegiate a cappella, part of a long tradition of unaccompanied singing, is known to date back on American college campuses to at least the colonial era. Considered in the context of college glee clubs, barbershop quartets, early-twentieth-century vocal pop groups, doo-wop groups, and late-twentieth-century a cappella manifestations in pop music, collegiate a cappella is an extension of a very old tradition of close harmony singing-one that includes but also goes beyond the founding of the Yale Whiffenpoofs. Yet despite this important history, collegiate a cappella has until now never been the subject of scholarly examination. In Powerful Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A Cappella, Joshua S. Duchan offers the first thorough accounting of the music's history and reveals how the critical issues of sociability, gender, performance, and technology affect its music and experience. Just as importantly, Duchan provides a vital contribution to music scholarship more broadly, in several important ways: by expanding the small body of literature on choruses and amateur music; by addressing musical and social processes in a field where the vast majority of scholarship focuses on individuals and their products; and by highlighting a musical context long neglected by musicologists-the college campus. Ultimately, Powerful Voices is a window on a world of amateur music that has begun to expand its reach internationally, carrying this uniquely American musical form to new global audiences, while playing an important role in the social, cultural, and musical education of countless singers over the last century.
This book explores the relationship between amateurs and professionals within the framework of serious leisure.
This article analyses a contradiction: while living up to a selective image of youth has become imperative for the maximization of life chances, doing so attracts the discursive misrecognition of young adults’ personhoods. This cultural evaluation evinces a misapprehension of the meaning of adulthood whose increasing ambiguity is inseparable from changes in the semantics of ‘youth’. I begin by analysing the normative model ‘standard adulthood’ from a recognition-theoretical perspective and then outline transformations in the semantics of youth that undermine that model’s empirical validity. I argue further that labour and commodity markets have ‘liberated’ youthfulness from its biological, age-determined delimitations and have recast select, desirable (i.e. profitable) characteristics of youth as necessary for the maximization of individuals’ life chances. I conclude that the normative foundations of contemporary adulthood are ambiguous because the market has appropriated, altered and then sold back to us the dream of eternal youth.