UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

"I feel therefore I am" : selected British and Canadian senior high school students’ conceptions of music and music education Thompson, Joan Kathleen


The research reported in this text addresses the need to know how high school students interact with and construct meaning from their experiences with music. Taking its cue from the academic discourse and research that has proposed that the meaning of texts arises through reading and is mediated by a myriad of contextual influences, this research explores the individual and educational confluences of musical belief in the worlds of senior high school students in England and British Columbia, Canada. Guided by ethnographic research techniques, the findings of this multi-site case study are largely informed by interviews with 68 senior high school students; 35 in England and 33 in British Columbia, Canada. Attention to the role music plays in the lives of students in this study has brought to light a multiplicity of interpretations: those that are bounded by the features of adolescence and those that are sensitive to pervasive educational and cultural norms. Music's perceived power to arrest the senses, to communicate a depth of emotion and to transfigure reality appears to characterize these respondents' responses to music, triggering a narrative impulse that acts to synthesize the musical experience and integrate it within their lives. In combination with these adolescents' romantic sensibility, music takes on an allegorical function for them, symbolizing their desires for liberty, honesty, mystery and hope. The extent to which students' allegorical constructions of music's meaning are permitted to dominate their conceptions of it depends largely on the educational and cultural context in which they develop. Students' passionate attachment to music as a prompt for narrativizing and as a vehicle for self-realization is reinforced by the romantic values of popular culture in both countries, and for the Canadian students, the human-centric focus of music education practices in British Columbia. More entrenched artistic traditions in Europe and an educational system that promotes specialization in a field before high school graduation appear to diffuse students' romantic attachments to music. In addition to investing music with a narrative significance, many British students also come to see music as a significant art form and cultural resource. This study's bi-cultural comparison of adolescent interpretations of music may provoke music educators and scholars to consider how literal (music-centric) and rhetorical (humancentric) conceptions of music education could be broadened in order that learners' conceptions of music, and ultimately, of themselves, might be simultaneously engaged and challenged.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.