"It's a balancing act. That's the secret to making this music fit in today": negotiating professional and vernacular boundaries in the Cape Breton fiddling tradition

Hayes, Ian (2015) "It's a balancing act. That's the secret to making this music fit in today": negotiating professional and vernacular boundaries in the Cape Breton fiddling tradition. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Originating from the music of early Gaelic immigrants, Cape Breton fiddling has been a thriving musical tradition for more than two hundred years. It eventually rose to prominence in the 1990s, receiving international recognition in the music industry. As the “Celtic boom” faded and major record labels lost interest in the tradition commercially, Cape Breton traditional musicians continued to maintain a presence in the music industry, though their careers now enjoy more modest success. All the while, Cape Breton fiddling has remained a healthy, vibrant tradition on the local level, where even the most commercially successful musicians have remained closely tied to their roots. This thesis examines how Cape Breton traditional musicians negotiate and express their musical identities in professional and vernacular contexts. As both professional musicians and tradition bearers, they are fixtures in popular culture, as well as the local music scene, placing them at an intersection between global and local culture. While seemingly fairly homogenous, Cape Breton fiddling is rich and varied tradition, and musicians relate to it in myriad ways. This plurality and intersubjectivity of what is considered to be “legitimate” culture is evident as the boundaries of tradition are drawn and change according to context. Musicians engage with, and critically evaluate cultural discourses surrounding the tradition which are influenced by power, cultural capital, social group, ethnicity, and region. These discourses and representations of the tradition are sometimes upheld or even celebrated, while at other times, they may be challenged or subverted. One’s musical identity is not necessarily expressed verbally, but is performed and demonstrated musically. Repertoire and musical arrangements can be profoundly meaningful, representing a musician’s cultural values. The decisions of how to frame oneself within the tradition influences how musicians relate to each other socially and professionally, potentially having profound effects on issues such as intellectual property rights. In addition, audio technology plays a significant role in how the tradition is presented, understood, and experienced. Commercial recordings embrace socially constructed notions of “liveness,” while live performances rely on amplification practices that connect musicians to global popular culture while simultaneously upholding local musical aesthetics.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/8336
Item ID: 8336
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 247-265).
Keywords: Cape Breton, fiddling, globalization, identity, technology, tradition
Department(s): Music, School of
Date: January 2015
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Cape Breton Island (N.S)
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Fiddling--Nova Scotia--Cape Breton Island; Musicians--Nova Scotia--Cape Breton Island; Popular culture and globalization--Nova Scotia--Cape Breton Island; Music--Philosophy and aesthetics

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