The musical lives of self-confessed non-musicians

Henley, J. (2017) The musical lives of self-confessed non-musicians. In: The Oxford Handbook of Music Making and Leisure. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 203-222. ISBN 9780190244705


Penny is a secondary school teacher who has taught science for nearly 30 years. John runs a software company. Pat is a retired secondary teacher and Andrew works in a hospital. These people all describe themselves as “not musical,” yet they learn an instrument through a process of immersing themselves in active music making and performance within an ensemble. They are self-confessed “non-musicians,” yet they lead rich musical lives. This chapter explores the complex learning processes underpinning adult learning opportunities within ensembles. It considers what it is to be a musician, and why adults should be allowed to reject a musical identity. Cultural Historical Activity Theory is used to demonstrate the fluidity of activity within ensemble learning, how a rigid view of learning activity and objective is detrimental to musical development and how sometimes taking on a non-musical identity is key to continuing a fulfilling onward musical journey.

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