Reflections of Vernacular Musicians as Music Educators


Mark C. Adams, University of Delaware


Music education curricula in the United States do not fully represent how music exists in the lives of people outside of school settings (Kratus, 2007; Williams, 2011). Outside of school, children engage with music in a variety of ways that may not be represented in a more traditional ensemble (e.g., Campbell, 2010; DeNora, 2000; Green, 2002; North, Hargreaves, & O’Neill, 2000). Often the admission requirements and the music curricula in collegiate music education programs reflect the values found in K–12 music classrooms, which means that non-traditional musicians, such as those from vernacular music-making cultures, face barriers in the audition process, and, if they are accepted, often struggle in their programs (Brewer, 2014; Fitzpatrick, Henninger, & Taylor, 2014; Kruse, 2013). As documents such as the CMS Manifesto (Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Major, 2016) have called for curricular focuses to shift to creativity, music educators could benefit from an examination of vernacular musicians in particular, as they identify with cultures who value more creative aspects of music making. Hearing the stories of vernacular musicians who successfully became music educators could help music teacher educators understand more fully where the successes and struggles of these students occurred as they journeyed to become music teachers and how music education programs could support non-traditional students.


Therefore, with a purpose of serving vernacular musicians who want to become music educators so that more vernacular music making can occur in K-12 music settings, this narrative multiple case study will examine the lived musical experiences of three vernacular musicians who successfully became music educators. Specific research problems include to describe (1) how three vernacular musicians navigated their undergraduate music education programs, and (2) if/how their vernacular musicianship is contributing to their teaching lives. Sub-questions include (a) in what (if any) ways did the participants feel supported in their undergraduate experiences? (b) how would they describe their undergraduate community and how has it played a role in their teaching practices? (c) if their vernacular musicianship does play a role in their classroom, how have students, faculty, colleagues, administrators, and parents/community members responded?


Participants for this study were identified through a combination of critical case sampling and chain sampling (Patton, 2002). All possible participants had to meet three criteria to be considered a critical case for this study: (a) identify as a vernacular musician prior to enrolling in an undergraduate music education program, (b) have successfully completed a music education degree, and (c) currently be working as a music educator. Three participants were identified who meet all criteria.


This project is currently in the data collection stages and will be completed by summer 2017. Data are being collected through semi-structured interviews, researcher journals, and ethnographic fieldnotes taken during observations of the participants in their music classrooms (Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw, 2011). Observations are occurring in participants’ current teaching settings to explore their teaching strategies and the classroom environments that they create. Interview questions will explore the participants’ understandings of their undergraduate experiences and their current teaching practices.




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