"There Must Be Musical Joy:" An Ethnography of a Norwegian Music School


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Virginia Tech


This study seeks to discuss issues and practices as found among three musicians, their classrooms, rehearsals and performances in a music school in Asker, Norway. The issues explored are more generally "Western" than specifically Norwegian.

The main topic centers on emotional dimensions in musical contexts where people actively play musical instruments and/or sing. "Working" musical contexts are marked by participants who approximate each others' developmental levels and skills, physically, cognitively and emotionally. They are characterized by people who are able and willing to tap into musical as well as human inner resources and share those with students, other musicians and audiences.

Musical joy is a Norwegian expression that I borrow to describe the essential element in "working" musical contexts. The nature of these emotional nuances are explored as physical movement, tension between unfocused and focused sound, and expanded consciousness. Musical phenomena observed in Norwegian contexts are discussed in terms of cognitive categorization processes that tend to confirm the social construction of musical genres, institutions, instruments and musicians. Cognitive processes as well as emotional dimensions such as musical joy and talent may be parts of innate capacities that are then constructed in social interactions throughout life.

Observations at the Norwegian music school confirm that traditional conservatory practices combined with ensemble experiences are effective in enhancing instrumental and vocal skills. These practices are costly and difficult to implement as part of a "music for all" philosophy in Western societies where art music is peripheral to everyday practice. I suggest that value in music be expanded to include different musical genres and levels of aesthetics. A redefinition of music to include practices other than sound may also be useful in terms of a philosophy of "music for everyone."

Neither expanded value nor a redefinition of music will prove particularly effective in terms of making music central to the public school curriculum in Norway or the U.S. Music education as aesthetic education from a process or a product perspective will remain peripheral as long as there is an imbalance in the value society ascribes to intellect and emotions.



Education, Norway, talent, music