Understanding World Music Festivals as Sites of Musical Education – An Ethnographic Approach


  • Peter Lell University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar


World Music Festivals, Music Education, Festival Ethnography, Qualitative Research


World music festivals connect musicians with new audiences, offering possibilities for manifold forms of musical interaction. Festivals also offer sites where the discourse of “world music” itself is reproduced for an attending audience. My ethnographic research uncovered such processes of interaction between festival visitors, musicians and the festival environment. This paper examines those processes and raises a particular polemic: what is gained from interpreting world music festivals as sites of musical education? Drawing on academic literature about learning popular music (Green 2002, Schippers 2010) and data from ethnographic fieldwork conducted at WOMAD, UK and the Africa Festival, Germany, I suggest that musical appreciation at festivals is a form of music education. The notion of “music education” is extended and a model outlined providing various formative and descriptive parameters for the research topic. Several typologies for listening to and encountering the perceived music are described, constituting valuable forms of music learning. Further, the concept of “world music” and the visitors’ self-reflexivity about their own listening practices at music festivals is analysed to demonstrate how participants become critically aware of underlying discrepancies between perception and discourse. The findings outline that world music festivals can be seen as sites of musical education, and further suggestions are provided for this fruitful framing of the educational possibilities within music festival studies.



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