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Anne Haugland Balsnes: Learning in choirs. Belcanto as a community of practice.

A case study of the amateur choir Belcanto in a small Norwegian community.

Fagområde: Musikkpedagogikk


In Norway more than 200 000 people sing in amateur choirs, which is the field of interest for the present dissertation. This case study was conducted in a local amateur choir, Belcanto, situated in a small Norwegian community. The aim of the study was to increase the awareness and understanding of what sort of institution a local choir constitutes, and of what participation in such a choir is about. The study meets the need for research both on the musical practice of adult amateurs, as well as their learning outside of the traditional musical educational institutions.

The main research questions were concerned with the interplay between the musical and the social aspects of the choir practice, and how participating in a local choir contributes to the development of learning and identity. The study is grounded in earlier choir research as well as music educational theory concerning informal arenas for learning. The study’s theoretical framework was founded on theories of situated learning and in particular theory of communities of practice, but perspectives of sociology and anthropology also informed the work.

The research was designed as a case study, combining mainly participant observation, interviews with choir members and document analysis. One of the main fields of analysis dealt primarily with the examination of the role played by the choir in its local community, and how the activities of the choir serve to strengthen the sense of local belonging. The results indicate that the choir members learn how to be inhabitants of their local community through participation, thereby implicating learning and the construction of identity and belonging related to the place. The social interaction within the choir and various aspects of the musical interaction of the choir practice was also subject to analysis. Results point to the dependence on and the tensions between the musical and the social interaction, which cause both harmony and disharmony to mark the choir practice. The practice embodies both positive energies such as collaboration and reciprocity, all the while also containing more negative forces like tensions, negotiations and conflicts. The study shows that learning and development in various areas constitute one of the main implications of participation in a choir, which may, in turn, lead to an increased quality of life. The results also demonstrate how a local choir constitutes a multifaceted institution in which several different elements interact, and how the balance between them is vital for the existence of the choir. Consequently, the application of a comprehensive and contextual perspective is of great importance when dealing with amateur choir practice


Title (translated from Norwegian): Learning in Choirs: Belcanto as a community of practice.

The dissertation is a monograph, and it is written in Norwegian.

The dissertation is available in NMH's digital archive.

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Published: Jan 10, 2017 — Last updated: Mar 14, 2024