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Ellen M. Stabell: Being Talented – Becoming a Musician

A qualitative study of learning cultures in three junior conservatoires.

Field of study: Music Education


This dissertation sheds light on music specialist education at the pre-college level, seeking to discover which kinds of knowledge and ways of learning are valued inside the learning culture of three junior conservatoires in Norway and England.

Three research questions are posed through the study:

  1. What cultural assumptions and values characterise the learning cultures of junior conservatoires?
  2. What are the central learning resources made available for students through the learning cultures?
  3. In what ways do various students engage with dominant assumptions and values as well as central learning resources in the learning cultures, and which factors can shed light on their engagement?

Based on observations of central activities in the three junior conservatoires, interviews with students and teachers and analysis of documents, Stabell identifies a learning culture characterised by dedication, specialisation and hierarchy, where certain kinds of musical capital are valued. Central to the learning culture is the dream of achieving a performance career and, above all, a position as a solo performer. It is a culture that values musical talent, technical competence and students who perform well under pressure. The dissertation also illustrates how students relate to the cultural values and assumptions in various ways, and by this construct inbound, outbound or peripheral learning trajectories.

The junior conservatoires in the study are all music specialist programmes for young musicians up to the age of 19 years and they are organised by institutions for higher music education. Entrance is upon competitive audition, and all tuition is extracurricular, taking place on weekends or afternoons. The programmes offer individual instrumental lessons, chamber music, chamber orchestra and/or symphony orchestra, musical awareness classes and opportunities to play and listen to concerts. The level is, in general, very high and many students continue into higher music education.

Key concepts addressed in the study are learning cultures, learning resources, access and positioning (Bourdieu, 1977, 1990; Wertsch, 1998). The concept of learning cultures is inspired by the work of James and Biesta (2007) and Perkins (2011). Similar to these studies, the present study combines sociocultural learning theory (Wenger, 1998; Wertsch, 1998) with Bourdieu’s thinking tools of habitus, capital and field (Bourdieu, 1977, 1990; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992).

The dissertation

Title: Being talented – becoming a musician : a qualitative study of learning cultures in three junior conservatoires.

The dissertation is a monograph. It is available in NMH's digital archive.

The dissertation language is English.

Published: Apr 28, 2014 — Last updated: Apr 8, 2024