Musical Humility: An Ethnographic Case Study of a Competitive High School Jazz Band
Coppola, William J.
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In any form, musical participation is an intimately social activity. Yet, as musicians unflinchingly commit their fullest selves to shared musical collaborations, the natural human penchant for self-interest inevitably comes along for the journey, threatening to compromise collectivistic desires with more egocentric comportments. Undeniably, the ego plays an inextricable-and at times antagonistic-role in the negotiation of musicians' performed identities. But as pervasive as the ego may be throughout various spheres of musical practice, it has yet to become a topic of empirical music research. In response to this gap in the literature, the purpose of the current study was to contribute an initial understanding of humility's role in musical participation. This research utilized an ethnographic case study (including non-participant observation and interviews as the primary means of data collection) over the course of six months to examine the presence of prosocial and antisocial behaviors among the students and director of a competitive high school jazz band in the Pacific Northwest. First, three broad themes of musical egoism were identified: (a) seeking and desiring superiority, (b) displays of self-importance, self-promotion, and self-orientation, and (c) an inflated self-view. These emergent egoistic behaviors became central to uncovering socially desirable displays of humility in following. A five-component definition of humility particular to musical participation was consequently established, resulting in a nascent construct referred to as musical humility. Its classification is generated by the interactions between interpersonal, intrapersonal, social, and musical domains: (a) purposeful musical engagement and collaboration, (b) a lack of superiority, (c) the acknowledgement of shortcomings and learnability, (d) other-orientedness, and (e) healthy pride. Evidence suggests that each of these components interact fluidly with one another, but with healthy pride emanating throughout all facets of the virtue in order to support a concept which is socially empowering rather than disparaging. This initial step in musical humility research contributes a musical perspective to the growing ontology of 'humilities' currently identified within the field of social psychology, including general humility, intellectual humility, cultural humility, organizational humility, and others. Specifically, the research posits that musical experiences rooted in humility enable the enhancement of both musical and social relationships. Ultimately, the model is envisioned as a potential exemplar for cultivating egalitarian, hospitable, and other-oriented ways of being not only within music participation, but society more broadly.
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