Building Community Choirs in the Twenty-First Century (Book)

Re-imagining Identity through Singing in Northern Ireland

This book explores how five diverse community choirs build their collective identity within the complex setting of Northern Ireland. The case studies investigate the ways in which singers engage in their choral practice and demonstrates how this engagement can move beyond sectarian identity constructs. 16 b/w illus.

Category: Community Arts, Music


This book explores how five community choirs construct and imagine collective identity formations in Northern Ireland. Original insight is provided through ethnographic research conducted between 2013-2018. Working with five choirs in disparate locations, with different repertoires and demographics resulted in the creation of an integrated comparison that drew out both diversity and commonalities of approach revealing the malleability of choral practice.

The research is framed through communities of practice, a theory of learning through engaging with other people in a common endeavour. Research findings demonstrate how choirs re-imagine identity through the manner in which they organise, rehearse, and perform. Choirs develop a distinct choral identity and ethos highlighting both the musical and social importance of the community of practice. Research suggests that choirs re-imagine multiple conceptions of identities within their groups, including gender, later age, religious faith, inclusivity and ethnic diversity, that can both influence broader structures of community in the region, and be influenced by them.

Community choral practice in Northern Ireland is under-researched. As such this book provides unique insight into how members of community choirs are attempting to transcend sectarian boundaries through their practice, developing academic understandings of identity formation, community music-making and choral practice.

Sarah-Jane Gibson is a music lecturer at York St John University in York, England where she also works as a research associate within the International Centre for Community Music (ICCM). Her research interest is in intercultural understanding through music-making.

Musical Examples
List of Tables
List of Figures

1. Introduction 
2. Conceptualizing ‘The Choir’ 
3. Organization: The Donaghadee Community Choir
4. Rehearsals: The Nada Choir
5. Performance: The Open Arts Community Choir
6. Sustainability: The Queen’s Island and Victoria Male Choir
7. Ethos: Féile Women’s Singing Group
8. Re-imagining Identity through Singing

Appendix 1: Choirs Located in Northern Ireland in 2016
Appendix 2: Musical Repertoire of the Five Choirs


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