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Volume 15 Number 1
©The Author(s) 2013

Globalization and Tradition:
A Review of The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Musical Cultures

Karin S. Hendricks
Ball State University

The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Musical Cultures
Authors: Patricia Shehan Campbell & Trevor Wiggins (eds.)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780199737635, Pages: 656, Date: 2013

Patricia Shehan Campbell and Trevor Wiggins have long been champions of international children’s voices, and their collaborative effort in The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Musical Cultures provides educators with even deeper insights into the musical experiences and perspectives of 21st Century youth across the world.  This 35-chapter text comes at a point in history when technology and globalization are bringing distant cultures together at the same time that academic circles are celebrating the uniqueness of each cultural experience. The Handbook provides a collection of musical snapshots into the lives of children across the world, and in so doing it helps educators become more familiar and perhaps even intimate with a variety of musical cultures. 

Music Education and Multiculturalism: Problems and Possibilities

As multiculturalism has gained more focus and attention in education, music teachers have had to deal with a troubling realization: It can be problematic when music educators are compelled (either extrinsically or intrinsically) to teach musical styles and cultures that are not native to their own backgrounds and experiences. How authentic can the transmission of African drumming be, for example, if the teacher grew up in rural Idaho, without access to African influences or even guest artists to lend support?  On the other hand, might a sacrifice of “authenticity” be worthwhile if students gain diverse experience and develop greater global empathy as a result of even meager attempts to bridge cultural boundaries?

Carol Richardson (2004) addressed these concerns as she described attempts (including her own) to respond to the need for more “culturally relevant pedagogy” within music education (see also Ladson-Billings, 1995; 2001). Richardson questions the effectiveness and authenticity of music education approaches that merely “cover” multiple music traditions in survey courses, that are modeled by western-classically trained musicians lacking first-hand cultural experience, or that attempt to teach traditionally aural musics through print materials and books. While fully disclosing her own teaching limitations in multicultural musics as she stayed “one page ahead” of her students (Richardson, 2004, p. 72), the author describes her success as she learned to replace a more autocratic educational style with one that was more experimental and experiential.

The editors of The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Musical Cultures appear to share a similar view of the universal yet unique nature of children’s musical experience, while also providing a book that fits the needs of a new generation of music learners. Chapter author Kertz-Welzel suggests that “today’s childhood is a ‘changed childhood’ (veränderte Kindheit) in that many matters in young people’s lives are not the way they used to be,” (2013, p. 372; citing Fölling-Albers, 2005). Evolving technology, changes in family structure, and new approaches and philosophies regarding education have made much of what (and how) we previously taught irrelevant to the needs and learning styles of the “Net Generation” (Carlson, 2005), who learn about their world through instantly-accessible visual and audio resources, and who are with one click connected to others across the globe.

Similar changes are taking place in cultural and music education research. Advances in technology have aided us to move from a role of distanced social scientists and situated ethnomusicologists to more equal partakers of instant, open-access celebrations of global diversity. The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Musical Cultures reflects this shift in educational approach, providing the reader with an international tour of children’s musical experiences that is relatively free of intellectual colonization in that it leaves the implications of each work to be derived by the reader according to individual needs.


As shown in the map figure in the book’s introductory pages, the stories included in the text extend across the earth. While it is of course impossible to contain all musical experiences of all cultures, the editors have reached out to authors on every continent in order to offer an “interdisciplinary inquiry” that provides “circumstantial evidence and critical commentary related to why children engage musically” (p. 1).

The authors of chapters in the Handbook consider the intergenerational transmission of traditional folk music from elder to youth within isolated cultures, while also observing children’s global music sharing with multicultural peers. Chapter topics cover educational perspectives regarding learning styles, educational approaches, and assessments, as well as unique views from the perspective of children, thus “investigating children’s musical world[s] and allowing their voices to be heard” (p. 2). The nature, structure, and style of diverse world musics are explored, as well as the meanings and messages that are inherent in each form.

Fundamental to this text is the open space it provides for an organic display of children’s musical experience just as it is, so that others can experience it in the way that is most meaningful to them on an individual level. The editors further clarify what they believe to be the basic premise behind the text: “There are processes common to children’s development regardless of where in the world they may live, and yet there are cultural factors—local, national, and global—that influence their thoughts and ways of being” (p. 2). Indeed, discussions of universal processes and culturally-specific descriptions are both abundant in this collection of essays.

Part One. The first section, “Engagements with Culture: Socialization and Identity,” considers on one hand how children interact with, assume, and re-create cultural identity through music; and on the other hand how each individual is uniquely situated in a mix of other influences such as language, ethnicity, religion, gender, and global influences via technology. Chapter authors in the former category explore topics including: the political challenges and possibilities for gamelan education among Balinese children and girls (Downing, Chapter 1); descriptions of Native American youth music at the Yakama Nation Tribal School (Pitzer, Chapter 2); the flexible and expanding intergenerational discourses on Jewish American children’s music and songleading within Reform Judaism (Cohen, Chapter 3); voicing the experiences of Venda children in Limpopo, South Africa (Emberly, Chapter 4); the use of music education as a “propaganda machine” in World War II Japan (Manabe, Chapter 5); the role of music in the socialization of rural Baganda (Uganda) girls into womanhood (Nannyonga-Tamusuza, Chapter 6); the musical life of a riverine girl living on the banks of the Quianduba in the Brazilian Amazon (Ilari, Chapter 7); the music socialization of youth through families and communities in the suburbs of major Brazilian cities (Kleber & Souza, Chapter 8); transmission and acquisition of vocal polyphonic music among children in the country of Georgia (Vallejo, Chapter 9); and scenarios and discussions of various domains of formal musical instruction in Mexico (Sturman, Chapter 10).

Chapters addressing cultural identities with multiple meanings include descriptions of the hybrid blend of Corno-Celtic and Anglo-Cornish musical cultures in 21st Century Cornwall (Kent, Chapter 11); children’s cross-cultural musical practices in Corn Island, off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua (Minks, Chapter 12); the blend of music, evangelism, and education in the village of Kagbere, West Africa (Bartolome, Chapter 13); influences of popular culture upon children’s music in rural and urban India (Sarrazin, Chapter 14); the interplay of music, enjoyment, and socialization in the lives of Gambian children (Koops, Chapter 15); and children’s musical engagement in contemporary Carnival arts in Trinidad and Tobago (Smith, Chapter 16).

Part Two. Four chapters comprise the book’s second section, “Personal Journeys in/through Culture.” Here authors reflect upon community issues through a personal lens from their own life and experience, including: the integral place of Puerto Rican music in the lives of mother, self, and children (Berríos-Miranda, Chapter 17); tensions between traditional culture and mainstream society for Aboriginal children in Burrulula and Darwin (Mackinlay, Chapter 18); a reflection of one author’s own childhood and musical development through the ethnographic mirror of a seven-year-old child in Singapore (Lum & Dairianathan, Chapter 19); and the reflection of social environment in the games, songs, and dances of African American children in Tennessee (Moore, Chapter 20).

Part Three. The final section, “Music in Education and Development” shifts focus from children’s musical cultures in society at large, to a cross-cultural survey of the interactions between children’s music and development in educational environments. Chapters again span the globe, although the overwhelming influence of western culture is apparent among the chapters both individually and collectively. Music education in the United States is portrayed in a number of essays on topics that include Chicago school band students (Abril, Chapter 25), the children’s choir of the Church of God and Saints of Christ in Cleveland (Miller & Miller, Chapter 28), the personal attachment to mp3 players experienced by school children in southern Vermont (Bickford, Chapter 31), and mid-Twentieth Century children’s music in New York City (Roberts, Chapter 34).

Chen-Hafteck (Chapter 23), Kim (Chapter 24), and Mapana (Chapter 30) elucidate the “balancing act” of tradition versus change and enculturation in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Tanzania, respectively, as they each deal with tensions between traditional culture and Western influences and educational practices. In a similar vein, Hoefnagels and Walsh (Chapter 33) describe the work of folk festivals and children’s entertainers in the 1960s and 1970s to promote the development of Canadian music identity, partly in reaction to prior “American” influences and Canadian nationalist initiatives.

Tensions related to mixing of nationalities are also explored in two chapters. Marsh (Chapter 29) describes the comforting and safe “musical spaces” created by refugee children in Sydney, Australia. Kertz-Welzel (Chapter 21) addresses the musical and educational tensions present within German culture, revealing the disconnect between children’s desire for active music engagement in their lives in contrast to a traditional curriculum that is more passive in approach.

Chapters in this final section span generations and ages, including in Booth’s ethnography of two boys in Northern India who are learning the skills—and hard realities—of professional musicianship from their father (Chapter 32). Other authors provide descriptions of music in preschools and early childhood education in Japan (Adachi, Chapter 26); Aotearoa/New Zealand (Bodkin-Allen, Chapter 22); and Australia and Hawaii (Whiteman, Chapter 27); while Wiggins (Chapter 35) explores questions of ownership and origin of the songs in the “heads” of youth and young adults (ages 10-24) in Nandom, northern Ghana.

While the stories and cultures vary, it is clear from the chapters in Part Three that scholars across the world share a common interest in finding new approaches to make music education more relevant and meaningful to a new generation of children who are extending across cultural boundaries in ways unforeseen by their progenitors.

Companion Website. An obvious example of the “Net Generation” friendly approach used in the Handbook is the inclusion of a companion website to which the reader can refer for additional audio and visual resources. Reminiscent of the “One Day on Earth” Project (2013) in its instant access to various global experiences, this site provides audio and visual supports to help the reader become more realistically and genuinely situated in the cultural and musical practices that are shared in written form. Supports include audio and video recordings, photos, diagrams, links, sheet music, and other documents, with icons sprinkled throughout the Handbook that invite readers to peruse the companion site.  The protected site is accessible through username and password, which are provided in the text.

While the website is a welcome companion to the book, it clearly still does not allow for a truly intimate immersive experience – still leaving the reader as a distant observer of other musical cultures. Technology has not advanced to the point that we can instantly transport ourselves to any global civilization of choice. For now, The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Musical Cultures, along with its companion website,offers perhaps one of the best possible opportunities for a world-tour experience of music and culture in the lives of today’s youth. Drawing again from the earlier words of Carol Richardson (2004), this text offers educators a wealth of new resources from which to “expand your own musical vocabulary . . . And with any luck, you may discover a musical genre that grabs you as much as Ghanaian traditional music grabs me” (p. 73).  With such a diverse abundance of chapters from which to choose, it is indeed possible that each reader will discover something uniquely enticing.


Carlson, S. (2005). The Net Generation goes to college. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/The-Net-Generation-Goes-to/12307.

Fölling-Albers, M. (2005). Nicht nur Kinder sind verschieden. In J. Vogt (Ed.), Musiklernen im Vor- und Grundschulalter (pp. 17-36). Essen, Germany: Die Blaue Eule.

Kertz-Welzel, A. (2013). Children’s and adolescents’ musical needs and music education in Germany. In P. S. Campbell & T. Wiggins (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of children’s musical cultures (pp. 371-386). New York: Oxford University Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal 32(3), 465-491.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2001, October). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Implications for music education. Unpublished conference paper presentation at Consortium for Institutional Cooperation Music Education Research Conference, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

One Day on Earth. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.onedayonearth.org/

Richardson, C. P. (2004). Multimusical competency for music educators: Problems and possibilities. College Music Symposium 44, 68-73.