Research to help young people tune in

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By Communications Staff
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Whether it's coming from a French horn or out of the ubiquitous iPod, music plays a major role in the lives and cultural identity of young people. Less understood, however, is what makes them interested in becoming involved in certain musical activities, and what influences their musical values over the long-term.
 
A University of Western Ontario professor receives a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to support research expected to inform Canada’s planning and policy-making on music education.

“Music has been shown to be one of the most important ways in which young people create and express their social and cultural identity,” says Susan O’Neill, an Assistant Professor in The Don Wright Faculty of Music at The University of Western Ontario. 
 
“Youth music participation encourages creativity, innovation and expressions of cultural diversity.  Despite this recognition, we know little about the ways in which young Canadians participate in music beyond the often narrow or limited view of being able to play in a band or sing in a choir,” she adds.
 
SSHRC announced that O’Neill’s work will receive $94,000 over the next three years – money that will be used to provide empirical evidence that can inform planning and policies in Canada related to youth involvement in music and music education.

O’Neill is developing a comprehensive approach for increasing youth participation in music through a “culture of inquiry,” where young people can reconsider musical practices through the lens of critical cultural literacy. 
 
“Young people are active co-constructors of musical practices that are linked to issues of social justice, equality, awareness and mutual respect,” she says. 
 
O’Neill hopes that by broadening their understanding of their own musical practices and those that take place in local and national communities, young people will recognize a wider-range of possibilities for music participation to enhance their quality of life in this key area of cultural identification.

Evidence supports the notion that children often give up music in their transition from elementary to secondary school, so O’Neill’s research will provide a broad picture of the current state of youth participation in music between the ages of 11-16, and will look at a wide range of factors that affect young people’s motivation for taking up, and persisting with, musical activities. 
 
Specifically, she will look at influences related to gender, socio-economic situations, family relationships, peer networks, community and school environments.

Study participants will be drawn from regions across the country, from urban, multi-cultural centres to remote aboriginal communities.  Results will also be compared with a similar cohort in Britain to determine cross-cultural differences.

In all, Western researchers received $4,679,862 for 39 projects from SSHRC this week.

“Research in the arts, humanities and social sciences provides an essential, human dimension to understanding ourselves and our planet,” says Ted Hewitt, Western’s Vice-President (Research & International Relations).  “It is critical that we continue to fund research in these disciplines so we can make better-informed decisions and create social well-being and economic prosperity for all.”

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