- The Oxford Handbook of Children's Musical Cultures ed. by Patricia Shehan Campbell and Trevor Wiggins
This volume invites its readers to listen to the moments when playing music transforms into musical play. While reading, I remembered linking arms with friends after youth-orchestra rehearsals and skipping along the sidewalk, our skips keeping time as we sang Leonard Bernstein's 'Overture to Candide'. Or, rather, meowed. You-Tube cat videos were a staple of US youth culture during my adolescence in the late 2000s so we sang our individual instrument parts to 'Candide' on a 'meow' syllable. As a flute player, it was an especially fun challenge to make my meowing entrance two octaves higher than my vocal range, a musical attempt that would often end our rendition in a cadence of giggles.
Reading the Handbook called forth this memory and gave me new ways of understanding it—I realized that we had created a unique arrangement of Bernstein's overture through our combination of playful and rhythmic movement, US youth internet culture, formal instrumental music training, and collective creativity. Moreover, the Handbook re-categorized for me such experiences, often brushed aside as 'insignificant' and 'childish', as knowledge ripe for scholarly analyses. A collection of thirty-five essays edited by Patricia Shehan Campbell and Trevor Wiggins, the Handbook makes a valuable contribution by legitimizing scholarly study of children and music, offering a wide array of analytical and methodological approaches, and balancing its display of the diversity of children's music across the globe with the universality of music's presence in children's lives. Indeed, anyone reading this Handbook will be reminded that, whatever the focus of our individual work, we all share a connection to children's musical cultures because we all have childhoods and all childhoods involve music. The Handbook urges its readers to listen more closely and thoughtfully to memories from our own childhoods and to the sounds created by and for children that surround us in our everyday lives.
Despite the universal presence of music in children's lives, music scholars rarely focus explicitly on either children as research subjects or age as a critical lens. This is down to a range of reasons: scholars either do not notice that adult culture has been taken to speak for all cultures, or assume that children are 'blank slates' or underdeveloped adults. Cultural biases also tend to link children with negative connotations. For example, in the Handbook Judah M. Cohen explains that the expression 'You're acting like a child' invokes children as naive and in need of discipline (p. 63). As Campbell and Wiggins point out, scholarship that does take children into account often does not let them speak or sing for themselves. But there is much to be gleaned from focusing on and listening to children. Children create, consume, and perform music in a variety of ways that can be analysed for cultural, educational, psychological, and social meaning. They draw from and influence adult culture, and they create their own. In her chapter on Venda children, Andrea Emberly listens directly to children themselves, thus highlighting their agency and emphasizing the importance of their self-representation. Moreover, scholarly work on childhood elicits the term's deconstruction, showing how the categories of 'child' and 'adult'are not neatly defined. Such work encourages us to question how the differences between children and adults are articulated and represented, and what those differences mean. In this regard, the Handbook not only analyses children's musical cultures, but is also is a call to action for music scholars to take children and their music seriously.
The forty authors included in the Handbook are among a small but growing community researching music in relation to children, childhood, and youth. In terms of scholarly disciplines, the majority of contributors are ethnomusicologists and music educators; the Handbook also includes chapters by psychologists, folklorists, and anthropologists. At the time of publication in 2013, it represented one of only two...