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  • The Musical Playground: Global Tradition and Change in Children's Songs and Games
  • Jan Rosenberg
The Musical Playground: Global Tradition and Change in Children's Songs and Games. By Kathryn Marsh. (London: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. 448, appendices, index, bibliography.)

The Musical Playground combines the best of ethnographic, ethnomusicological, and music education approaches to children's music lore. It is inclusive, insightful, and thorough. It pays homage to the work of childlore scholars, including Lady Alice Gomme, W. W. Newell, the Knapps, the Opies, and Brian Sutton-Smith, and it stays true to the documentation methods, theories, and pedagogies of music educators and ethnomusicologists such as Patricia Shehan Campbell, Alan P. Merriam, John Blacking, Carl Orff, and Zoltan Kodaly. The result is a powerhouse of a study on a topic that is often under fire in an age when it looks like childlore outdoors is succumbing to the computer game indoors.

The Musical Playground is woven out of research conducted by Kathryn Marsh, an ethnomusicologist and music educator based in Sydney, Australia. The book explores children's musical cultures in the UK, United States, Norway, and Korea over a fifteen-year period. The majority of the work was conducted by Marsh between 1990 and 2004. For her work in Korea and Norway, she was ably assisted by experts in the field and languages. She visited fourteen schools and observed and questioned approximately 5,935 children ages five through twelve. Her broad-brush working hypothesis is that children's musical traditions are alive and well on the playground, in spite of the child's current place on the digital landscape. She also investigates how children incorporate the physical with the digital in the course of their play; something educators need to acknowledge and use. Using ethnography and direct questioning of players, her hypotheses are confirmed. It is a classic example of depth and breadth fieldwork, providing highly detailed discussions of the schools, their ethnic makeup, and the neighborhoods they serve.

The book is organized into five sections with five additional appendices. The sections convey Marsh's scholarly genealogy and then bring us into the field with her. The sections are Children's Musical Play and Creativity: Adult Views; Into the Field; Transmission Processes in the Playground; Composition in Performance; and Conclusions and Pedagogical Implications. The appendices cover information on game genres and transcriptions (music and text) from all of Marsh's research bases.

Observation of children in the playground almost always yields some information similar to what Marsh documented. What makes this work especially dynamic and useful is Marsh's creative use of audio and video recording, as well as transcription of the various games played. She provides direct evidence for her findings, going beyond text and transcription, providing indices of games, and musical and kinesic transcriptions. She seamlessly binds method and procedure, inserting herself in the play to ask for clarification of a behavior and backing off from it and letting the children just "do their own thing."

The book includes little icons throughout the pages that indicate the presence of an audio or video clip. These markings refer the reader to fieldwork on a website that illustrates Marsh's points. The website and password information are given in the inside cover of the book, and readers can easily toggle between printed text and audiovisual materials.

The conduct on Marsh's musical playground seems calm and cool. Everyone affected by the project—administration, especially—are informed about the project. All have given permission, leaving Marsh alone to do her work, [End Page 505] and giving the children the opportunity to be interviewed as well. If a child expressed interest in being interviewed, it was done. Marsh respected those who did not want to be interviewed, but they allowed themselves to be observed in action. Much of Marsh's questioning clarifies behaviors. A particularly strong example of her method shows how she completed fieldwork when she wanted to know how a game was put together and learned. Marsh talks with four Grade 4 students about handclap games such as "Slide."

For the ethnomusicologist, The Musical Playground is rich with musical documentation and analysis. For some folklorists and others...


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pp. 505-506
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