This thesis is a study of the performance, interpretation and transmission practices of traditional instrumental musicians in Scotland and Ireland. Extensive original research was undertaken over a period of four years including a survey of current transmission practices amongst traditional musicians from Britain and Ireland. Both preservation and the study of change are vital elements in maintaining a flourishing oral culture. However, my focus is on definition. The study is an attempt to clarify the many contemporary and often conflicting expressions of musical experience that constitute part of the oral tradition in Scotland and Ireland. By examining the work of the practitioners of this music it is possible to see that innovative and diverse approaches to arrangement, performance, education, transmission and reception are generating clearer ways of defining cultural values within the community. The emergence of a clearer set of definitions will help practitioners establish a grammar from which interactions with other cultural and socio-economic models can be undertaken. This in turn may help reduce perceived threats and alleviate the fears of some members of the traditional music community and clarify for those from other musical, academic and economic cultural groups the importance of acknowledging differences between the values of disparate systems of exchange. In terms of research methodology it is clear that, in the case of a subject area whose very existence depends on the conscious experience of individuals, we must accept the role that our specific and subjective contact with the world plays in the study of oral transmission. We must also reassess the value of oral traditions in their own right, away from textual analyses. Within an academic setting this approach must be validated as part of a system that is geared towards the understanding of all aspects of western cultural practices.

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