As music education in Australia progresses towards a National Curriculum, questions of how best to teach the music of the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are paramount. Inspired by collaborative projects between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous musicians at the national professional level, the detailed ethnographic study set out in this thesis examines the workings of the researcher’s own 2013-14 Senior Secondary Music Class from an urban Sydney school as it became immersed in the study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music.
Student’s reflections and attitudes towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music are noted, discussed and analysed with reference to their previous learning experiences. The focus then shifts to a project run in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney that culminated in the collaborative reworking of two songs that had been shared with the class by Ngiyampaa composer and dancer, Peter Williams. The students’ experiential and attitudinal shifts are analysed in detail, from the moment they heard, transcribed and learnt the songs, through experimentation with their own interpretations, and ultimately, collaboration with the songs’ owner as we rehearsed and performed them together then recorded and reflected upon the results.
Data for the study consisted of extensive video footage and observations of teaching, learning and practising, audio recorded ethnographic interviews (including with three teacher colleagues who attended the camp), participants’ written reflections and the researcher’s field notes. Beyond describing the musical interactions—a process of collaborative engagement understood as co-composition—this thesis endeavours to convey the crucial importance of establishing and developing relationships with members of one’s local community in the process of teaching and learning from and through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music.