The Pirate Choir: a study of the influence of a non-traditional music ensemble on the formation of possible selves in adolescent boys
Nielsen, Paul Edward
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In this study, I examined how a particular group of adolescent boys formed future self-identities. Using possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986) as a lens, I conducted a qualitative study of the members of the Pirate Choir as they rehearsed and performed. I used ethnographraphic techniques to inform my methodology. This group was an extracurricular high school male singing group, specializing in dressing up as pirates and singing pirate and sea chanties. This choir was initially formed as a strategy to address the “missing males” (Koza, 1993) issue I had been experiencing as the director of my own choir program. I sought to understand how involvement in the singing group had an effect on friendships, musicianship, self-esteem, and academics. Eight students, all members of the Pirate Choir, participated in the study. Discussions were recorded at the beginning and at the end of the five-month data collection period. The participants filled out log sheets after rehearsals and performances, which were used to identify the changes in possible selves among the group members. Results indicated that the members of the group experienced fun through the fantasy of pretending to be singing pirates. The enjoyment of socially playing and singing together helped form friendships as well as created a high level of acceptance in the group. With the acceptance of all ability levels by the members of the choir, there was a heightened experience of participatory music-making, which led to the formation of musical possible selves. The students indicated that academics were important to them, but involvement in the Pirate Choir had limited influence in their approach to and success in schoolwork, except in easing student academic stress. The formation of the Pirate Choir did not solve a “missing males” issue in the way I expected, as it did not increase the number of males in my curricular choirs; however, it did present a place for a group of boys to explore play, fantasy, and music-making in a novel way that expanded the formation of possible selves.