School of Music


Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology (MA)


Katherine Morehouse


Folk Music, Fiddle, New England, Identity


Ethnomusicology | Music


This master’s thesis investigates traditional folk music in New England in an effort to recognize its current practices and understand how this music creates and reflects identity for participants. Often described as a living tradition, folk music culture is deeply embedded in a historical context but is constantly shaped by musicians that play it today. During fieldwork in Vermont and Maine I examine this relationship between the music and musicians, recognizing that folk music provides a holistic experience that is deeply meaningful to participants. With an emphasis on fiddle and via an outsider lens, I discover what a beginner can expect entering this community. Important facets of folk music in New England that I experienced and participated in are weeklong camps, jams, and lessons. Through a narrative approach I weave together the voices of interviewees with an analysis of these events, including musical and social aspects of the music-making process. The research findings summarize how folk music exists as an accessible living tradition through the transmission of tunes and through both the individual and collective impact on musicians. The discussion of music transmission includes inquiry about the relationship between ear learning and Western notational systems, the impact of technology, fiddle technique and variations, and the trend towards specialization of styles. The section of findings about personal and group identity include the social origins of dance music, community via friendship and hospitality, multigenerational mentoring, the boundaries of the genre, and the self-awareness of musicians. I offer suggestions to other researchers and folk musicians, as well as thoughts for music educators and how being welcomed into the community of folk music has enriched my life personally. Much more study is needed in this area of ethnomusicology, but this research provides a starting point for what today’s folk trends are in New England and what else can be done in the future.