Transmitting Musical Heritage

  • Ayse Thornett

    Ayse Thornett



Transmission can be framed in different ways, for example: performance, spoken word, CD recordings, collaborative workshops, film, and social media.  During this project the groups feel that they have experienced a widening perspective of transmission, a greater understanding that there isn’t a distinct line between these modes of transmission in terms of the management of heritage.  A combination of these modes can be happening at once.

Environment and context influences transmission:

“Whether it is in the pub or in the village hall, it is an aesthetic decision. Musicians are like artists, obsessed with the detail and the look of the gigs, the feel, the sensory engagement with the music is also about the surroundings. They gig where they feel the music will be heard.”


How to choose to say something is often what you want to say.  The method is sometimes the message. Conscious choices about the methods used have been made in all three projects, guided by ideological frameworks and strong beliefs about the ways things should be done. They are ingrained in the activity, and profoundly affect the transmission process.

Musicians and ‘transmitters’ can be seekers of new domains of transmission.

“Interesting things happen at the edges, like in ecology (the border between two different habitats is often a place full of energetic activity and biodiversity). When you bring together very different traditions, things, and people together, energy is created through the interaction. But for that to happen, they must also be kept separate enough that they maintain their difference.”

Transmission seems to happen consciously and unconsciously.  The dynamics of conscious and unconscious learning came up in the project; one view was:

“It can often be more effective when it is not conscious (or less conscious). It is something very different when it is conscious!”

Givers and receivers

Transmitters…we are indeed. Transmission is transactional; the receivers are in control as well as the teachers – they (both intuitively and consciously) choose the aspects they wish to engage with and thus what ultimately survives. Regardless of the means of transmission, the audience is never a passive participant in the construction of heritage. Tutors/musicians can choose what they want to play/teach, but they have to fit into the receivers’ ideas too.

“Audiences want the version of you they understand.”

The nature of transmission

“When you decide to play a tune to an audience you are honing a practice you might have thought about for years, and over the years it has become something you can play to others and transmit.”

Transmission of musical heritage connects us up and makes what we do significant; musically, culturally and socially. We offer other people validation by respecting/listening to/enjoying/being interested in their music. Transmission has the power to counter negative media images of certain communities by presenting a positive image. The choices people make in choosing what to transmit or what is important to transmit is a fundamental part of a living musical tradition.


How has it transmitted musical heritage? it’s transmitting as it goes along but there’s been a public performance of new music, there has been a released video of new music, there’s been an audio, there are audio transmissions on the go online all the time so there’s a lot of online activity, there’s the beginning of a series of public encounters, then inside it is this massive area which is to do with interpersonal, intermusical, intercultural transmission and interlanguage as well and the behavioural social, psychological transmission as well, I keep trying to pin down a multi-layered thing about the project and I think that’s why it’s so addictive because it is so multi-layered and addresses so many sorts of issues and it goes as far as global political things and so on but it does because it touches on so many socio-musical things and live music and the continuation of playing and making music communally is a sociological thing isn’t it?

Tony Bowring


I think each of the projects have slightly different ways of describing the process of transmitting musical heritage. So I think with Soundpost they’re looking at this English fiddle style thing both from the point of view of things they’ve learnt like Nancy learnt from her dad but also Eliza Carthy saying I am English fiddle styles but I want to pass this down through the weekend and through the process of transmitting musical heritage we make the tradition come alive and I think they have that perspective whereas Ella was saying it’s actually fine to learn a song from a Turkish CD and sing it to their children and it’s a much more everyday notion…

Kate Pahl