Music and Ethnomusicology

Music | Ethnomusicology | Program Structure


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Music at Cape Breton University

Cape Breton University’s Bachelor of Arts Community Studies (BACS) Music Major is like no other music program in Canada.  The program focuses on traditional and tradition-based popular music, with particular emphasis on local musical traditions and is designed for students who have a passion for music who want to work in the multi-billion dollar global music industry.

CBU’s BACS Music Major is distinctive in several ways:

  • Through the BACS core courses and two work placements, students acquire work experience, and are able to make contacts and network within the music world.
  • The program offers unique course offerings in a variety of musical traditions (Celtic, Gaelic, Acadian, First Nations) as well as popular music, world music, and music theory.
  • A variety of performance options are offered each year (e.g., step dancing, Gaelic song, piano accompaniment, etc.) in addition to performance courses taught by some of Cape Breton’s best known traditional musicians (Stan Chapman, who taught Ashley MacIsaac and Natalie MacMaster; Kyle MacNeil of the Barra MacNeils).
  • Music majors have the option of taking a minor in business, allowing them to develop skills in entrepreneurship, financial management, marketing, tourism, and other business-related topics.
  • Students have the opportunity to become involved in local music-making contexts where they will learn playing techniques and repertoire in a very community-based way.

Music students have access to, among other resources,

No audition is required, as the BACS music major is a primarily academic study of music. Please note that the program is not suitable for students who are interested in being a music teacher in the public school system.

Aside from the music major, other music options include a concentration (a 3-year general BA or BACS degree) in ethnomusicology, minor in music, or a Certificate in Ethnomusicology. Students can also take music courses as electives. Please see the Academic Calendar for details.

What is Ethnomusicology?

Ethnomusicology is the study of people’s musics, and more specifically, the study of the relationship between music and culture. It is about understanding what music means to particular groups of people, and the role of music in their lives.

Ethnomusicologists study music in order to illuminate issues of politics, gender, identity, aesthetics, and social organization. It is the study of any and all musics, including traditional, popular, and western art musics.

Ethnomusicologists use interdisciplinary approaches – particularly anthropology and musicology, but also a range of other disciplines such as folklore, sociology, linguistics, and education – to study sounds themselves, as well as the people who make and listen to those sounds. Ethnomusicology is the study of the contexts and processes involving the creation, performance, and reception of music.

Ethnomusicology courses are central to the music major. Students also have the option of doing a concentration in ethnomusicology (a 3-year general BA or BACS degree) or a Certificate in Ethnomusicology. 

Structure of CBU Music Programs

Regardless of the program (major, concentration, minor, or certificate), there are three required courses:

  • Experiencing Music, which develops listening and musical analysis skills,
  • Musics of the World, which introduces a range of musics in diverse cultures, and
  • Music and Culture, which introduces students to issues of particular interest in the discipline of ethnomusicology, such as the intersections between music and everyday life, migration, worship, dance, memory, identity, politics, and the music industry.

Music majors must additionally complete two more music theory courses which will develop analytical skills suitable for analyzing traditional and popular music. Students taking theory courses must have a basic level of music literacy (please see Music Theory Requirements for help determining whether you have the necessary skills and, if you don’t, some resources to help you acquire them).

Certificate students must also complete an independent study in ethnomusicology.

Students have the freedom to choose their remaining music courses, so long as they meet general degree requirements (such as taking a certain number of upper-year courses).

Chris McDonald
Associate Professor, Ethnomusicology

Office: CE251

Phone: 563-1415

Heather Sparling
Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology / Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (Musical Traditions)

Office: CE263B

Phone: 902.563.1242

Marcia Ostashewski
Associate Professor, Ethnomusicology / Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (Communities and Cultures)

Office: CE248

Phone: 563-1810

Kate Dunlay
Lecturer of Celtic Music within the Ethnomusicology Program

Office: Off Campus

Phone: 902.445.9797

Stan Chapman

Kyle MacNeil