{CONCEPTUALISING} Intercultural Musicking … appropriate versus appropriative methodology

As many of you will know, for the last decade I have been teaching World Music Ensemble Performance (klezmer) – WMEP-klezmer for short – in our Music Department. I have a musical self (website) in addition to my TESOL and Intercultural Communication/Education academic roles. WMEP-klezmer is an area of my professional practice that has its conceptual underpinnings and its research possibilities – see the Music Department’s Intercultural Musicking research theme [as reported here in the LANTERN blog under the Projects menu under the Richard’s Projects submenu.]. The musical conceptual and research aspects may seem somewhat removed from my home disciplines in Education. However, for me, there are intriguing connections and concerns between these ‘homes’. In this longer than usual blog entry, I reflect on some of these connections.

1) Appropriate methodology

Appropriate methodology has been a long-standing concern in TESOL[i] and, also, for me personally – my thesis[ii] was shaped by this concern. As TESOL practitioners, how do we, in context-sensitive ways, approach the challenge of teaching the complicated global phenomenon that is English[iii]. It is a challenge for all of us given English’s colonial/colonising past and its ongoing role in privileging certain perspectives, voices, and epistemologies[iv].

Similar problematisation arises with world music education given the tendency for traditional and context specific musics to be otherised and seen from the perspective of the dominant musical cannon as simple and/or exotic. Study of such musics has critiqued for its essentialism, otherisation, and tokenism, but can also be seen as an opportunity for musicians in Music Departments like ours to develop their bi-musicality[v].

In my case, the question is: how should we teach WMEP-klezmer in our UK university context given the concerns about klezmer and “cultural necrophilia”[vi], cultural appropriation, and the need to decolonise the ethnomusicology curriculum.

2) Small culture approach / ecological analysis

An important intercultural lens I bring to my understanding of klezmer teaching is a small culture approach[vii], i.e. I try to understand the emergent, shared practices arising in our klezmer teaching and evaluate their appropriacy for this context of musician development.

Further, I am keen to adopt an ecological perspective[viii] to trace the shaping influences upon WMEP-klezmer methodology and explore the critical intentionality (or critical intentional action) of the practitioners involved[ix].

Thus, I am finding the familiar conceptual lenses from my home disciplines to be helpful in theorising my WMEP-klezmer practice (i.e. developing my praxis) and in navigating the ongoing debates in my adopted musical home, and, within it, the field of Ethnomusicology, and the practice of Performing Ethnomusicology[x] through WMEP.

3) Cultural appropriation/appreciation

In a recent Equity in Music Education contribution to Music Educators Journal, Karen Howard[xi] suggests that music educators need to guard against a culturally appropriative methodology, and make efforts to develop a culturally appreciative methodology. As informed by Scafidi’s definition of cultural appropriation[xii], underpinning this suggestion is an understanding that culturally appropriative methodology involves “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission”. Such “taking” can be “harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive”.

To understand WMEP-klezmer, we need to recognise that klezmer has become a commodified global musical genre and is no longer simply the specific tradition of an oppressed cultural group. Given this status, WMEP-klezmer can be understood less in terms of culturally appropriative processes and more in terms of cultural translation[xiii] processes. I find Holliday’s ideas about small culture formation[xiv] helpful for understanding this process of cultural translation-in-the-moment (of ensemble performance).

4) Epistemic justice / intercultural ethic

For me, the respect that should be accorded other (musical) traditions connects with the work by Zhuo Min Huang and myself on epistemic injustice[xv] and the value of an intercultural ethic when striving to avoid such epistemic injustice[xvi]. In our most recent thinking on this issue[xvii], we add a critical dimension and suggest that scholars need to:

  1. recognise the role of epistemological power – i.e. those critically engaged in interconnected knowledge-work need to recognise that certain ideas and ways of thinking accrue epistemic authority or status, occupy higher positions on the epistemic gradient, and dominate less powerful epistemologies and ways of articulating them;
  2. develop critical reflexivity – i.e. those critically engaged in interconnected knowledge-work need be cognisant of the role of epistemological power, and become critically aware of, and transparently demonstrate accountability regarding, their own epistemological practices; and
  3. practise epistemic activism – i.e. those critically engaged in interconnected knowledge-work need to (be willing to) challenge the existing epistemic hegemonies and injustices affecting their own practice and participation in the wider global knowledge-arena.

WMEP-Klezmer methodology can be underpinned by such a critical intercultural ethic. The Applied Ethnomusicology field[xviii] embraces the transformative aspects of such criticality. I am intrigued by the critical turn blowing through the disciplines of Ethnomusicology, Intercultural Communication[xix] and Applied Linguistics[xx] as well as Academic Literacy and Education[xxi].

5) Appropriate versus appropriative methodology

Bearing in mind the above points, I am currently playing with the contrast between:

  • the intentional development of appropriate methodology (i.e. methodology which is constantly being reviewed vis-à-vis its appropriacy for the emergent small culture of the klezmer ensemble class); and
  • the unproblematised practice of appropriative methodology (in which an exoticised representation of klezmer is taken as the basis of the klezmer class without regard for the origins of the music and its complex status given the discrimination, and worse, experienced by the Jewish communities for whom klezmer was an integral part of their cultural life).

6) Intercultural Musicking

The –ing formulation of the Music Department’s intercultural research theme – i.e. musicking – also illustrates interdisciplinary connections. Holliday’s understanding of emergent small cultures arising as people come together to fulfil some shared goal (e.g. learning to play in a klezmer ensemble) carries with it a clear sense of something constantly coming into being rather than something conserved, preserved, reified and otherwise largely static. It embodies the sense of culture as a verb[xxii], or what might be termed the business of culturing.

In the earlier mentioned work with Zhuo Min Huang we are currently playing with the formulation knowledging as a better way of speaking about interconnected knowledge-work. In my work with Jane Andrews and Ross White arising from the Researching Mutilingually projects[xxiii], we contribute to the development of the concept an practices of translanguaging[xxiv] and elsewhere we speak of the languaging of research, and the languaging of wellbeing, distress, and resilience. In a recent conference Plenary, I spoke about languaging interdisciplinarily[xxv], and in ongoing discussions with Susan Dawson, we are considering the languaging of praxis.

These formulations in my Education home are highly generative, and they resonate I feel with Small’s term musicking[xxvi]. They play are playing a part in current work elaborating what intercultural musicking might mean for us[xxvii]. Perhaps we might start speaking of the ‘gerundive turn’ in conceptual thinking across and between disciplines.

7) Intercultural personhood / transmusicality

A final area of conceptual connection between my homes in TESOL/EC (Education) and Music (WMEP-klezmer) concerns the ways in which the individual is understood vis-à-vis (musical) cultures. Zhuo Min Huang’s work[xxviii] mentioned above focuses on the intercultural personhood development of culturally-unique and culturally-complex individuals[xxix] living and studying in a culturally-diverse university such as Manchester as situated in a culturally-diverse city.

These aspects – i.e. the cultural complexity of the individual and the cultural complexity of the context – challenge the more static, large culture understandings of culture(s) and individuals possession of, and affiliation with, specific cultures, i.e. the aspects challenge the essentialising cultural binaries (e.g. home vs overseas students) which can so often dominate research discussion of educational cultures. These aspects also fit well with the ‘culture as a verb’, ‘small emergent culture formation’, and ‘culturing’ understandings mentioned above.

They are also useful for me as I conceptualise my work in WME-klezmer. Whereas the purpose of performing ethnomusicology[xxx] is discussed in terms of musicians’ developing bimusicality[xxxi], I feel uncomfortable with the sense this gives that they have two (or more) separate musicalities, gained through participating in two (or more) separate music cultures. The music students I work with seem more musically complex than that – they are already participating in the intermingling flows of different musical genres and competencies. And klezmer as a musical culture is also highly complex, with many aspects to it over time and space, in its Old World, New World, and Revival Music forms, and so on. For this reason, I like to this of the culturally-unique and culturally-complex musical nature of the students, and of the cultural-diversity of the worlds of klezmer. Instead of bimuscality, I am finding transmusicality[xxxii] a more useful term.

Concluding thoughts

This blog entry is very much work-in-progress. In it, I am sharing the sense I continue to make of the conceptualising interface between my Educational and Music disciplinary homes. That there is common ground between the intercultural and the world music strands is not so surprising, but these connections are not ones that are being widely explored. I find this space between disciplines fascinating and generative. I find the bringing together of ideas from different conceptual homes very helpful as I make new sense of a practice like WMEP-klezmer and continue to develop my sense of appropriate, not appropriative, methodology for it.


Andrews, J., & Fay, R. (2020). Valuing a translingual mindset in researcher education in Anglophone higher education settings: Supervision perspectives. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 33(2), pp. 188-202.

Andrews, J., Fay, R., & White, R. (2018a). From linguistic preparation to developing a translingual orientation – possible implications of plurilingualism for researcher education. In J. Choi & S. Ollerhead (Eds.), Plurilingualism in learning and teaching: complexities across contexts. (pp.220-233). Routledge.

Andrews, J., Fay, R., & White, R. (2018b). What shapes everyday translanguaging? Insights from a global mental health research project in Northern Uganda. In G. Mazzaferro (Ed.), Translanguaging in everyday practice. (pp.257-273). Springer.

Bekar, M., & Fay, R. (2020). Developing Anglo-centric literacy: Problematizing understandings of criticality. In A. Simpson, & F. Dervin (Eds.), The meanings of criticality in education research: Reflecting on critical pedagogy. (pp.23-45). Palgrave Macmillan.

Curry, M. J., & Lillis, T. (2013). A scholar’s guide to getting published in English: Critical choices and practical strategies. Multilingual matters.

Curry, M. J., & Lillis, T. (Eds.). (2017). Global academic publishing: Policies, perspectives and pedagogies. Multilingual Matters.

Fay, R. (2020). Languaging interdisciplinarily: English at the intercultural interface (pp.14-33), Plenary paper published in Bekar, M., Trajkova, Z., Damjanoski, M. and Naumoska, A. (Eds.) (2020), Proceedings (for the 2nd ESIDRP Conference, hosted by the Department of English Language and Literature at Blaze Koneski Faculty of Philology, Ss Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, North Macedonia, 21st-24th March, 2019).

Fay, R. (2004). Stories of emergent cultures of distance learning and collaboration: Understanding the CELSE-Hellenic Open University project. (unpublished PhD Education thesis). The University of Manchester.

Fay, R., Mawson, D., & Bithell, C. (under review). Intercultural musicking: Learning through klezmer. For Languages & Intercultural Communication special issue.

Fay, R., & Stelma, J. (2016). Criticality, intentionality and intercultural action. In M. Dasli & A. Diaz (Eds.), The critical turn in language and intercultural communication pedagogy: Theory, research and practice. (pp.120-146). Routledge.

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Holliday, A. R. (1999). Small cultures. In Applied Linguistics, 20(2), pp. 237-264.

Holliday, A. R. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an International Language. Oxford University Press.

Hood, K. M. (1960). The challenge of bi-musicality. In Ethnomusicology, 4, pp. 55-59

Howard, K. (2020). Equity in music education: Cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation —understanding the difference. Music Educators Journal, 106(3), pp. 68-70.

Huang, Z. M. (2019). Mindfulness and intercultural personhood: Understanding students’ intercultural experience at a culturally-diverse UK university. (unpublished PhD Education thesis). The University of Manchester.

Huang, Z. M. (2020a). Exploring imagination as a methodological source of knowledge: Painting students’ intercultural experience at a UK university. International Journal of Research and Method in Education. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/1743727X.2020.1796958

Huang, Z. M. (2020b). Intercultural personhood: A non-essentialist conception of individuals for intercultural research. Language and Intercultural Communication.  DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1080/14708477.2020.1833898

Huang, Z. M. & Fay, R. (2020). The role of arts-based research into world musical experience for lifelong learning: Using creative arts methods to understand intercultural personhood. Paper presented as part of a symposium for accepted for the ACE 2020 conference, hosted by the University of Zagreb, October, 2020.

Huang, Z. M., Fay, R., & White, R. (in process, being revised for resubmission). Ethical knowledge-work: Addressing the dangers of epistemic injustice {targeting Language Culture and Society}

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Scafidi, S. (2005). Who owns culture? Appropriation and authenticity in American law. Rutgers University Press.

Singer, M. H. (1998). Perception and identity in intercultural communication. Intercultural Press.

Small, C. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Wesleyan University Press.

Solis, T. (Ed.) (2004). Performing ethnomusicology: Teaching and representation in world music ensembles. University of California Press.

Stelma, J., & Fay, R. (2014). Intentionality and developing researcher competence on a UK Master’s course: An ecological perspective on research education. Studies in Higher Education, 39(4): 517-533.

Stelma, J., & Fay, R. (2019). An ecological perspective on critical action for language education. In A. Kostoulas (Ed.), Challenging boundaries in language education. (pp.51-70). Springer.

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Waligórska, M. (2013). Klezmer’s afterlife: An ethnography of the Jewish music revival in Poland and Germany. Oxford University Press.

White, R., Fay, R., Chiumento, A., Giurgi-Oncu, C., & Phipps, A. (under review). Communication about well-being and distress: Epistemic and ethical considerations. Transcultural Psychiatry.


[i] e.g. Holliday, 1994

[ii] Fay, 2004

[iii] see Holliday, 2005

[iv] e.g. Curry & Lillis, 2013, and 2017

[v] Hood, 1960

[vi] see Waligórska, 2013, p.5

[vii] Holliday, 1999

[viii] e.g. Stelma & Fay, 2014

[ix] Fay & Stelma, 2016, and Stelma & Fay, 2019

[x] Solis, 2004

[xi] Howard, 2020

[xii] Scafidi, 2005

[xiii] Waligórska, 2013

[xiv] e.g. Holliday, 1999

[xv] e.g. Fricker, 2007

[xvi] Huang, Fay & White, 2017

[xvii] Huang, Fay & White, in process

[xviii] e.g. Harrison, Mackinlay, & Pettan, 2010

[xix] e.g. Piller, 2011

[xx] e.g. Pennycook, 2001

[xxi] see Bekar & Fay, 2020

[xxii] Street, 1993

[xxiii] e.g. Andrews & Fay, 2020, and White et al, under review

[xxiv] e.g. Andrews, Fay & White, 2018a,and 2018b

[xxv] Fay, 2020

[xxvi] Small, 1998

[xxvii] Fay, Mawson & Bithell, under review

[xxviii] Huang 2020a and 2020b, and Huang & Fay, 2020

[xxix] Singer, 1998

[xxx] Solis, 2004

[xxxi] Hood, 1960

[xxxii] Fay, Mawson & Bithell, under review



  • Richard Fay

    There is an upcoming conference in Istanbul, the description illustrates the ‘decolonising ethnomusicology’ discourse which I refer to in this blog post:

    “With increasing intensity, global institutions of music pedagogy seek to redress a fraught legacy of Eurocentrism. The dominance of ‘Eurological’ or ‘Eurogenetic’ paradigms in university music curricula has worked to create a possessive investment by musical schools in particular canons, traditions, and pedagogies (Lewis 1996, Reigle 2014, Kajikawa 2019, Ewell 2019, Brown 2020). In many countries across Eurasia, institutional actors created new hegemonies based on folk and regional musics alongside European art music. Music specialists often find themselves complicit in disconnecting or excluding contributions of musicians and non-hegemonic musical knowledge from centers of music teaching and learning.

    In an effort to rethink how we learn, teach, and practice music, this conference seeks to assemble a diverse gathering of musicians, researchers, and educators in order to share knowledge about transformations and transmission of musical creativity in the 21st century. With the Transtraditional Istanbul Project, we join a global network of practitioners in redressing critical issues such as a history of compositional resourcing of Indigenous and ‘local’ music cultures, the tokenisation of diversity in ‘world music’ programs, and the erasure of the histories and experiences of minoritised musicians and educators (Ahmed 2012, Robinson 2020). We hope to advance a global exchange about how to redefine the structures of inclusion in music transmission ‘with, by and for’ — not only ‘on or about’ — minoritised musicians (Bissett Perea and Solis 2019), while respecting that certain communities may place limits on the knowledge that can be shared in the academy.”

  • Interesting and very inspiring reflection!