‘Presencing’ imagined worlds - understanding the Maysie : a contemporary ethnomusicological enquiry into the embodied ballad singing experience
McFadyen, Mairi Joanna
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This thesis attempts a paradigmatic shift in the focus of ballad study towards embodiment, moving from ‘representation’ towards ‘experience’ and with an emphasis on ‘process,’ as opposed to ‘product.’ The originality lies in the development of a new approach which explores words, music and embodied aesthetic experience as they come together and create meaning in performance, conceived of as ‘presence’ (Porter 2009). Ideas from philosophy are connected with concepts from ethnomusicology and folklore and brought to bear upon broad issues in the study of expressive culture. While the focus here is on the ballad experience in a Scottish context, ultimately the questions asked attend to dimensions of experience that do not emphasise cultural-boundedness. The emphasis is not on my experience as a fieldworker, nor on fieldwork descriptions, but rather on the development of new theoretical methodologies that can be extended and applied to other cultural forms. To that end, I am little concerned with texts, variants and versions, transcriptions and collections which traditionally constitute the subject matter of ballad studies. What is presented is a convergence of contemporary disciplinary approaches, pushing the boundaries of the existing framework of ballad and folksong studies to include dimensions of cultural experience rarely considered in this field. Working within the wider interpretative framework of hermeneutic phenomenology, theories of embodiment are used as a means to introduce ideas from embodied cognition. The development of ideas is concerned with describing how our embodied experience of the world informs the processes of meaning-making, how human cognitive capacities are at work in the experience of ballad singing and how the structure of the ballad reflects and shapes these capacities. Embodied philosophy and contemporary theories of metaphor are central in this endeavour. Ultimately, this work seeks to find a legitimate way of talking about the ephemeral, intangible yet real quality of embodied aesthetic experience—the shivers and chills of the Maysie—that avoids metaphysical explanations and that makes sense in a secular, humanistic framework. The aim is not to demystify experience in a reductionist sense, but to offer an interpretation that is less about ‘transcendence’ and more about the creative processes present.