Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jay Keister

Second Advisor

Brenda M. Romero

Third Advisor

Benjamin R. Teitelbaum

Fourth Advisor

Elissa Guralnick

Fifth Advisor

Thomas Riis


“Music is about the people who play it, not the music itself.” This statement by Seán Keane, an Irish fiddler I interviewed in County Clare, Ireland, gets at the very root of Irish traditional music. People who seek out and play Irish traditional music do so not only for the sake of the music itself, but for a wide variety of personal reasons that have more to do with their own physical, mental, and emotional needs. The motivations behind this drive to musical participation are as varied as the people themselves, as are the effects these motivations have on personal identity. Motivation, musical participation, and identity are indelibly linked in a mutable and highly individual manner, and the depth to which these motivations and the music produced affects personal identity varies according to how important those motivations are and how meaningful are the personal rewards musical participation brings to the musician.

This dissertation examines the motivations of musicians in three Irish traditional instrumental music sessions in Albuquerque, New Mexico in which I conducted fieldwork from September of 2014 to November of 2015. I analyze motivations for participation in the Albuquerque Irish traditional music scene in three broad categories: music as a social outlet, music as therapy, and music as a learning experience. This three-part analysis reveals how different motivational factors impact the practice of Irish traditional music in America as well how those motivations and the music itself affect individual identities among participants in these groups. These findings have implications for how we understand music making in settings where musical participation is not driven by the desire to enact an ethnicity, for financial gain, or in order to satisfy the expectations of others. A better understanding of why people participate in amateur traditional music groups can help us to understand the needs of those people and how music satisfies those needs and fulfills their desires.