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Cape Breton University
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Cape Breton University

Type of Program and Degrees Offered

Cape Breton University is a small, primarily undergraduate university located on Canada’s east coast. Cape Breton Island, regularly ranked one of the world’s most beautiful islands, is famous for its traditional musical cultures, especially Celtic, Acadian, and Mi’kmaw (First Nation). We offer Canada’s only undergraduate degree in traditional music. Our undergraduate programs in traditional music and ethnomusicology are distinct due to their tight alliance with folklore. Our music and folklore faculty have exceptionally strong research records and are highly active in the local community.

Program Statement

 CBU’s music major is offered through an innovative BA Community Studies (BACS) degree structure. The BACS degree involves a set of process-oriented, experiential core courses that prepares students for the job market. The core Community Studies courses are delivered in a small group format and focus on problem-solving, critical thinking, community based research and intervention, self-directed learning, reflective learning and work placements.

Our focus is on supporting students who are passionate about music and want to forge their own music careers. Students are required to take two work placements to develop their skills, build their resumes, and extend their career networks. Music majors have the option of minoring in business, and we offer courses such as Arts Entrepreneurship and Introduction to the Music Industry.

We specialize in traditional musics, particularly those of Atlantic Canada (including Celtic, Acadian, Eastern European, and Aboriginal musics). We also focus on “tradition-based popular musics,” such as Celtic pop/rock. Core music courses all involve musics of the world, complemented by an innovative suite of traditional music theory courses. Performance courses are taught by renowned traditional musicians from the community.

The majority of our courses are offered in English, although we do have some French-language courses and courses about musics in other languages (e.g., Scottish Gaelic song). We also offer relevant language acquisition courses, such as Scottish Gaelic, French, and Mi’kmaq.

Special Resources

 The Rotary Music Performance Room (RMPR) and Digitization Lab are state-of-the-art facilities that include an acoustically sound-proofed music room with a Steinway grand piano, a recording studio, and digitization equipment (https://www.cbu.ca/academic-programs/program/school-of-arts-and-social-sciences/resources/rotary-music-performance-room-and-digitization-lab/. Using these facilities, we have produced CDs featuring music performances and compositions by students and faculty, music collected for research purposes, and educational resources. The Lab has also produced other “digital humanities” projects, such as videos, tablet apps, and websites. The Centre for Cape Breton Studies with which the RMPR and Digitization Lab are affiliated, conducts and supports research on local cultures, offers regular workshops on various facets of Cape Breton culture, and collaborates with various local organizations to maintain and invigorate local traditions and practices.

The Centre for Sound Communities (http://soundcommunities.org/) is a world-class digital arts and humanities research lab. It fosters interdisciplinary collaboration and community engagement on sound, movement, and performance toward the exchange of knowledge and the production of creative, critical research. Both tangible and intangible research outcomes include sound and movement performance pieces, and other creative works; digitized and born-digital artifacts such as audio/visual materials such as CDs, DVDs, and documentary films; as well as publications for both academic and public audiences.

The Beaton Institute’s archives (http://www.cbu.ca/beaton), housed at Cape Breton University, is a community and university archives that specializes in the rich social, economic, cultural, religious, political, labour, industrial, environmental, and rural history of Cape Breton Island. It has documents pertaining to Cape Breton’s diverse ethnic communities, including: Acadian, British, Chinese, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Lithuanian, Mi’kmaq, Polish, Scottish, Ukrainian, and West Indian. The Beaton Institute also regularly hires students to work as research assistants, to organize and document new collections, and to digitize materials, providing students with valuable skills used by many ethnomusicologists. Students who conduct original research are encouraged to submit their essays and theses to the Beaton Institute, where there is already an excellent collection of undergraduate and graduate theses pertaining to Cape Breton musics (which, in turn, are used as course materials).

The Mi’kmaq Resource Centre (http://www.cbu.ca/mrc), also housed at Cape Breton University, collects material on Mi'kmaq and Aboriginal history, language, and culture, some of which is available online.

The CBU Library has several exceptional collections of relevance, including the Scottish Collection, the Vince MacLean Jacobite Collection, and the Gerald L. Pocius Folklore Collection, as well as a significant collection of traditional sheet music, tune collections, and audio recordings.

We encourage students to spend 1-2 terms on exchange to another institution. We have exchange agreements with institutions around the world and across North America. We are particularly proud of our exchanges with highly regarded traditional music and Gaelic language programs in Scotland, Ireland, and England.

We regularly work in partnership with community organizations and institutions, such as the Celtic Colours International Festival (https://celtic-colours.com/), The Highland Village (https://highlandvillage.novascotia.ca/), the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre (http://www.celticmusiccentre.com/), The Cape Breton Centre for Heritage and Science (http://www.oldsydney.com/cape-breton-centre-for-heritage-science/), the Centre Communautaire Étoile de l’Acadie, local museums, and others. We have a formal agreement with Colaisde na Gàidhlig (the Cape Breton Gaelic College, http://www.gaeliccollege.edu/).

We work with partners in the community to offer our undergraduate students hands-on learning opportunities, including internships, specialized training, and work placements.

Full-Time Faculty in Ethnomusicology

 McDonald, Chris. PhD (Ethnomusicology and Musicology, York University, 2003). Associate Professor, Ethnomusicology, Department of Cultural and Creative Studies. Research interests: popular music; social class; Middlebrow culture; Celtic music; Atlantic Canadian music; musical analysis; folk revival.

Ostashewski, Marcia. PhD (Ethnomusicology and Musicology, York University, 2009). Canada Research Chair in Communities and Cultures and Associate Professor, Ethnomusicology, Department of Cultural & Creative Studies. Research interests: applied ethnomusicology; music and religion; practice-based research; Indigenous and Metis studies; dance; community studies; intersectionality; gender; diaspora; and critical pedagogy.

Sparling, Heather. PhD (Ethnomusicology & Musicology, York University, 2006). Canada Research Chair in Musical Traditions and Associate Professor, Ethnomusicology, Department of Cultural & Creative Studies. Research interests: Nova Scotia Gaelic song; vernacular dance in Cape Breton; Atlantic Canadian disaster songs; language and music; genre; competitions; memorialization; memory; intersections between “folk” and popular musics. Editor of MUSICultures.

Affiliated Faculty
 Brodie, Ian. PhD (Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2009). Associate Professor, Folklore. Department of Cultural and Creative Studies. Research interests: adolescent folklife, the intersections of folklore and popular culture, and stand-up comedy. Editor of Contemporary Legend.
 Dunlay, Kate. MA (Ethnomusicology & Folklore, Indiana University, 1988). Lecturer. Department of Cultural and Creative Studies. Research interests: traditional music and dance of Atlantic Canada; Celtic music and dance; early manuscripts and publications of traditional instrumental music
Labelle, Ronald. PhD (Ethnology, Laval University, 2001). Associate Professor, French, Department of Cultural and Creative Studies. Research interests: Oral traditions of Acadians and other Francophone minorities; folktales and beliefs; life history; oral history.
MacKinnon, Richard. PhD (Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1991). Former Canada Research Chair in Intangible Cultural Heritage and Professor, Folklore, Department of Cultural and Creative Studies. Research interests: all aspects of Atlantic Canada’s culture including oral traditions, music, language, material culture and vernacular architecture. Editor of Material Culture Review.

Financial Support
 Cape Breton University offers a wide array of scholarships for undergraduate students in any program (http://www.cbu.ca/scholarships), as well as scholarships aimed primarily at students studying music (e.g., the Rita MacNeil Music Scholarship) and in particular cultural areas (e.g., Celtic Studies, Indigenous Studies, etc.).

Further Information

Dr. Heather Sparling
Canada Research Chair in Musical Traditions
Associate Professor, Ethnomusicology

Cape Breton University
PO Box 5300, 1250 Grand Lake Rd
Sydney, NS  B1P 6L2

Program Website


Related Websites

BA Community Studies (BACS): http://www.cbu.ca/academics/bacs/


The content for Cape Breton University was last updated September 29, 2017.

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