Singing the Rite to Belong

Singing the Rite to Belong: Ritual, Music and the New Irish, by Helen Phelan

9780190672232-2This book explores the way in which singing can foster experiences of belonging through ritual performance. Based on more than two decades of ethnographic, pedagogical and musical research, it is set against the backdrop of “the new Ireland” of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Charting Ireland’s growing multiculturalism, changing patterns of migration, the diminished influence of Catholicism, and synergies between indigenous and global forms of cultural expression, it explores rights and rites of belonging in contemporary Ireland. Helen Phelan examines a range of religious, educational, civic and community-based rituals including religious rituals of new migrant communities in “borrowed” rituals spaces; baptismal rituals in the context of the Irish citizenship referendum; rituals that mythologize the core values of an educational institution; a ritual laboratory for students of singing; and community-based festivals and performances. Her investigation peels back the physiological, emotional and cultural layers of singing to illuminate how it functions as a potential agent of belonging. Each chapter engages theoretically with one of five core characteristic of singing (resonance, somatics, performance, temporality, and tacitness) in the context of particular performed rituals. Phelan offers a persuasive proposal for ritually-framed singing as a valuable and potent tool in the creation of inclusive, creative and integrated communities of belonging.


  • Offers the first treatment of the music of new ritual communities in Ireland
  • Builds a new theory based on singing and argues that these characteristics make singing a potent medium for experiences of belonging
  • Blends rich theoretical discussion with personal narrative and experience

About the Author

Helen Phelan is Professor of Arts Practice at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick. A singer and ritual studies scholar, she is an Irish Research Council recipient for her work on singing and sustained social integration with new migrant communities in Ireland over the last two decades. Her singing interests span medieval chant to contemporary ritual vocal song while her publications are primarily in the areas of ritual studies, music education philosophy and arts practice research.


Published: 01 May 2017
336 Pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
ISBN: 9780190672232