The Carnivalesque and reintegration of the self: A look at how musicking and pan build inner and outer harmony

Mark Reece, 2017
Vol. 23 No. 4 ISSN 1702-3548 (online)


In this paper, I explore the idea of the carnivalesque and its relationship to the psychological concept of the reintegration of the self. As a starting point, I reviewed the literature on the carnivalesque, flow theory, participatory musicking and Turner’s theories of liminality and communitas. My research goals were to gain insight into how musicking, when rooted in the carnivalesque, leads to Bateson’s theory of the (re)integration of the self, and builds community. I took a multi-methods approach to qualitative research; it consisted of a literature review, participant observation, in person and written interviews, reflection journals, storytelling and auto-ethnographic performance. I looked at pan, musicking and the integration of the self from two perspectives: 1) What characteristics make the pan an ideal instrument to quickly achieve flow states and 2) The role of the steelpan community in carnival and its broader implications in helping individuals and communities experience the (re)integration of the self. I followed that up by exploring how musicking, pan and the carnivalesque translate in contexts outside of the panyard in the Canadian diaspora. This was done by discussing the work of Toronto-based musician Joy Lapps, who teaches pan from a community arts perspective. Finally, I took a personal look at how I put the spirit of musicking, pan, and the carnivalesque into praxis; by facilitating a participatory music collective (retro electro music collective) and performing an auto-ethnographic performance piece, Carnivallissima, Carnival is Me. I found that the carnivalesque and pan is a rich cultural expression that facilitates the reintegration of the self through connection to the community and to a deeper part of the self. Panyards are social spaces that openly invite others to be part of the musicking flow irrespective of race, class or gender. This paradigm is an expression of primary abundance, which stems from the belief of many indigenous cultures that the world is profoundly abundant. This contrasts sharply with modern western culture, which is mired in an economically driven ontology of scarcity. There is a great need to share the abundance ontology of the carnivalesque in contexts outside of its traditional borders. In Toronto, Joy Lapps is helping the Caribbean and the wider multicultural community of children, parents and families find a deeper understanding of self and the self in community through the playing of pan. I also found that musicking helped people in the panyard and in the retro electro music collective to get into the flow and experience the integration of the self by sharing food, developing self-worth, and cultivating more joy and clarity, which provided the space for a shift in perception about themselves and the world around them. The implication of this research is that musicking experiences can generate feelings of goodwill and generosity towards others. This raises the question of how we can continue to build momentum away from a scarcity ontology towards a way of being that values harmony and overflowing abundance.