Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Composition and Performance as Research Debate – some more responses

Since the placing online of the video of the ‘Can Composition and Performance be Research?’ debate at City, there has been much response from many musicians and academic, not least in social media and on some blogs. Here are a couple of important links following those already placed online:

Composer Scott McLaughlin has written a detailed report of the event with commentary and evaluation. Ian Pace has also published two further blogs reflecting on things – one on a variety of issues here, and also a history of the 300-word statements associated with RAE/REF submissions here, the status and necessity of which has been somewhat ambiguous.

Music Department AHRC Research Funding Success

Music Department academics have secured £50,000 funding from the 10th Anniversary AHRC Cultural Engagement Fund. The scheme funds one or more collaborative projects to support the engagement of arts and humanities research with wider cultural and civic contexts.The scheme particularly seeks to fund recently completed doctoral graduates, and so aims to to support the broader career development of these graduates, particularly in relation to work with non-academic partners to support the impact of arts and humanities research. 
Professor Stephen Cottrell will work with Dr Jocelyn Howell on sources in the Boosey and Hawkes archive. The project will use 3D printer technology to provide lost or damaged component parts for older musical instruments for which such parts are no longer available.
DAlexander Lingas will work with Dr Dimitrios Skrekas to develop a study day on the teaching of Byzantine music in diaspora involving academic musicologists from the Department of Music at City University and its Erasmus partner, the Department of Music Studies of the University of Athens, members of the choir Cappella Romana, instructors and students of the School of Byzantine Music of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, and interested members of the general public. 
Dr Laudan Nooshin will work with Dr Andrew Pace and the British Library on the organisation and interpretation of the Peter Kennedy Paper Archive. Peter Kennedy was one of the most important collectors of music traditions from the British Isles. He started recording in the early 1950s, work that instigated the presentation of folk music and traditions on the BBC. In just over 50 years he amassed a collection of audio and video recordings amounting to approximately 1500 hours, plus several hundred photographs as negatives and prints and cabinets full of paperwork (correspondence, contracts with artists, etc.). 

Middle East and Central Asia Music Forum, 27th November 2015

On Friday 27th November 2015, the Music Department at City University hosted the Middle East and Central Asia Music Forum, a research event run in conjunction with the Music Department at SOAS and the Institute of Musical Research. The forum is convened by Laudan Nooshin and since 2007 has been a twice yearly meeting point for researchers, students and anyone interested in the music and culture of the region.

The forum was attended by about 50 people and speakers included both senior scholars – Professor Owen Wright (SOAS), Professor Rachel Beckles Willson (Royal Holloway) and Dr Ruth Davis (Cambridge) – alongside research students Tamara Turner and Louis Brehony  (both King’s College London), Salvatore Morra (Royal Holloway) and Saied Kordmafi (SOAS). It’s an indication of how healthy the field is that there are now so many research students working on the musics of the Middle East and Central Asia.

Topics ranged from trance music in Algeria to the Arab Idol singing contest and new directions in Iranian classical music.

The day ended with a screening of a documentary film, ‘6 Centuries and 6 Years’ (2015, dir: Mojtaba Mirtahmasb) about a project to restore and record a repertoire of compositions attributed to the highly influential Abd al-Qadir Maraghi, a prominent composer, music theorist, author and poet of the 15th century.




Composition Alumnus on Oscars Shortlist

Recent MA Composition graduate, Nico Casal, composed the score for the short film Stutterer which has made the shortlist for this year’s Academy Awards.


The film explores the challenging experiences of a young man with a severe speech impediment. The film has already been selected for nearly thirty prestigious film festivals and took home the Best Foreign Film prize from the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, the Special Jury Award at Savannah Film Festival, Best International Short Film Prize at Kerry Film Festival, the Best Drama Award at Aesthetica Short Film Festival and many more.




Composition and Performance as Research – Reflections and Responses by Ian Pace

The post below was originally published on my own blog. I reproduce it unchanged here.

Here is the video of the research seminar which took place on November 25th, 2015, on the subject of ‘Can Composition and Performance be Research?’, which featured a panel made up of Christopher Fox (Professor of Composition at Brunel University and editor of Tempo), myself (pianist and Head of Performance at City University), Miguel Mera (composer and Head of the Department of Music at City University), Annie Yim (pianist and DMA student at City University), and Camden Reeves (composer and Head of Music, University of Manchester). Christine Dysers (PhD student in Music at City University) was unable to be present due to illness, but a statement by here was read out by Sam MacKay (PhD student in Music at City University and organiser of the seminar). The session was chaired by Alexander Lingas (Undergraduate Programme Director and Reader in Music, City University). Greatest of thanks are also due to Bruno Mathez for making and editing the video.


A short article in response to the occasion has been posted at the City University Music Department blog by PhD student in music Roya Arab.

The panellists were responding to two key articles: John Croft’s ‘Composition is Not Research’, Tempo 69/272 (April 2015), pp. 6-11, and my own ‘Composition and Performance can be, and often have been, Research’Tempo 70/275 (January 2016), pp. 60-70. As of this week, Camden Reeves’ article ‘Composition, Research and Pseudo-Science: A Response to John Croft’, Tempo 70/275 (January 2016), pp. 50-59, and Croft’s reply to Reeves and myself, ‘Composition, Research and Ways of Talking’, Tempo 70/275 (January 2016), pp. 71-77, have been published – these are not yet available via open access, but can be downloaded from Tempo for those with access to this.

Here I wanted to summarise the arguments I presented at the forum, and also respond to some of Croft’s response. Some of my thinking has moved on a little from the positions I outlined in my Tempo article (which I acknowledge may contain some inner contradictions or inconsistencies), but the majority of positions presented there are ones I continue to uphold.

The debate has been dominated by the issue of whether composition can be research, with much less attention given to performance; I would like to redress that balance. I believe that it is tacitly accepted that a musical composition is likely to qualify as some type of research much more than is the case for musical performances and recordings. This is reflected in the relative numbers of composers and performers employed in academic positions in universities. I have compiled some approximate figures for the situation as it exists in autumn 2015, in large measure using data derived from departments’ own websites. These figures are slightly modified and checked from those given at the seminar – if anyone notices any other omissions or major errors, do let me know and I will make the appropriate corrections.

There are 53 departments offering various types of music or music-related degree, excluding the ten UK conservatoires, in which the status of composition and performance is of a different nature. These are as follows:

Russell Group (19): King’s College and Queen Mary, University of London; Birmingham; Bristol; Cambridge; Durham; Leeds; Liverpool; Manchester; Newcastle; Nottingham; Oxford; Sheffield; Southampton; York; Cardiff; Edinburgh; Glasgow; Queen’s University, Belfast.
Mid-ranking Institutions (‘Other’) (13): Royal Holloway and Goldsmith’s Colleges, and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; City University; Brunel; Hull; Keele; Open University; Salford; Surrey; Sussex; Bangor; Aberdeen
Post-1992 Institutions (received university status after 1992) (21): West London; East London; London Metropolitan; Westminster; Middlesex; Kingston; Anglia Ruskin; Bath Spa; Brighton; Canterbury Christ Church; Chichester; De Montfort; Falmouth; Hertfordshire; Huddersfield; Liverpool Hope; Oxford Brookes; Winchester; Wolverhampton; Edinburgh Napier; Ulster

I have looked only composers and performers employed in academic positions (i.e. integrated into the academic career structure from Lecturer to Professor) at these institutions. On the basis of research outputs, I have counted those composers and/or performers who have also produced a fair number of written outputs as being ‘0.5’s for the purposes of counting. I have counted only university (not college) appointments at Oxford and Cambridge. By this method, I arrive at the following figures:

All Universities
Total Staff: 691
Composers: 198 (28.7%)
Performers: 76 (11%)
Practitioners: 274 (39.7%)

Russell Group
Total Staff: 318
Composers: 89.5 (28.1%)
Performers: 21 (6.6%)
Practitioners: 110.5 (34.7%)

Mid-Ranking Institutions
Total Staff: 160
Composers: 45.5 (28.4%)
Performers: 13 (8.1%)
Practitioners: 58.5 (36.5%)

Post-1992 Institutions
Total Staff: 213
Composers: 63 (29.6%)
Performers: 42 (19.7%)
Practitioners: 105 (49.3%)

Thus there is a ratio of around 4.3:1 of composers to performers at Russell Group institutions, 3.5:1 at mid-ranking institutions, but 3:2 for post-1992 institutions. Performance is clearly less regularly valued as an academic field of study in the more prestige institutions, compared to composition (where the representation is very similar across the sector).

There is a highly sophisticated debate (and concomitant outputs) on practice-as-research in fields such as theatre and dance (my own former institution, Dartington College of Arts, were at the forefront of this). The apparently clear distinction between ‘creative’ and ‘professional’ practice mentioned by Mera in the seminar is however far from clear-cut; it is widely debated and problematized in critical literature, rarely defined clearly, and some departments elide the distinction by using concepts such as ‘Creative Professional Practice’. In comparison to all of this, the debate in music has been rather elementary. Composition has been an accepted academic field for a long time, like fine art and drama; but changes in the RAE/REF in the mid-1990s, allowing the submission of practice-based outputs, forced a re-thinking of this. It is in this context that more fundamental questions about the status of composition and performance in academia have come to the fore, as they have had to consider the types of issues and paradigms developed in other practice-centered disciplines.

I believe that practically all composition and performance are research in some sense; in the case of musical performance the following would be some of the types of research questions that any performer has to answer in order to play a piece of music:

  • Which tempi should be used for various large-scale sections of the score in question?
  • How much flexibility should be employed within these broad tempi?
  • On a smaller scale, what forms of stylisation and elasticity would be most appropriate for playing various types of rhythms?
  • Through various combinations of accentuation, articulation and rhythm, to what extent, and where, should one tend towards continuity of line, or more angular approaches?
  • In polyphonic or contrapuntal textures, to what extent should one be aiming to project a singular voice which is foregrounded above others, or a greater degree of dynamic equilibrium between parts
  • Should one aim for a singular prominent climactic point within a movement, or can there be several of roughly equal prominence?

I could continue with many more; what is important is that by articulating them in this fashion I am not simply making explicit what might as well remain implicit in the acts of musical preparation and performance, but also underlining the fact of their being choices in various respects, not necessarily something which all performers acknowledge (inwardly or outwardly) or act upon. ‘Gigging’ performers, or those who value primarily ‘intuitive’ approaches, might be amongst those less likely to be concerned about the possibilities of rational choices in the process of preparing a performance or recording.

But even if most practice is a type of research, there remain different levels of which such research is conducted – though this is equally true of written work. The question of ‘is X research?’ is banal and inconsequential; what matters is how we determine equivalence of quality between different manifestations of research. We should be wary of over-rating either practice-based or written work which entails a fraction of the thought, prior skills, time and rigour of the most intensive types of research, and ensure a critical research culture exists amongst practitioners if musical institutions are to be more than dressed-up low level conservatoires.

The possibilities for peer review of work whose output is in the form of practice have not been sufficiently explored, and I propose we need a ‘space’, equivalent to a journal, for reviewing and then either publishing (where outputs can be placed online), or simply detailing and drawing attention to (where outputs are copyrighted elsewhere) creative work. I would welcome any communications from others who might be interested in trying to set such a thing up.

Various participants in the seminar appeared to assume that I did not believe that practice could be research unless accompanied by a written component. This is by no means my belief; rather I have questioned whether some relatively unreflective practice should be considered equivalent to more traditional forms of research, but would again emphasise that these questions also apply to some types of written output. Mera pointed out my comments on popular and cultural studies, in which fields I find great variety of quality, and suggested this is true of much work on contemporary music too: I would wholeheartedly agree, and have argued as much on this blog, as well as in various book reviews and review-articles which have appeared recently (as in my extended study of critical reception of Brian Ferneyhough, in which I have given a harsh view of hagiographical writing).

I wish to add a few comments on some points made by Croft in his response to my article. There are many problems with this response and ways in which I believe he misrepresents various of the figures he critiques, but I will limit myself here to his responses to my article. Croft writes the following:

The distinction at work here, loosely put, is between discovery and invention. Before my critics leap on this statement with accusations of essentialism or definition-mania, let me repeat that an attempt to characterise something is not an essentialising move – it is, however, an attempt to get at a fundamental difference between two types of activity: describing and presenting; making and finding out; or, in Aristotelian terms, poiēsis and epistēmē. It’s hardly a new idea, and deserves more than the breezy dismissal it receives, both from Reeves and from Ian Pace in his response. Einstein was not just ‘making something’. He was describing the world. A composer, on the other hand, is making an addition to the world that is not primarily descriptive. (And no, not like a smartphone or a blancmange.)

Smartphones and blancmanges aside (why are they so fundamentally different to musical composition in terms of their relationship to description?), I do not accept that either Reeves’ response nor my own entail a ‘breezy dismissal’; in my own case I dispute how clear-cut is the dichotomy presented by Croft. He goes on to locate cases within literature on practice-as-research which themselves frame the concept of research so as to include creative practice, with which I would agree. The following is the definition of research supplied by the REF:

1. For the purposes of the REF, research is defined as a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared.
2. It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce, industry, and to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, artefacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design and construction. It excludes routine testing and routine analysis of materials, components and processes such as for the maintenance of national standards, as distinct from the development of new analytical techniques. It also excludes the development of teaching materials that do not embody original research.
3. It includes research that is published, disseminated or made publicly available in the form of assessable research outputs, and confidential reports (as defined at paragraph 115 in Part 3, Section 2). (p. 48)

I do not know why Croft is resistant to this type of highly inclusive definition, though suspect (as indicated in my Tempo article) that this reflects an analytical/positivist philosophical bent rather than the more synthetic and idealistic attitude which I find more enlightening. Research does not merely describe the world, but can create new forms of perception and experience, such as are fundamental to artistic creation. One does not have to be a postmodern relativist (I am certainly not) to see that research can shape rather than merely identify reality. Composition does not come from nowhere, and all music is produced and heard in relation to other music and sonic phenomena; to treat musical creation independently of reference (whether or not willed by the composer) is in my view simplistic. Croft goes on to conclude:

This is not the place to launch a critique of STS [Science and Technology Studies], but I do think practice-as-research is in trouble if it depends on a view of science that confuses ideas and things so profoundly. However, Pace seems to espouse a version of this view in his suggestion that, if Einstein had not come up with relativity, someone else might have come up with an ‘entirely different paradigm’ instead. Most physicists would find this idea absurd.  (p. 75)

The above relies on a flagrant misquotation; in my Tempo article I wrote the following:

It is by no means necessarily true that, as Croft says ‘if Einstein had not existed, someone else would have come up with Relativity’; someone might have come up with a quite different, but equally influential paradigm. (p. 68)

Nowhere here or elsewhere in the article do I use the phrase ‘entirely different paradigm’. The point is that ‘Relativity’ is not itself the phenomena being identified, but a scientific model use to give shape to external phenomena. I will leave it to others to debate whether this was the only possible model which could have been used, or for that matter whether this model will always remain undisputed in the future.

Croft also writes:

Pace, at one point, agrees that composition is ‘not intrinsically research’, but that it might entail various activities that are research. If this is his view, we do not disagree; this is exactly what I said in my original article. But at another point he states that ‘research’ is just a word for what composers have always been doing, except for the additional requirement of supporting text. One interpretation of this might be that composition is research, and the text simply points out how – but this would contradict the earlier statement that composition is not intrinsically research. Another would be that composition is not research until turned into research by the text. This certainly doesn’t square with our usual use of the word ‘research’. You could, in principle, do scientific, literary or historical research without writing anything down. Moreover, if documentation can turn non-research into research, this undermines the ‘material thinking’ justification for practice-as-research: if we take this line seriously, then compositional knowledge-how would not be amenable to translation into knowledge-that. This is a far cry from Pace’s insistence on ‘explicit articulation to facilitate integration into academic structures’. (p. 76)

And furthermore:

Pace seems to think that without such an accompanying text, composing becomes merely a matter of composers composing ‘in the way they always have done’. This points, perhaps, to a tendency to dismiss any idea of a domain of irreducible non-conceptual thought as some kind of romantic fantasy of ineffability. I have no problem with ‘opening a window’ on the compositional process, but when this is anything but superficial, it is often poetic and rarely in the language of aims and objectives; nor is it a matter of ‘making explicit’ for the purposes of ‘integration’, as Pace puts it. Amenability to such language does not turn something into research, as we have seen; but in any case, much of what makes music meaningful is generally resistant to such ‘integration’. (p. 77)

Here is what I wrote:

Croft’s basic formulation that composition is not intrinsically research is one I accept in this naked form, and I would say the same about performance. But both are outputs, which can entail a good deal of research. A new type of blancmange or smartphone may not themselves be intrinsically research either (nor, as Lauren Redhead vitally points out, is writing), but few would have a problem seeing them as valid research-based outputs. (p. 64)

All I am arguing there is that an output is not itself research but the product of research. Croft could as easily read the above as saying that writing is not research, and dismiss all attempts to produce written articles and books, as he uses it to suggest that I am supporting his position. Another passage to which he refers is:

Unlike Croft, I believe that composition-as-research, and performance-as-research (and performance-based research) are real activities; the terms themselves are just new ways to describe what has gone on earlier, with the addition of a demand for explicit articulation to facilitate integration into academic structures. (p. 70)

This needs to be read in the context of these previous statements:

Ultimately his [Croft’s] model of research seems to require a particular type of conceptually based knowledge which can be communicated verbally, which I find too narrow. (p. 64)

What is being asked, not unfairly, of a composer employed in a research-intensive university is that at the least they verbally articulate the questions, issues, aims and objectives, and stages of compositional activity, to open a window onto the process and offer the potential of use to others. As a performer I am happy to do this (and wish more performers would do so) and I do not see why it should be a problem for composers too (the argument that this is unnecessary, as all of this can be communicated solely through the work itself, is one I find too utopian). (p. 67)

Nor does musical practice become research simply by virtue of being accompanied by a programme note, which funding and other committees can look at while ignoring the practical work. (p. 69)

I am a bit more reticent about the second of these statements now than when I wrote the article. The point here was a pragmatic one, which might be somewhat at odds with the sentiments elsewhere. Documenting process can surely do no harm, and indeed do a lot of good in terms of clarifying and facilitating the dissemination of research, but on the other hand one should not necessarily privilege written outputs in this respect, as I said in the talk. But this does not contradict my basic view that practice can be research independently of any written element, in strong distinction to the position Croft (and at first Mera) appear to attribute to me. Documentation does not make something research, just help a little with making research more accessible. 300 word statements hardly seem a huge price to pay, though I remain somewhat in two minds about this point.

I also wrote:

Composers may wish to be paid a salary to compose or perform in the way they always have done, but perhaps they would then be better employed on a teaching contract for composition with the recognition and remuneration for their composition or performance coming from elsewhere. (p. 67)

All I am saying here is that composers should not automatically assume they are high-level academics, any more than should those who write articles and book chapters. It hardly seems so unfair that they are held to research standards just like other types of academics.

Croft takes further exception to my arguments here:

Pace’s suggestion that composition is somehow a less demanding activity for an academic to undertake, and that it needs the words to make up the difference, hardly warrants a response and has no bearing on the question at hand. (pp. 76-7)

I wrote:

I have some doubts as to whether some composition- and performance- based PhDs, especially those not even requiring a written component, are really equivalent in terms of effort, depth and rigour with the more conventional types. (p. 69)

This is the same point as I made about composers expecting to have to put in no extra effort when working in universities. But Croft neglects my qualifier ‘some’. I have certainly seen some other PhDs which are absolutely on a par with more conventional types, just believe these are not always typical.

I end with my fundamental point: trying to provide very exclusive definitions of ‘research’ is fruitless; what is needed is to find equitable ways of assessing composition, performance, written and other types of outputs in ways which do not put any work at a disadvantage simply because of the form of the output.


‘Can Composition and Performance be Research?’ – Video of research seminar, November 25, 2015, and reflections by Roya Arab

On Wednesday November 25th, 2015, a research seminar took place at City on the question ‘Can Composition and Performance be Research?’, featuring speakers from amongst City faculty and research students, and from the wider academic community. Below is a video of the event, and some reflections and commentary by City PhD student Roya Arab.

Reflecting on a panel discussion on John Croft’s article at City University, Nov 2015

Scholars, students and practitioners gathered in the performance space of City University, Wednesday 25th November, to hear various takes on John Croft’s article ‘Composition is Not Research’ in Tempo’s April 2015 edition. Convened by Alexander Lingas, the panellists included Christopher Fox (Professor of Composition at Brunel University and editor of Tempo); Ian Pace (pianist and Head of Performance at City University); Miguel Mera (composer and Head of the Department of Music at City University); Camden Reeves (composer and Senior Lecturer at Manchester University); Annie Yim (pianist and DMA student at City University); Christine Dysers (PhD student in Music at City University). The absence of John Croft or Piers Halliwell (who had written ‘Treating Composers as Researchers is Bonkers’, May 2014) was felt.

Professor Fox opened the discussion with some background to Croft’s piece, having first heard his ideas at the Duke of Cambridge pub, after which he had encouraged him to write his thoughts down – the article was well received by Tempo’s editor Bob Gilmore, who sadly passed away before the edition’s highly accessed, and responded to, publication. Fox further informed us of how York University’s music department, at its inception in the 1960s, was filled by the director Wilfred Mellers ‘all with composers’, how they got students, liked them and to keep them in further studies ‘had to invent a compositional research degree’. Fifty years on from the genesis of such research – by the mid-eighties one of its manifestation being ‘composition as research’ – John Croft’s article has raised a few heckles, questioning the validity of composition as research, its ability to further knowledge in composition and possible misapplications within the discipline to name a few of the gripes. Ian Pace in his written response (Nov 2015) broadened the topic by looking at practical institutional funding and structural changes, development and uses of ‘practice as research’ within other creative disciplines and in other countries then going further to posit ‘performance as practice’ into the discourse and championing the potential for new kinds of practice. Luk Vaes highlighted the issue of changes in REF terminology requiring the arts to conform to the scientific model and the absence of solutions. He suggested looking at the EU where the dichotomy between academic and artistic training is being dissolved (Vaes, 2015). David Pocknee in his written response questions Craft’s presumption of a fixed methodology in scientific research, which he dispels as a ‘myth’ and ‘not the actual way in which science is conducted’ (2015, 16) instead suggesting the need for new theories and paradigms for ‘extraordinary science’ (ibid, p19).

During the panel discussion which was recorded, Miguel Mera reminded us these debates were not new especially in other disciplines, he questioned the stem based understanding of research and suggested the need for equivalence, ‘to share what we do…to share knowledge’ however ‘ hard it is to measure’; whilst Camden Reeves considers it ‘up to us to decide …..what we value as intellectual pursuit is research’, he feels composition is ‘coming under attack’ with a move to segregate composition into research and not research and expressed reluctance for providing written explanations, believing the work (composition) speaks for itself. The students on the panel welcomed the debates around the subject.

As a new student to musicology (having previously studied archaeology), I read some of the articles relating to the subject prior to the panel discussion. During the discussion and in the articles I had read, there was a notable absence of attempts to locate possible ‘scientific’ lines of enquiry, using quantitative analysis to help inform the debate. As I commented on Luk Vaes’s blog on Croft’s article (Vaes, June 2015), since funding for practice as research “dates back to mid-1980 in the UK, would it not be pertinent to list the research projects that have garnered funding and study the outcomes in order to establish ‘stock of knowledge’ (as outlined by REF) these research projects may have added to or enhanced…. Maybe a call out to relevant educational institutions to send lists of PhDs awarded in the fields of ‘musical composition and/or performance as research 1980-2010’. Once the list is established and presuming the PhD studies contain a hypothesis/question, then the abstract, musical text and/or performance (if accessible) should contain the findings and sufficient time has passed to detect applicable knowledge and impact on musical discourse and/or practice”. Such a study would additionally allow an overview of who is being paid for what, when and where, thus providing a useful database for multiple levels and angles of enquiry. Equally, I wonder how many composers and performers are creating (researching) works (findings), which further knowledge and have impact, without operating within educational institutions and seeking funding for research?

On the blog (ibid) Luk raised reservations about the disputed fundamental terminology within musicology. I responded that “grappling with terminology to situate the discipline more firmly in a hard-science biased academic/institutional framework seems to blight most social sciences and art, compounded by the phenomenological, dynamic and in part inexplicable reality of music. The fundamental terminology is something musicologists might sort out once they feel more confident in an ever evolving discipline with sub disciplines likely to increase as music leads us a merry dance, whilst the paymasters’ budgets decrease”.

We can never overcome the reality that a scientific fact like homeostasis, a term first coined in 1865, which is the control of internal conditions, be it temperature, specific blood conditions or other variables within living organisms (Turtle, 2015) has a constancy and applicability of use that no treatise on composition or performance could ever have. There are far too many unquantifiable and unqualifiable variables in composition and performance (not least reception in all its forms – by academics, critics, musicologists, institutions, funding bodies, music industry, trend setters and the general public) to allow for ‘a system’ to be taught affectively. Yes, much of science comes from lucky chance, but once decoded it can be repeated. For a start, one would wish for performance and composition to not be so prescriptive but nevertheless, people do teach thousands of composers and performers systems that have been deciphered and interpreted through long-term study and analysis of music and musicians, but how many end up being good performers or composers and how many of those get ‘discovered’ or paid in their lifetime for their works? (clearly ‘good’ is a relative word but there must be some general consensus that people can agree on). Once you teach a human biologist about the fundamental theories and practical applications of homeostasis, they apply it time and time again – it’s good every time because it works every time.

There is no escaping the problem of ever diminishing funds within educational institutions and from funding bodies for creative research and study. I personally believe social and creative disciplines need to get over their feelings of inferiority to the hard sciences and in the case of the debates surrounding ‘composition and performance as research’ there seems to be a need for a concentrated effort to establish clearer parameters for presenting ideas within the academic structure and examining output in a systematic manner, strengthening the discipline’s position to affect change within educational institutes for expanding the research remit, through providing good examples. This I am guessing would take a more honest, reflexive and nuanced understanding, acceptance and treatment of the challenges, constraints and freedoms that studying/practising music within educational institutional frameworks pose.


City University Research Forum, 25 Nov 2015.
Croft, J., Apr 2015 ‘Composition is not Research’, Tempo 69/272.
Halliwell, P., 2015. ‘Treating Composers as Researchers is Bonkers’. Standpoint Magazine May 2014.
Pace, I., 2016, ‘Composition and Performance can be, and often have been, Research’, Tempo 70/275.

City Middle Eastern Music Ensemble at the Youth Proms

On Monday 23rd November, City’s Middle Eastern Music Ensemble performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Music for Youth Proms, joining the Cornwall Youth Orchestra, 47 junior violinists from Cornwall and Northamptonshire and four narrators. They performed ‘Prince Zal and the Simorgh’, a piece for orchestra and Iranian instruments composed by David Bruce in 2012 and commissioned by City University London and the London Philharmonic Orchestra as part a larger outreach project introducing young people to Iranian music and culture. The project grew out of Laudan Nooshin‘s ethnomusicological research into Iranian music, which has facilitated access to and understanding of the country’s art and culture in Britain and around the world.

Laudan explained that the piece is based on a story from the Iranian epic poem The Shahnameh (‘Book of Kings’) written about 1,000 years ago by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (940-1020). The story tells of Prince Zal: born albino and abandoned as a baby, Zal is found and raised by the magical and wise Simorgh bird; many years later he is reconciled with his family and returns triumphantly as the new king. She said: “With its many topical themes of tolerance and forgiveness, this story proved a wonderfully rich source for use with British youth. In particular, the piece offers a more positive image and understanding of Iran – its people, culture and history – to the young people performing and hearing it than they might normally experience through the media and other kinds of representation.”

A chance discussion led to Prince Zal being chosen by Cornwall Youth Orchestra for a performance at the National Festival of Music for Youth in Birmingham in July 2015, following which the piece was selected for the Youth Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. The orchestra was joined by members of City University’s Middle Eastern Music Ensemble who played various Iranian percussion instruments and with first year BMus student Antonios Rousounelos as soloist. The concert was a great experience for the City students.

Music for Youth is a national music education charity providing free access to performance and audience opportunities for young musicians across the UK. The charity’s proms saw 3,000 of the country’s brightest young musicians take to the stage over three nights at the Royal Albert Hall, between 23rd and 25th November, 2015.







PhD Alumni News from Mark Porter

Mark Porter, who completed his doctorate at City in 2014, has been awarded postdoctoral funding to pursue research at the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies in Erfurt, Germany. His project, entitled “Axes of Resonance in Christian Congregational Music”, builds on the work of Hartmut Rosa, Jean-Luc Nancy and Veit Erlmann, among others, in order to explore sonic and social concepts of resonance in relation to congregational singing. Mark is interested, in particular, in the potential for concepts of resonance to supplement ideas of authenticity, which has become an increasingly stretched analytical category in recent writing, and for research on congregational music to help to explore conceptual travelling between metaphorical and literal usages of ‘resonance’ in the literature. He is the first musicologist to be accepted at Max Weber, and whilst there he will engage in interdisciplinary dialogue with scholars from a wide range of contemporary and historical areas of social and cultural enquiry.

Since graduating, Mark has obtained a book contract with Ashgate publishing in order to publish his doctoral research in monograph format. The book, entitled “Contemporary Worship Music and Everyday Musical Lives” is due out in 2016 and will appear in Ashgate’s Congregational Music Studies series. An article focusing on Mark’s investigation of marginal musical spaces at St Aldates, Oxford, meanwhile, has also been accepted for publication in the Journal of Contemporary Religion. His previous article “The Developing Field of Christian Congregational Music Studies”, published in the journal Ecclesial Practices, has proved remarkably popular and, since publication has received over 1,500 downloads.

Mark has continued to be active in organising the biennial Christian congregational music: local and global perspectives conference at Cuddesdon, outside Oxford ( The conference, which met for the third time over the summer, has now become an established institution, and has even received its own entry in the Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Earlier in the year Mark also received an invitation to speak at Oxford University’s Music and Theology seminar on the relationship between ethnomusicology and theology – a paper he hopes to work up for publication over the course of the next year.


West Africa at The British Library – A Personal Experience

Peter Morrell, First Year BMus Student

On Tuesday 3rd November 2015, the first year BMus students visited the British Library exhibition: ‘West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song.’ This was an illustrated history of how song and dance has been formed in West Africa. It also told us how the musical language generated in certain regions of West Africa has spread to and informed music in other parts of the world; it showed this across a broad historical chronology.

We were presented with a display of many different musical threads, all of them connected to West Africa. For instance, a history of ritual was told by some artefacts connected to tribal dances and religious ceremony, different types of drum and some costumes. Another thread told the varied stories of how men and women have interacted with music differently, for example with different roles in carnival dance teams; and also how gender narratives are being told by the British Library to its London-based audience of tourists, visitors and scholars. I have a recently-awakened interest in the origins of jazz and blues music. Parts of this exhibition told the story of African slaves and what interested me most was to see how, in the face of diaspora, the slaves kept their identity thanks to song. Listening to the music through headsets in the exhibition was fun!

After an hour and a half of walking around, most of the class could be discovered on cushions in the reading corner! We looked at some of the African-generated literature on the bookshelf. I was interested to rediscover the work of Chinua Achebe, distantly reminding me of an A-Level encounter with this author and with another portrait of Africa I had studied, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Then it was time for a fascinating discussion with Janet Topp Fargion, one of the two Curators of the exhibition, who spoke to us in depth about how she had spent four years creating this exhibition. It seems a huge range of people were involved in the consultation process.

This was a really quality field trip, giving us plenty of food for thought and so inspiring for our ‘Music in Oral Cultures’ module at City.