Category Archives: Alumni

Drs Lingas and Antonopoulos in Romania at the Iași Byzantine Music Festival

“Vasile Alecsandri” National Theatre

During the last weekend of September 2017 Alexander Lingas and Spyridon Antonopoulos joined their colleagues in the vocal ensemble Cappella Romana for the inaugural Iași Byzantine Music Festival. The group was invited to Romania to perform its new programme of chant for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross as celebrated in the medieval rite of Hagia Sophia, a product of its participation in the research project Icons of Sound based at Stanford University.  Held before a capacity audience in the “Vasile Alecsandri” National Theatre, the concert began with hymns in Arabic and Greek sung by the choir of the Hamatoura Monastery in Lebanon. Dr Lingas also joining esteemed colleagues in the field of Byzantine music as a member of the festival’s Scientific Committee, an academic and artistic advisory board.

A video of the complete performance is available here: https://doxologia.ro/evenimente/video-concert-extraordinar-de-muzica-psaltica-la-teatrul-national-din-iasi

Alexander Lingas directs Cappella Romana in Iasi

Spyridon Antonopoulos chants with Mark Powell and David Stutz

Dr Spyridon Antonopoulos leads Psaltikon ensemble on Scandinavian tour

Psaltikon in Copenhagen

Dr Spyridon Antonopoulos, Honorary Research Fellow at City, recently led the vocal ensemble Psaltikon on a three-concert tour in Scandinavia. Psaltikon, founded by Antonopoulos in 2010, is a Boston-based vocal ensemble specializing in Byzantine chant and the music of the Eastern Mediterranean. For this tour, Psaltikon was joined by City University Reader in Music, Dr Alexander Lingas, along with Antonopoulos and six other singers. Prior to the tour, Dr Antonopoulos and Dr Lingas each gave papers at a Symposium on Religious Poetry and Performance at Uppsala University.

The tour program, entitled “Evenings Lights in Miklagård”, refers to the Scandinavian Viking name for Constantinople, the center of the world in the ninth century, when Halfdan the Viking carved his name into the parapet of the upper floor in Hagia Sophia’s southern gallery. The program explored chants which Halfdan might have heard while he inscribed his runes into Hagia Sophia’s marble. Central to the program were two kontakia, melismatic chants (whose text was originally composed in the sixth or seventh century), inscribed in the Psaltikon, the Constantinopolitan chant book for virtuoso soloists (the complementary Asmatikon contained the choral repertories). The kontakia were transcribed from a fourteenth century by the renowned musicologist Dr Ioannis Arvanitis, while the rest of the program editions were prepared by Dr Antonopoulos.

The tour’s first venue was the famous anatomical theater of the Museum Gustavianum. The ensemble then sang a concert for an audience of over 100 at Sofia Kyrka in Stockholm, before embarking on a five hour train through the Swedish woodlands to Copenhagen, where they were treated to a tour of the collections at the Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae, led by Dr Christian Troeslgård.

 

The MMB, founded in the 1930s at the University of Copenhagen, is one of the most important research institutes for Byzantine musicology. The tour closed with a concert in the beautiful acoustic of St. Thomas in the Frederiksburg neighborhood of Copenhagen.

Almuni News: Rachel Cunniffe at Songlines Magazine

In September I waved a sad goodbye to City as I handed in the final piece of work for my MA Music course. In the weeks that followed I was lucky enough to step into an internship at the acclaimed Songlines magazine. Focused on world music, the magazine covers musical traditions, artists, news, reviews and more, and the team in South London have been an absolute pleasure to work with.

Following a tour of the Mark Allen offices and a hearty attempt at remembering everyone’s names, I was quickly given a number of interesting projects to begin. Tasks have included communicating with PR contacts and artists, gaining experience with magazine layout software, sitting in on editorial meetings and offering an initial verdict on CDs sent in for review. Much to my excitement, by my fourth day I was writing copy for the magazine, researching ideas for news as well as sub-editing and proofing work. I am even featured as a contributor in the Jan/Feb issue, and will have a CD review published in the following issue!

It has been fantastic to see first-hand how a magazine is run and gain some helpful and relevant experience in the industry. Each member of the team made me feel so welcome, as did Gramophone with whom Songlines share an office. My initial expectations of making coffee and photocopying were exceeded by miles, and I would recommend Songlines to anyone looking to do an internship in music journalism or publishing. Huge thanks to Laudan for recommending me for the role.

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Rachel Cunniffe, City BMus and MA Alumna

Ian Pace concerts in London, Oxford, Leuven, Prague, Basel, Lisbon, Autumn 2016 – and with City graduate Ben Smith

Department of Music Lecturer and Head of Performance Ian Pace has an active concert schedule over the course of Autumn 2016. A key focus of this is his ongoing series of recitals of the complete piano works of Michael Finnissy, to celebrate the composer’s 70th birthday year. He gave the fifth concert in the series at City on September 27th, featuring Finnissy’s complete Gershwin Arrangements and also his two Concertos for Solo Piano, one of which (No. 4 of his Piano Concertos in general) is a work of maniac virtuosity, of which Ian’s 1998 recording has previously won much acclaim. The next concert in the series takes place on Thursday October 27th, at the Picture Gallery, Egham, as part of Royal Holloway’s Finnissy at 70 Series, and will feature a range of highly diverse pieces including Kemp’s Morris, for pianist wearing Morris bells, Finnissy’s three transcriptions of Strauss-Walzer, his Hiroshige-inspired White Rain, the dance/quasi-improvisatory virtuoso work Free Setting. Further concerts in the series will take place at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, on November 7th, and 21st, at Deptford Town Hall, in association with Goldsmith’s College, on December 1st, featuring the composer’s large cycle of Verdi Transcriptions, then as part of a two-day Finnissy event on January 19th-20th at City University, to include a complete performance of Finnissy’s five-and-a-half-hour piano work The History of Photography in Sound, which Ian premiered and subsequently recorded, and about which he has written a monographFull details of all of this landmark concert series can be read here.

finnissy-section-from-kemps-morrisMichael Finnissy, from Kemp’s Morris (1978)

 

Ian is also giving a recital at the TRANSIT festival, Leuven, on Saturday October 29th, where he has performed regularly since the inception of the festival in 2000. This concert serves in part as a tribute to the Belgian composer Luc Brewaeys, who died tragically early in 2015, and was close both to Ian and the other composers featured in the concert. The programme features posthumous world premiere of Brewaeys’ The Dale of Tranquillity, as well as new commissions from the British composer Lauren Redhead (her piece called simply For Luc Brewaeys), and Portuguese composer Patrícia de Almeida (Vacuum Corporis, for two pianos and film), as well as a repeat performance of Finnissy’s Beethoven’s Robin Adair, premiered by Ian earlier in 2016 in the York Late Music Series as a co-commission, and Brian Ferneyhough’s Quirl (2013). For the Almeida work, Ian will be joined by Ben Smith, who graduated from City’s BMus programme in 2015, having won several prizes during his study there, and with whom Ian will be recording Ferneyhough’s Sonata for Two Pianos later in the autumn. Ben is currently studying on the Master’s Programme at the Guildhall School.

luc-brewaeys

Luc Brewaeys (1959-2015)

 

The following week, on November 4th and 5th, Ian will be giving a series of special performances together with the Russian pianist Mikhail Rudy for the Foundation Beyeler in Basel of Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus in a version for two pianos by Leonid Sabaneev, together with a special light installation entitled White Point, to accompany an exhibition of the work of Der Blaue Reiter

On Tuesday November 15th, Ian will be giving a recital for the Contempuls series in Prague, featuring music of Finnissy, Horatiu Radulescu (with whom Ian worked closely, and whose last work, the Sonata No. 6 (2007) was written for him), and new premieres by Czech composer Luboš Mrkvička. He will also be giving a recital at the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa (Lisbon) on Wednesday November 23rd, with music of Radulescu, Finnissy, Ivan Moody and Patrícia de Almeida, as part of the conference Old is New: The Presence of the Past in the Music of the Presentin which he will also be giving a keynote paper on practice-as-research, drawing upon his own work, on Friday November 25th, and participating in a roundtable. 

He has also recently given a paper on ‘Between Academia and Audiences: Some Critical Reflections from a Performer-Scholar’, at the RMA Conference in London in September, and a paper on ‘Ideological Constructions of ‘Experimental Music’ and Anglo-American Nationalism in the Historiography of post-1945 Music’ at City University in October, a revised version of a paper given previously in Coventry and Glasgow.

City music alumna Zara Lim starts new post at the Philharmonia Orchestra

Zara Lim, BMus 2014 graduate

Two years on from graduating from City University’s fantastic Music Department and I find myself an employee of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and Personal Assistant to the Managing Director no less! Had someone told me while I was at university that I would be working in one of the most prestigious orchestras with a possible career in Orchestral Management ahead of me, I may have laughed it off.

I didn’t simply fall into this amazing role of course, but I did fall into the role of manager for the London City Orchestra, which was the beginning of this journey for me. The previous manager had to step down and the orchestra needed someone in the interim to take over and see that things kept running. As a recent graduate, I had plenty of time on my hands and thought that it would be a bit of fun and some good experience. Little did I know, I quite enjoyed it and two years later I’m extremely proud to be a part of the orchestra’s growth and development since its inception in 2013.

It has been a steep learning curve, with lots of incredibly proud moments and some very trying times thrown into the mix but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. While I still manage LCO, I have had a fair few other experiences that have contributed to getting me where I am today. A highlight that I will never forget (and still definitely the best 6 months of my professional life) was my time as Projects and Education Trainee with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment which showed me that I could TOTALLY do this full time and love it. Was it hard to do an unpaid internship for 6 months? Yes. Was it worth it? YES! I can’t emphasise enough how amazing an internship can be. If you find yourself in the position of being able to take one on, grab the opportunity with both hands. Not only did I meet some amazing people who I’m still in touch with, but I learned some invaluable skills – some even as basic as how to write a great CV and covering letter (after having mine constructively torn apart by my line manager, for which I am eternally grateful)!

I came out feeling like orchestral management was something  I could do with my life, should all my wilder aspirations fall through. I continued managing LCO with all the things that I had learnt and kept building on my experience. Next I undertook a placement with the John Lewis Partnership Music Society, working closely with their Managing Director, Manvinder Rattan, who is now not only a fantastic advisor but a trusted friend.

Then I tried my hand at concert administration with the wonderful young business ‘Bach to Baby’ (founded by concert pianist Miaomiao Yu) which put on concerts for little ones and their adults. It was an amazing experience to be able to see things working from more of a business perspective, and to be in closer contact with audiences and musicians. But I also found myself craving an orchestral setting once again, which led me to apply for the position at the Philharmonia (which I was stunned to have won following interviews, of which there were many)! I have already learnt so much in my role there, working closely with David Whelton, who is in the process of stepping down as Managing Director after an incredible 29 years with the orchestra. I can see the impact that he has had on countless people and organisations over the years, and am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him and the orchestra at this major milestone.

To all of the recent Music graduates at City, and those of you graduating this year, I want to say: it hasn’t entirely been plain sailing from two internships into two fantastic jobs – there have been hours and hours of job hunting, cover letter-writing, interviews and rejections, and less than thrilling retail jobs along the way to keep me afloat – but whatever you’re aiming for, don’t give up, and don’t do things that make you unhappy for too long. Stay in touch with those who help you along the way and be prepared for your aspirations to change! Good luck!

City Summer Sounds DMA Celebration Concert

On Monday 6th June, as part of the City Summer Sounds Festival, we were treated to a concert celebrating the joint City-Guildhall Doctor of Musical Arts degree, presented by 4 completed and completing DMA students, all pianists.

First established in 1992, the City University DMA was the first degree of its kind in the UK. It was re-launched in 2002 as a joint degree with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the first such collaboration between a top-rated University Music Department and an internationally-renowned Conservatoire. The programme combines performance at a professional level with research on an aspect of performance through scholarly work.

With the final students on the programme graduating in 2016, the concert was a celebration of the past 14 years. All of the music performed related to the research undertaken by the students, starting with Annie Yim who performed the first movement of Robert Schumann’s Fantasie in C major, Op. 17, which is strongly connected to her research on Brahms’ Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8a (original version). This was followed by Jennifer Lee who played pieces by Claude Debussy and Korean composer Unsuk Chin, about whose music Jennifer wrote her DMA thesis. Next, Sasha Karpeyev also performed music by Russian composer Nikolai Medtner who spent the last 15 years of his life in London and whose archive of works at the British Library Sasha studied for his DMA. The first half ended with Ben Schoeman playing works by South African composer Stefans Grové, again the focus of his doctoral research.

In the second half of the concert, the pianists came together for some duets (4 hands, 2 pianos) – Schumann’s Andante and Variations in B flat major for two pianos, Op. 46, played by Annie and Ben and the original piano duet version of Ravel’s La Valse played by Sasha and Jennifer.  The grand finale of the concert saw all 4 pianists join forces for an energetic performance of Albert Lavignac’s Galop-Marche with 8 hands, 2 pianos – a rousing end to a wonderful concert.

 

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6 June. Jennifer. Ben. Annie and Sasha

The list of DMA students/alumni since 2002 includes several well-known musical personalities who are active in the United Kingdom and abroad (here are their names in alphabetic order alongside their thesis titles):

Andrew Brownell (USA) – The English Piano in the Classical Period: Its Music, Performers and Influences

Amy Beth Guitry (USA) – The Baroque Flute as a Modern Voice: Extended Techniques and their Practical Integration through Performance and Improvisation

Clare Hammond (UK) – To Conceal or Reveal: Left-Hand Pianism with Particular Reference to Ravel’s ‘Concerto pour la main gauche’ and Britten’s ‘Diversions’

Kostis Hassiotis (Greece) – A Critical Edition of the 48 Studies for Oboe, Op. 31 by Franz Wilhelm Ferling (1796-1874)

Ja Yeon Kang (South Korea) – Robert Schumann’s Notion of the Cycle in ‘Lieder und Gesänge aus Goethes Wilhelm Meister’, Op. 98a and ‘Waldszenen’, Op. 82

Alexander Karpeyev (Russia) – New Light on Nikolay Medtner as Pianist and Teacher: The Edna Iles Medtner Collection (EIMC) at the British Library

Jennifer Lee (New Zealand) – A Study of the Korean Woman Composer, Unsuk Chin, and her Piano Études

Chenyin Li (People’s Republic of China) – Piano Performance: Strategies for Score Memorisation

Edward Pick (UK) – Tonality in Schoenberg’s Music, with Particular Reference to the Piano Concerto

Vasileios Rakitzis (Greece) – Alfred Cortot’s Response to the Music for Solo Piano of Franz Schubert: A Study in Performance Practice

Ben Schoeman (South Africa) – The Piano Works of Stefans Grové (1922-2014): A Study of Stylistic Influences, Technical Elements and Canon Formation within the South African Art Music Tradition

Antonios Sousamoglou (Greece) – An Interpretational Approach to the Violin Concerto of Nikos Skalkottas

Christopher Suckling (UK) – The Realisation of Recitative by the Cello in Handelian Opera: Current and Historical Practices

Annie Yim (Hong Kong/Canada) – A Comparative and Contextual Study of Schumann’s Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 63 and Brahms’s Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8 (1854 version): From Musical Aesthetics to Modern Performances

 

 

Debate on ‘Are we all Ethnomusicologists now?’, reports and responses

On Wednesday June 1st at City University, a public debate took place on the question ‘Are we all Ethnomusicologists now?’ Taking as a starting point Nicholas Cook’s essay ‘We Are All (Ethno)musicologists Now’, in The New (Ethno)musicologies, ed. Henry Stobart (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008), pp. 48-70), the issues were debated by Amanda Bayley (Bath Spa University)Tore Lind (University of Copenhagen), Laudan Nooshin (City University London), Ian Pace (City University London), and Michael Spitzer (University of Liverpool), and was chaired by Alexander Lingas (City University London).

 

the new (ethno)musicologies

 

The position statements provided by Nooshin and Pace have been placed online: Nooshin’s is here, and Pace’s is here. Pace is preparing a longer article on the subject, and both these protagonists may at some point respond more directly to the other’s arguments.

The debate was filmed, and this will be placed online presently. Here are two accounts/responses, from City MA Music student Rachel Cunniffe, and City graduate Ben Smith.

 

Rachel Cunniffe, Debate: ‘Are we all Ethnomusicologists Now?’

On Wednesday 1st June, as part of the music department’s year-long 40th anniversary celebrations and the City Summer Sounds Festival, the first of three public debates was held in the performance space. The motion was based upon the famous suggestion made by Nicholas Cook in 2008 that due to blurring boundaries between musicology and ethnomusicology, “we are all ethnomusicologists now.” The questioning of this assertion, accompanied by discussion of tensions which remain between the two disciplines to the present day led to an interesting and heated debate.

The event was chaired by Alexander Lingas (City University), and the panel was comprised of Amanda Bayley (Bath Spa University), Tore Lind (University of Copenhagen), Laudan Nooshin (City University), Ian Pace (City University) and Michael Spitzer (University of Liverpool). Taking to the microphone in alphabetical order, Amanda Bayley was the first speaker. She noted the importance of understanding music as a social creative practice, and the achievements of the ethnomusicological discipline in examining what music can tell us about the world through its interdisciplinary approach. Amanda also advocated Cook’s suggestion of an ‘intercultural musicology’ which would encompass a greater interaction between ethnomusicology and music history. Finally, drawing from her ethnographic study of a String Quartet rehearsal in 2011, Amanda noted how ethnographic approaches can also contribute to understanding the history of music and music pedagogy.

Tore Lind then spoke of the ways in which ethnographic results may come with a degree of unreliability, yet interaction with participants and gathering a range of views will undoubtedly provide greater insight to the topic in question. He also suggested that while he is ‘an accomplice’ in the construction of the musical realities he presents, this does not deem the work invalid or unreliable as musical knowledge is socially generated. Laudan Nooshin followed this with a discussion of the difficulties in defining ethnomusicology, its complex identity and history, and the exclusion of other sub-disciplines in music through the creation of this binary, such as music education or popular music studies. Laudan also presented some ethnographic work which had been undertaken for this debate; some participants felt the boundaries have blurred significantly though some considered prejudice and exclusion towards ethnomusicologists to remain.  She concluded by noting that many musicologists have been attracted to and utilised ethnomusicological approaches in their work, mentioned the increasing number of ethnomusicologists being hired in music education and the expanding role of ethnomusicology in the curriculum, and finally suggested that in place of criticism scholars of both disciplines should consider how elements of each discipline can enrich the other.

Next, Ian Pace discussed issues surrounding the ethnomusicology of Western Art Music, many of which will be expanded upon in a forthcoming article. He expressed concerns for the subsumation of musicology into other disciplines, as a result of the multi-disciplinary and sparsely ‘musical’ approaches of ethnomusicology. The lack of attention paid to the actual sound material in much ethnomusicological work, Ian argued, is also contributing to the deskilling of the profession and therefore questions whether the descriptive nature of this work has a place in high level scholarship. Ian also noted that ethnomusicology should not be devoid of critique for political reasons. Finally, Michael Spitzer asserted that Cook may have been optimistic in his statement, and claimed that musicology has come under attack for its ‘inadequate [analysis of] social mediation.’ To this he responded with the question, what’s wrong with formalism and the analysis of sound? Michael concluded by criticising the ‘zero-sum game’ which he claimed to still exist between ethnomusicology and musicology.

Presentations were followed by questions from the floor, which ignited much lively discussion. Passion and enthusiasm for the topic was clear, and one audience member fittingly concluded the evening by thanking the music department at City University for hosting a forum in which these issues can be discussed.

 

Ben Smith, ‘Are we all Ethnomusicologists now?’

In what was an interesting and lively evening, with a number of intriguing points brought up by the panel members, I would like to detail and comment upon the wider implications of three particular ideas which resonated strongly with me. These were: A defence of formalism from Michael Spitzer, and Ian Pace’s critique of what he called ‘musicology-without-ears’ and the implications of non-critical musicology towards Western Art Music and commercial pop music.

Anti-anti-formalism

In bemoaning the fear of formalism within ethnomusicological work, Spitzer spoke convincingly about the importance of musical analysis, outside the consideration of social or cultural context. Bringing in some Pierre Schaeffer as to how certain modes of listening can move towards bracketing out real-world elements of music (that is, the music’s sign-content, so that we may consider the ‘inside of the sound’), he said how, if we wish to move closer to a deep understanding of musical content and musical structure in-and-of-itself, we obviously must consider the object of study on its own terms. Rather than making a case for or against the possibility of total musical autonomy (and the implications of this for musical scholarship) formal music analysis can be simply seen as one crucial element of a multi-faceted toolkit required to consider a musical work in its totality. The removal of formalist approaches to musical analysis does not realise any liberal vision of negating some out-of-date approach to ‘great works’, and the opening up of the musicological discipline to consider the music of the masses, but rather only achieves in bracketing out an invaluable musicological skill.

Linked to the worrying attitude to formalism Spitzer mentioned is the unquestioned assumption that an autonomous consideration of music is impossible. It is clear where the canonic figures of ethnomusicology stand on this matter (Pace quoted John Blacking and Bruno Nettl in his talk); and that music is utterly inseparable from culture has been taken as dogma by many later writers. This received wisdom towards musical autonomy has had a grave result for the amount and quality of musical considerations proper within ethnomusicology, resulting in what Pace categorized as ‘musicology-without-ears’.

Musical Multiculturalism

In his talk, Pace touched on a number of reasons as to the disappearance of critical thought and consideration of the music itself in certain ethnomusicological writings.  One possible reason given was that western, post-colonial guilt acts as an inhibitor to critical engagement (something that becomes more troublesome – not to mention redundant – when applied to non-colonial music). This misguided liberal notion creates differing intensities of critique, depending on whether the object studied is deemed ‘elitist’ (read: Western Art Music) or ‘ethnic’ (or popular). Scholars, increasingly aware of the play of social power relations, are all too worried of the implications of appearing ‘ivory towered’ and delivering proclamations against ‘low culture’ from on high. Although I would not want to remove a needed sensitivity from academic discourse, such liberal treatment can in fact serve to patronize the so-called minority culture being studied. It suggests some cultures should not be subject to the same scrutiny as others; that there can be no universals. The over-careful handling of other musical cultures and cultural practices does them, and their practitioners, a disservice.

Writers such as Kenin Malik, Amartya Sen, and Slavoj Žižek have pointed out how the kind of multicultural liberalism described above can not only be condescending, but also paradoxically aligned with right-wing thought. Malik writes that both ideologies similarly ‘see cultures, or civilizations, as homogenous entities.  Both insist on the crucial importance of cultural identity and on the preservation of such identity. Both perceive irresolvable conflicts arising from incommensurate values.’ Žižek has said the same, but frames it in another way: Political differences become cultural differences, not to be overcome or challenged, but simply ‘tolerated’.

Alongside post-colonial guilt (or the latent racism Malik and Žižek allude to) is, I believe, a sentimental primitivism. An interesting political example of this is the figure of the ‘crying Indian’ which gained prominence in the 1970s. Essentially rehashing Romantic notions of the ‘noble savage’, this hippy trope defined Native Americans as a symbol of a ‘pure’ lost humanism, mythically connected to and in harmony with the world. In fact, studies over the last few years have shown that widespread de-forestation and the hunting-to-extinction of various animals by early Native American tribes occurred on a scale that greatly exceeded the practices of the colonial settlers. Similar primitivism in ethnomusicological work is not hard to find (here is Steven Feld on his work with the Kaluli tribe of Papua New Guinea): ‘With characteristic patience, Jubi [Feld’s native helper] was imitating calls, behavior, and nesting. Suddenly something snapped: I asked a question and Jubi blurted back, “Listen – to you they are birds, to me they are voices in the forest.”’ This primitivist aspect of ethnography also contributes to the removal of proper musical consideration, as the music itself is romanticized as well as the people creating it. The musical object is firstly deemed untouchable, and further, any element of the ‘sound itself’ which provokes a response in us is deemed ineffable. In a kind of postmodern turn back towards romanticism, the articulation of ‘how’ music works is seen as ultimately impossible to understand, and if so, why bother trying?

Malik has written extensively on the history of multiculturalism, particularly in Britain. One of his descriptions of the reasoning behind such cultural turns in left–wing thought is worth quoting at length, as it drives right at the heart of issues mentioned above:

‘To be radical today is to display disenchantment with all that is ‘Western’ — by which most mean modernism and the ideas of the Enlightenment — in the name of ‘diversity’ and ‘difference’. The modernist project of pursuing a rational, scientific understanding of the natural and social world…is now widely regarded as a dangerous fantasy, even as oppressive…In place of [a]…progressive universalism…contemporary Western societies have embraced a form of nihilistic multiculturalism.’

Putting the point even more plainly, Sen has suggested a more apt name for multiculturalism as it stands would be ‘plural monoculturalism’, since multicultural ideas and policies can serve only to increase the isolation between different people and cultures. This is precisely what so much ethnomusicological study does – in treating the studied musical culture with a patronizing reverence and refusing to delve into the substance of the music itself, it ‘others’ the culture in question even more strongly. The multicultural aim to break down the walls of musical formalism and academic elitism, actually creates a greater distance between the academic and the people studied. As Ben Watson points out: ‘replacing musicology with social anthropology (Georgina Born) or sociology (Sarah Thornton) actually drives thought and its object still further apart’. Watson extends this argument, specifically dealing with commercial pop music, by noting how the turn away from academic ‘elitism’ is not only misguided, but redolent with scholarly pitfalls:

‘In the same moment that it claims to ‘break down cultural barriers’, the sociological turn reproduces a class division between the analytical academic and the musical culture ‘out there’. Appeals to the ‘popular’ promise to solve the ‘elitism’ of classical music, but actually reproduce it. What is confusing is that the opposite of the ‘popular’ is concealed: this is because it is the very discourse employed by the analyst. Analysts may declare that they ‘really like’ the music under consideration – Abba’s ‘Fernando’ or The Adverts’ ‘One Chord Wonders’ – but they also speak a meta-language that stands above pop music and its audience. The guilt of intellectual privilege is not to be wished away by changing the object of scrutiny.’

When no serious substitute is suggested for analysis (or consideration of sound), its removal from scholarly work leaves a black hole, often filled with empty jargon, and an approach that sidesteps value judgements at all costs does nothing but allow for the unchallenged stagnation of culture. Across all scholarship, it is worrying when critical perspectives disappear, but, as mentioned above, this problem is amplified when dealing with western music, and particularly so with commercial pop music. With the latter, since the object of study lies within a market-controlled industry, studies that fail to incorporate a proper dialectical critique, can end up essentially perpetuating the hegemonic economic forces which make up in the background socio-cultural structures of such music.

Focus Group Musicology and The Pop Industry

The movement away from a so-called academic elitism shares parallels with the turn towards populist politics under Bill Clinton and New Labour in the 1990s (what Adam Curtis describes as a politics by ‘focus group’). Pace touched upon the ethnomusicological adoption of this, mentioning the long quotations from less-than-expert sources (often little more than cherry-picked vox pops) found in a lot of ethnographic work he had read, which the authors used as evidence to form scholarly conclusions.

As well as determining what people thought on various issues of the day, politics by focus group also played a part in deciding the issues themselves, that is, populism became a yardstick for measuring political importance. The same has become true in some academic work. Pace made mention of a telling quote from Nicholas Cook in this regard, in which Cook argues that musicologists should ‘study social reality as they find it’: ‘The point is not that Madonna is good or bad but that she’s there’. Surely it should be obvious that treating any object as somehow valuable simply because it exists is a worryingly regressive formulation, and blindly panders to market forces. This, deeply negative, cultural effect of combining a populist approach with the study of commercial pop music is symptomatic of a more general problem with postmodern thought. Terry Eagleton notes that: ‘Postmodernism, among other things, concerns the cherishing of cultural difference; it is therefore an irony beyond anything flaunted by its own fictions that it is now actively contributing to the remorseless cultural homogenization of the globe’.

And so, with some pop music scholarship, the structural problems of ethnomusicological study detailed above become layered with the further complication of an uncritical openness towards the objects of study. This can be coupled with (I will expand upon this below) a fetishization of musical products as commodities, which divorces them from historical context, and fails again to critique the cultural and economic forces that surround the music.

In Performing Rites, Simon Frith writes positively(!) that pop music ‘holds consumption at the moment of desire, before it is regretted’; that its ever repeating novelty has nothing to do with the recycling of commercial trends cynically employed by record companies, but simply that it is a ‘momentary diversion’ from the real world (amusingly, a search for the word ‘neoliberal’ throughout the book comes up empty). Indeed, a concluding line of Frith’s, that music allows us to ‘live in the present tense’ is a relegation of musical function to pure escapism. This is to say that the great thing about music is only that is stops us worrying – or even thinking about – our outside existence. By utterly ignoring the effect of the market on the consumer, and allowing music simply to function as ‘the negation of everyday life’, Frith misses so much of the social totality of the hegemonic culture which has such an insidious effect on the production and (trigger warning: value judgement) quality of much commercial music. Read even more unfavourably, Frith’s ‘present tense’ analogy can be equated to pure commodity fetishism (compare it with Walter Benjamin’s term Jetztzeit (now-time), used to criticise the ossified experience of commodity capitalism). This fetishization of the present in Frith creates a system of thought that cannot engage in a dialectic way with the innate temporality of history.

In another article entitled ‘What Is Bad Music?’, Frith displays his post-colonial /multicultural /postmodernist attitude proudly. Against the insinuation of his provocative title, Frith is quick to move far away from any qualitative judgement of music, writing that ‘bad’ can only be defined according to individual truths; which form part of one’s own ‘fandom’ of any particular brand of music. He describes, for instance, how some on the left decry the misogyny and homophobia of some rap music (without further comment) along with a few other examples, before shifting the focus onto how ‘badness’ is ‘performed’ differently by various musico-social groups, as if to suggest that homophobia and misogyny are concerns purely for ‘the left’ to worry about. It is precisely the kind of thinking of the ‘plural monoculturalist’ Sen and Malik describe. This is (but one example of) the kind of scholarship which sees all cultures as equal, but not all humans. Surely the inverse position is true.

 

 

AHRC Cultural Engagement researcher Andrew Pace talks about his work with a collection of British and Irish folk music

Since January – as an Arts and Humanities Research Council Cultural Engagement Fellow – I’ve been cataloguing a collection of paper files at the British Library that belonged to Peter Kennedy (1922–2006), a renowned collector of British and Irish traditional music and customs. His archive spans roughly 1600 open reel tapes (around half of which are his own field recordings), 1500 photographs and 170 boxes of correspondence and song texts – a vast collection!

Whilst trawling through Peter’s papers, I discovered a number of reports he had written in the 1950s that detail his daily activities when he was travelling the UK and Ireland recording hundreds of traditional performers, including Harry Cox, Margaret Barry, Fred Jordan and the McPeake family. I realised that these detailed reports would provide an ideal focal point for a website which would collate and contextualise all of the material from his collection that I have helped the British Library to digitise over the past few years:

www.peterkennedyarchive.org

Here, Peter’s reports can be scrolled through as interactive images, where clicking on a performer’s name reveals related sound recordings and photographs from his collection. Links to currently undigitised recordings in the Library’s catalogue are also present. This simple interface holds a large amount of information, but presents it in a way that encourages its discovery rather than relying on users navigating it by text searches.

Encouraging users to explore the collection in this way also draws attention to Peter Kennedy as a collector – a narrative that is easily lost in the impersonality of library catalogue systems, but is one which lies at the heart of this collection. As an ethnomusicologist, I find these kind of insights into Peter’s fieldwork methodologies fascinating.

However, interest in Peter’s work is not limited to academics, but extends to practicing musicians, too. It’s hoped that this site will stimulate musicians and researchers to continue to engage with his work and to explore the large amount of material that hasn’t yet made it onto my website.

Peter Kennedy Records Edgar Allington in Weeting, Suffolk, 1955

Peter Kennedy Records Edgar Allington in Weeting, Suffolk, 1955

Andrew Pace completed his BMus and MA at City University London and has recently completed a PhD in Ethnomusicology at the University of Manchester.

City Research Seminar on ‘Life Post-PhD’

On Wednesday 24th February, 2016, three City University alumni – Sini Timonen (BIMM), Laura Seddon (University of Portsmouth) and Robert Percy (Composer) – came in to discuss the paths that they have taken since completing their PhDs in the Music Department. It was an informative session for current postgraduates, and fascinating to learn how each member of the panel had charted their own course – both in and out of academia – after completing their research degrees.

As a composer, Robert balances commissioned works with lecturing, including the UG module Orchestral and Instrumental Studies at City. Through teaching experiences gained during her PhD research, Sini quickly found her way into a management role at modern music institute BIMM. Laura set up her own contemporary arts production organisation, before finding an interdisciplinary academic post for her research on gender and music, in the School of Languages at the University of Portsmouth.

Sini, Robert and Laura all agreed on a number of important aspects for planning life post-PhD. They recommended making and maintaining personal connections, as well as thinking outside the box (and outside of jobs.ac.uk) when considering employment opportunities. They all created their own events and found innovative ways to disseminate their research. Most of all, they reminded us that creative thinking and new ideas can be applied to finding your way in life after the PhD, as well as within your thesis.

Tullis Rennie, Visiting Lecturer in Composition

City Students and Alumni present at BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference 2016: ‘Disciplines in Dialogue’

The 49th Annual Music Research Students’ Conference took place in Prifysgol, Bangor University (Wales), from 6th to 8th January 2016. Usually organised by the Royal Music Association, it was for the first time this year co-organised with the British Forum for Ethnomusicology. It gathered music students from all over the UK and from overseas.

The theme of the conference was ‘Disciplines in Dialogue: a multidisciplinary conference for students involved in all kinds of music research’ and papers explored the boundaries between musicologies of various kinds.

City University MA alumna Solène Heinzl and PhD student and Visiting Lecturer Stephen Wilford attended the conference on the 7th and 8th January respectively. Solène presented a paper on ‘The Impact of Technological Communication on Filmmaker-Composer Creative Collaboration’ and Stephen Wilford spoke about the potential of the Internet as a site for ethnomusicological fieldwork as part of the ‘Fieldwork Methods’ session.

The 7th January included two very informative careers and methodologies sessions: the first on ‘How to Get Published’, sponsored by the publisher Routledge; the second on ‘Post-PhD Careers Beyond Academia’. There was also an opportunity for students to express their needs and concerns during the ‘Open Discussion of Graduate Training Needs’. The day ended with a keynote presentation by Professor Keith Howard (SOAS, University of London) entitled ‘The Future of Our Musical Pasts’. Professor Howard considered convergences and divergences between ethnomusicology and musicology and asked whether these discussions were relevant today, stressing the importance of preserving and sustaining the future of our musical pasts.

The second day of the conference included a number of panels with students presenting papers on a range of topics. These included another City BMus and MA alumnus, Andrew Pace, whose presentation focused on the role of the guitar in Maltese ghana music. Andrew traced the historical development of acoustic guitars in the local Maltese music scene, examining both the evolving design of the instruments and their role in affording status to the musicians playing them. The day also included panels on ‘Current Issues in Music in Higher Education’ (convened by the National Association for Music in Higher Education) and ‘Fieldwork Methods’ (convened by the BFE). The conference concluded with a keynote presentation (in the form of the Jerome Roche Lecture) from Professor Nanette Nielson (University of Oslo). Professor Nielson’s paper examined issues of subjectivity in relation to the role of music in film, and discussed the ways in which music is able to shape the merging subjectivities of characters and spectators.

The conference was a great success, bringing together postgraduate students and scholars with a range of musical interests. The connections formed between RMA, BFE and NAMHE members and the productive discussions that these generated, should be applauded, and hopefully augur well for the future of such joint conferences.

Solene Heinzl and Stephen Wilford

 

Professor Keith Howard’s Keynote Presentation

Ruth Glasspool (Managing Editor, Visual Arts, Music and Theatre & Performance Journals, Routledge, Left) and Professor Laura Tunbridge (Editor, Journal of the Royal Music Association, Right) - session on 'How to Get Published'

Ruth Glasspool (Managing Editor, Visual Arts, Music and Theatre & Performance Journals, Routledge, Left) and Professor Laura Tunbridge (Editor, Journal of the Royal Music Association, Right) – session on ‘How to Get Published’