This interview took place online on 13 August 2020 between City’s Head of the Department of Music, Dr Ian Pace, and BMus graduate Genevieve Arkle.
Ian Pace: I want to welcome Genevieve Arkle. Genevieve studied at City from 2011-14 on the BMus course, before going on to do a Master’s degree at King’s College, and is currently pursuing a PhD on Wagner and Mahler at Surrey University, whilst having returned in 2019-20 to teach on my Ninteenth-Century Opera module. In 2020-21, she will be teaching in the modules Music, Fascism, Communism, and Music in Culture 2.
She is Deputy Director of the Institute of Austrian and German Music Research (IAGMR). Genevieve is also a Board Member of the EDI in Music Studies Network and was recently appointed as the Leader of the PGR / ECR Network for the Gustav Mahler Research Centre founded at the University of Innsbruck
Genevieve, welcome! What are some of your most abiding memories of City from when you were an undergraduate?
Genevieve Arkle: Hi Ian! Thank you for featuring me for an interview. I think the thing I feel I enjoyed the most at City was the versatility of the education that I received. When I first started, I was convinced I was going to have a career as a performer, and City gave me the opportunity to dive head first into my performance studies. However, at the same time I took a module on ‘African American Music Studies: Gospel and Blues’ that allowed me to explore the representation of race in music, and similarly, after taking the ‘Wagner, Mahler, Schoenberg’ module I started to get a feel for the relationship between music and philosophy and musical aesthetics in general. (This module actually sparked the idea for my current PhD thesis, so I’ve got a lot of praise for that one!). So over the years I was able to look beyond performance and actually discover so many things that I was interested in that I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to explore otherwise. As for the most _lasting_ memory? It has to be the Christmas Cabarets with the Staff ‘Orchestra’ attempting Christmas Carols on instruments they couldn’t play. I loved that City offered so much community and mingling across year groups and also between staff and students.
IP: How do you feel your perspective on music changed after your three years at City?
GA: I think my perspective certainly developed over time, as I realised that (unlike A Level music courses, and other comparable exams) it was not expected of me just to repeat information that I had been taught in the lecture. I was given the creative freedom to write on things that inspired me and was encouraged to give my own perspective and substantiate that into a fully-fledged academic essay that could (maybe, one day!) influence the way in which we look at a work. I think the skills that I learned from this, independent thought, critical thinking, strong academic writing, etc. all really helped me to carve a path for myself in the industry after leaving City.
IP: How would you relate, in your own experience, studying about music to learning it as a performer?
GA: I think these two things are, in many ways, inseparable entities. My passion for Gustav Mahler’s music came primarily from performing it, after being invited to sing in the chorus for Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, and also doing a few choral arrangements of some Rückert-Lieder. The performances moved me so much that I wanted to understand what it was about that music that made me love it so much. I also think its essential that performers learn where their music comes from so they can perform it with more historical awareness and understanding. So much of music is written in response to something that was happening in the wider context of their society (or politics, or personal relationships, (the gossipy composer stories are endless!)) and all of that is essential to understand in order to tell the ‘story’ of the piece well when you play it.
IP: You have continued to pursue an academic career, and today you stand on the ‘other side’ from where you were as a student – now teaching some of the types of things you were then learning! How does this sort of perspective affect how you look back on your time as an undergraduate?
GA: Ha, well it was certainly a bit unnerving at first! After spending three years at City as a student listening to many distinguished lecturers teach me, being the person _behind_ the podium for the first time was a bit of a shock! But it has been an incredibly valuable experience that enables me to reflect and work out how I can do better and help my students to achieve their best. Standing on the other side now, I wish my undergraduate self had sometimes spoken up more in lectures and shared my views (nothing kills a lecture like a tumbleweed moment after the lecturer asks a question, folks!). I think I used to worry about getting the answer ‘wrong’ to something, and what I’m realising now is that it’s all about facilitating discussion and engagement and that we WANT to hear your thoughts and perspectives even if they seem wrong or silly. Because that’s how you learn, and that’s what sparks new conversations and ideas.
IP: From your experiences of teaching at City and elsewhere, have you found that many think of study in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ views on things? If so, why might that be?
GA: I think at earlier stages of learning (in school / college) we are all taught in a way that encourages repetition of ideas rather than creative thinking. And from teaching first year undergraduates I have found that it’s a real learning curve for them when they realise that there are no wrong answers and that we need to embrace subjectivity. Also, I think of utmost importance is realising that you don’t have to like a piece of music to have a valuable view. If you hate something, that’s all the better for discussion, because it’s great to think about why you have such a response to it. Although not with university students, I had a fantastic encounter with a young girl in one of my secondary school music workshops who told me that she hated classical music and refused to participate. The task I set for them was to listen to the piece and jot down what it made them think of and what associations the piece might have (a very early introduction to Topic Theory). When I played the third movement of Mahler’s First Symphony (a slow, macabre funeral procession to the tune of ‘Frère Jacques’) she refused to participate, claiming “I don’t get it. This is a waste of time. It’s awful and depressing and sounds like someone has died.” I told her that she was spot on, it’s a funeral march, and you could see the penny drop for her where this idea that she could have an opinion on something, that she could _hate_ something, and still get the answer ‘correct’ was really liberating for her. So I think we need to help students see that learning isn’t black and white, and that their thoughts and views are valuable.
IP: You have also done a lot of work to do with Equality, Diversity, Inclusion in Music Education. Could you tell us a bit more about this, and some of the most important challenges in these respects, in your view?
GA: Yes, so I’m of black-mixed heritage, and I’ve always found music studies (particularly within academia) to be a very white dominated field. I decided to speak out on this for the first time earlier this year at a conference where I discussed Black and Black Mixed representation in Music Higher Education. Through my research, I learned that only 0.7% of individuals (across all subjects and departments in the UK) in senior academic are black, in contrast to 93% white. I was just at a loss for words and decided I wanted to be a part of the change and help make music higher education a more inclusive and welcoming space. So I was invited to join the EDI in Music Studies Network and I currently run all their social media platforms which aim to create online safe spaces for people to share and discuss issues concerning diversity and representation in Music. But, and perhaps more importantly, on a personal level I try to do my best to create safe spaces in my lecture rooms and to have those uncomfortable conversations with my colleagues so that the upcoming generation of students (I hope) will not feel as marginalised or unwelcome in departments. We need mentorship schemes, we need to foster diverse recruitment and get more People of Colour (PoC) in staff positions at Universities, we need community and safe spaces for PoC within their department and we need allies who are willing to use their privilege to fight for change from the inside. I am doing my best to combat this but it needs to be a collective effort, and I hope that as we all move forwards we’ll be able to create some positive and lasting change in this area. In the mean time, if any students want to chat about EDI or racial representation in Music, my (currently virtual) door is always open to listen, learn, and help in any way I can.
IP: Do you think the EDI issues relate to earlier education (at primary and secondary level) as well as at university? There are clear imbalances in those who apply for music degree courses (also significant differences in terms of gender relating to different types of courses)?
GA: Yes absolutely – this is a problem that starts far earlier on in life and I think higher education is just a symptom of this rather than the cause. Having said that, I often feel that there is a problem with visibility and PoC feeling like a department or course might not be ‘for them’ because the department has no PoC on staff or on their current student body. The same goes for gender, that there is this idea that working in tech, for example, is ‘not for women.’ We need to see more women in these fields (power to Laura Selby!) and throw these outdated gender roles in the bin!
IP: What might be any thoughts or recommendations you would want to share with those thinking of studying music as part of higher education?
GA: Do it!!! People often think that if you study music you can only go into music, and it’s so wrong. So much of what you learn on these courses can be applicable to wider career opportunities and and you develop so many transferable skills. There is so much more to studying Music that just dead composers and Bach chorales, and if you have a passion for any kind of music, just follow it and see where it takes you. If you told 18 year old me that at 27 I’d be completing a PhD in 19th-century Austro-German music and lecturing at a University I would have laughed _hard_. But I feel like passion led me here without me even realising it, as I just followed what interested me and started carving a little space for myself in this world. So my advice is just to go for it and follow your passion for music, whatever it may be!, and give it your all.
… also, please do the reading for your lectures. 😉
IP: Genevieve, thank you very much for doing this interview. Do you have any links relating to your work which you would like to share?
GA: My absolute pleasure! Thank you so much for asking me to be involved. Yes, so please feel free to give me a follow on twitter as I usually post my latest musicology ramblings and any interesting articles (mostly memes) on there: @genevievearkle
You can also check out the @EDIMusicStudies twitter for our equality, diversity and inclusion work, and here’s the website with some more info:
For those interested in Austrian and German Classical Music, you can check out our organisation, the IAGMR (Institute of Austrian and German Music Research) @iagmr_surrey and see our blog etc on our website: