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.
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: