Do You Research Scottish Music? Here’s the Musica Scotica CFP!

Musica Scotica – Tenth Annual Conference

Sat 25th – Sun 26th April 2015

St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art

2 Castle Street, Glasgow G4 0RH

Call for Papers

Papers, 20 minutes in length, are invited on any aspect of Scottish music. Topics presented in previous years have included chant, Gaelic song, fiddle and bagpipe music, manuscript sources, music publishing, the Scottish diaspora, opera performance, cultural organisations, music education, sectarianism, George Thomson and Haydn, Marjory Kennedy-Fraser, Learmont Drysdale, Hamish MacCunn, James MacMillan and Sally Beamish.

There will additionally be a special session dedicated to papers relating to the history of the McEwen Memorial Concerts of Scottish Chamber Music:-

McEwen Paper Session

We invite submissions for a paper session featuring topics that in some way relate to the history of the McEwen Memorial Concerts of Scottish Chamber Music. The McEwen Commission has supported the commissioning and performance of contemporary art music in Scotland since 1955. A commission is awarded annually to a composer of Scottish birth, descent or residency. Early recipients of the commission include Ian Whyte, Cedric Thorpe Davie, Robert Crawford, and Thea Musgrave. More recently, works have been commissioned from John Maxwell Geddes, James MacMillan, Judith Weir, and David Fennessy. The McEwen bequest has yielded a substantial body of chamber pieces since the first award in 1955, and this collection continues to grow. A list of previously commissioned pieces dating back to 1955, as well as further information about the concerts can be found at

We are interested in papers that in some way relate to the history of the McEwen Chamber Music concerts. Papers may focus either on specific pieces that were commissioned, or on the work more generally of composers who have befitted from the McEwen Bequest over the years. Most importantly, we are interested in papers that aim to stimulate interest in and discussion around contemporary music in Scotland.

Please submit an abstract (250 words) as a Word document or rtf file by Saturday 28th February 2015 (specifying if you wish specifically to give a paper for the McEwen session), to:-

Dr Karen McAulay

You will be notified by mid-March 2015 if your abstract has been accepted.

A poster session may be included; delegates are invited to indicate whether they would be interested in availing themselves of this opportunity.

Proposed conference fees

  • Full rate £40 for single day attendance, £75 for two day attendance,
  • Students and unwaged £30 for single day, £55 for two day attendance,
  • £15 as the default half-day without lunch, for any category of delegate.

The registration form will be available in due course on the MusicaScotica website.
Publication of proceedings

Musica Scotica will publish papers from this conference along with a selection of papers from previous conferences.

Wild Christmas in Wales

Mild it was, and autumnal in the yellow-browning, tumble-downing leaves of Glasgow, when the siren call of a writing opportunity assailed my ears.  Greedily, I scanned the call for articles and selected one, then two potential headings. My heart plummeted as I sought a third: my own specialism had already been assigned.

A more prudent soul might have been content with two short articles: one would write itself, and the other posed an enjoyable challenge.  Not for me the easy way. My ethic is never to turn away an opportunity, and what is a challenge but another way of forcing oneself to learn something new?  I chose to write about Welsh music, a subject about which I am certainly not ignorant, but which is definitely not my specialist topic.

By now it was December.  Finishing the second article, I gleefully filed it and took our youngest teen to the cinema to celebrate reaching my two-thirds milestone. However, I soon realised that a fairly solid grounding in two centuries’ worth of Welsh music left me feeling about as exposed as a pole-dancer encountering Santa Claus in his home environment; moreover, we all know that December is the month when working mothers traditionally do a full week’s work, then as much again juggling the responsibilities of making Christmas happen at home.  Worst of all, I had left the longest article until last, so I was, in effect, only halfway through my challenge.  Migraines and digestive disorders followed in close succession, but I manfully (womanfully) ordered appropriate literature from Amazon, sorted out Christmas presents and cards, rehearsed and led a choral service of lessons and carols, then settled down to the file full of notes that I’d compiled a couple of years ago whilst researching Welsh and Irish song collecting contemporary with the Scottish activity that my PhD had been based on.

Last King of WalesWild it was and wintry now, and the clouds outside were nothing compared to the fog of panic enveloping me indoors.  I now possessed a shiny and magnificent book about The Last King of Wales: Gruffudd ap Llewelyn c.1013-1063 (the back cover alluded to his patronage of the arts, which sounded distinctly hopeful); not to mention a tatty Penguin book about Giraldus Cambrensis, but the history of Wales was, so the supplier informed me, on its way from the USA – by canoe, I imagine, or a carrier-pigeon coasting his way downhill to retirement.

I drafted an outline, wrote a few headings, and began my mini-bibliography.  Certain that I could not commence my task without the pigeon-bound history book, I went to the University Library on Christmas Eve, where the soothing silence of Level Eight lulled me into a semblance of security.  Five books came back with me, and I now had no excuse but to get on with it.  I had five days left, and Christmas would take care of one of them.  Ruefully, I reflected that Handel had written his Messiah in a panic, to get himself out of horrendous debt.  If desperation could yield such inspiration, then surely I could manage 2,500 words for no monetary reward?

By the end of Christmas Eve – just before I headed out to play for the midnight carol service – I had written two-thirds of the article.  Christmas in our house was immeasurably fraught, and on top of that, our hot water boiler, repaired three weeks earlier and surely certain to avoid Christmas chaos, had packed up again.  I crawled into bed at 7 pm, unable to deal with any further crises.

Welsh bard saved as jpgBoxing Day dawned, and there was no excuse: the rest of the article had to be written.  I had written the easiest sections, and left the parts that I knew most about; I wanted to do them justice with the full benefit of the insights that I was able to draw upon.

Cold it is, and dark again.  I finished the last sentence and baked a turkey pie.  What else would I be doing at Boxing Day dinner-time?  (It was a very good pie, with a suet pastry crust, I might add.)  Then I watched a bit of TV, before re-reading, doing a final edit, and choosing the headwords.

Halleluia (click HERE.)

I’ve just filed the third and final article – three days early.  I’m still in Glasgow.  I didn’t actually need the library books – though my new Gruffudd book was definitely useful – and I’m still watching out for that pigeon.  But my late, Welsh father would have been proud of me.  For to my mind, this entire festive season has simply been – my wild Christmas in Wales.

POSTSCRIPT: My History of Wales arrived a mere twelve hours too late.  Shame!

That Time of Year

Hurrah!  Two weeks’ annual leave from work, and this morning we had our Carol Service at church.  The countdown to Christmas has really begun.  I was a bit disturbed to see a BBC tweet counting down to Hogmanay already, when we haven’t even had Christmas yet.  Like going straight from starter to soup, with no main course.

The organ has developed a new fault – turn it on, the lights on the console and pedals go on, but … the lights are on and no-one’s at home.  Not even a whimper, unless you count the the Stockhausen-on-helium effect (blurt-squawk-cheep, pianissimo) as a whimper.  On Thursday I followed correct IT Department procedure – I turned it off and on again, and all was well. Well, it IS an Allen computer organ.  Today I didn’t need to turn it off – eventually it somehow realised I expected more of it, obediently woke up and played for me.  There was still a blip in the middle of one hymn, but mercifully that was it. The 10 am service and the 11.30 am carol service went without further ado.

Knowing they’d be up at the front of the church, everyone was smartly turned out.  (One soprano turned up with a roller to put in her fringe, in case the wind and rain spoiled her coiffure.  Thankfully, she remembered to remove the roller before coming into church!)  We had a good turn-out, and people seemed to enjoy what we’d prepared. That’s good enough for me!

Three Things I Love about Dundee (not Jute or Jam, but Journalism Maybe)


A quarter of a century ago, I was invited to visit Dundee by one of the fiction editors at the People’s Friend.  I had written a few short stories for the magazine, but this time I was taken out to lunch to discuss a possible serial.  I was thrilled!  Karen McAulay And her Family Never Knew 001Writing has been a remunerative hobby for me, but my own professional career has been in librarianship and music: I’ve never before or since been wined and dined by a magazine editor!  Not exactly journalism, I’ll grant you, but one of the three things I love about Dundee is the warmth and generosity of the advice and encouragement I was given in my brief short-story and serial-writing ‘career’.  A big thanks goes to D. C. Thomson for that!  I’ve continued writing in a more serious, professional capacity, but they gave me a great start.

Dundee Central Library, Wellgate

Wighton Centre Dundee Central LibraryFor the three years before I came to Scotland, I worked in South Shields public library, but since then I’ve worked in a conservatoire library for musicians and actors, dancers and production artists.  Nonetheless, my own research interests have repeatedly taken me to the public library in Dundee, and it’s nice to enjoy the atmosphere of a public library not so different from the one I left. One of the things I happen to like about Dundee Central Library it is its location in Wellgate shopping centre, right in the heart of the city, and very handy for Dundonians out and about doing a bit of shopping or meeting friends.  It has its own cafe – how civilized is that? But best of all, the Central Library holds the most amazing collection of old Scottish music books: the Wighton Collection.  Andrew Wighton assembled his collection in the nineteenth century, aspiring to gather every old edition of Scottish music that he could lay his hands on.  It was an all-consuming hobby, as his remaining correspondence bears witness.  When he died, he left his treasure-trove to the City of Dundee. They’ve been in the public library ever since.  Bound in the early twentieth century, microfilmed in the later twentieth century, and then indexed in the computer age, the books live in a fabulous purpose-built space called the Wighton Centre.  David Kett, the former reference librarian, was the mastermind who coordinated the building of this special room in space on the top floor.  There’s a harpsichord, and a table carved in the shape of a fiddle – appropriate, considering how much fiddle music is there.  It’s big enough for small concerts and masterclasses, and cherished by the Friends of the Wighton Collection, who support and promote it with special events, and have recently got the online index working again.  And did I mention the staff?  David has retired now, but the local history staff are knowledgeable, kind and helpful.  They represent all that’s good in a public library.  I’ve looked at a number of Wighton’s books, but I’ve also researched local history there, and have been very grateful for their advice on many an occasion.

Dundee’s History and Heritage

I love the fact that the centre of Dundee still has some of the old buildings from its nineteenth century heyday, and that it has such a sense of history, both industrial and social.  Some years before I started visiting the Wighton Collection for a research project, I had the opportunity to pursue a smaller personal project in connection with three old books of flute music which had originally belonged to a Dundonian years before Andrew Wighton came on the scene.  James Simpson had been a lodging-house keeper, but he must have played the flute and sang in a church choir, to judge by the three old manuscripts that now belong to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  Indeed, his son became a partner in the once-famous music shop, Methven-Simpson.

When I was researching James Simpson’s flute manuscripts, I visited not only the local history library, but also the city rMyrekirk cottages 2002 001egistrar and the city archives, eventually even seeing inside Myrekirk – the house where Simpson once lived, on the outskirts of Dundee.  (His widow moved back to live in a tiny cottage at the back of the house – it was later used as a hen-house!)  I  walked the streets where Simpson would’ve walked; looked at the churches and wondered which one he attended; and stood at the entrance to another shopping mall, trying to call to mind the narrow lane where he kept the lodging house for Dundee’s poorer citizens.  I’ve seen an old photograph of the neighbourhood before it was redeveloped, but there’s nothing left to show what it was originally like!

When I walk around Dundee, I feel as though the ghosts of Andrew Wighton and James Simpson are following me a few paces behind me.  I can still stand in the high street and look down toward the river – the topography is the same even if the town planners have made substantial changes to many of the buildings and street layouts.  There are still places I’d like to visit, old churchyards to explore and new art galleries to capture my attention, not to mention the maritime museum at Discovery Point, which really demands that I bring my three grown sons to explore it with me!

And I still haven’t mentioned the jute and the jam, the two industries Dundee was famous for.  One day I must find time to learn more about those, too!

(I wrote this blogpost as my entry for an competition: A Tale of Three CitiesEntrants are challenged to write around the theme, ‘Three things I love about my favourite city’.)

Reflective Journal Time

Carry On Researching:

Gazing into My Crystal Ball

Crystal ball - a gift from my colleagues!

With less than a year left to go in my present part-time postdoctoral research project secondment, now seems a good time to do some serious reflection about what I’ve done, and what I could do next.  This doesn’t feel like something I should necessarily put in a public blog – at least, not straight away.  Very soon, I shall hear how our institution fared in the latest REF research assessment, and that in itself might shade future plans.  I have ideas, but not necessarily the means to see them through to fruition.

Furthermore, I’ve got a couple of writing commitments to be done in the next fortnight; another week at work; Christmas preparations at home; church music to rehearse in Bearsden; and every chance of catching my own version of the man-flu that has flattened our youngest son!  My intention, therefore, is to carve out half a day, perhaps after Christmas, when I shall take myself somewhere else to sit and reflect about my career path.  However I manage it, my New Year’s Resolution is to keep researching!

I’ve Written Fiction for the People’s Friend – and I Learnt From the Experience

My gut feeling is that it’s probably not very cool to admit to having written light romantic fiction.  However, I’ve decided to ‘come out’, not least because it’s a skill that is maybe not that common amongst scholars!

It was nearly a quarter of a century ago, and I was not yet thirty.  However, the rumour on the grapevine was that early retirement was being offered to many middle-aged academics, and I was a little concerned that when I reached that age , I might be put out to pasture myself.  To paraphrase the old nursery rhyme,* And what would poor Karen do then, poor thing, and what would poor Karen do then?

I’ve always loved writing.  However, when we came to Glasgow, three things happened to catapult me into my unexpected brief career as an author of light fiction.  First came my mother-in-law’s visit.  A Glasgow girl herself, she was delighted when we moved to her birthplace, and liked nothing better than a wee jaunt in the car to the places she’d visited before moving to Tyneside.  The only downside was that she was getting deaf, and couldn’t hear me speaking from the back seat.  Thus excluded from the conversation, I jotted down some of the stories she told, and wrote an article that I sent to the People’s Friend – the magazine she read every week. To my astonishment, they accepted it.  She was delighted, but her younger sister was furious!

Next, I saw a short story competition in a different magazine. My entry got nowhere.  However, I sent it to the People’s Friend – they accepted that, too.

So I signed up to one of those correspondence courses that promises to refund your fees if you don’t succeed in publishing anything.  I published nothing that my tutors assigned, but by now I was publishing other odd things elsewhere.  In short, I abandoned the course, and just kept on writing.  Thirty published short stories and a serial (which became a People’s Friend paperback) later, I had subsidized my first maternity leave – and bought a decent used car with what was left of my savings when I returned to work. OK, it was a Lada.  It was also the newest car I’d ever owned!

I do know what formula writing is – Mills and Boon used to produce a booklet about breaking into their market; it was very much about writing to formula, but it wasn’t for me.  My own stories weren’t written to formula, though I did learn how to write for a particular market.  I also learned what made a strong story-line; how to pace dialogue; how to portray character; and how much descriptive writing to use in different contexts.  I learned to work with an editor, and to revise stories in accordance with her suggestions.  Over and above all this, I learned to write fluently.  You can’t deny that’s a useful skill!  Mind you, I have absolutely no idea how many words I wrote – I typed them all on a manual typewriter.  (My even earlier RSA typing certificates came in handy there!)

When, in my doctoral viva, I was told that ‘you really made the characters [Victorian song collectors] come to life’, I quietly blessed my secret former life as a People’s Friend author.  I might have started out writing fiction a couple of decades earlier, but now my serious, scholarly writing was actually benefiting from the lessons I’d learned then.

Out of idle curiosity, I did try to write another short story after finishing the PhD, just to see if I still could. It was rejected.  I suppose I could have worked on a revision, but I had other more challenging writing to do.  Fiction writing had a been a phase in my life, and now I had moved onto pastures new.  (Oh dear, a cliche.  Quick, where’s my red pen?)

*The North Wind Doth Blow, and We Shall have Snow, and What Will the Robin do Then, Poor Thing?

Church of Scotland Organist Focuses on Wales

I’ve just updated my “Organist” page on this website, but now I must reach for the ring-binder that contains my notes on Welsh music.  I have an encyclopedia article to write!  I’m awaiting three books from Amazon to supplement the material I already have – this for a comparatively small article – but I might as well plan a structure for the piece and leaf through what I’ve amassed so far, so I know what exactly needs filling in.

Yes, there IS a link between “Church of Scotland Organist” and “Wales”: my father’s family were Welsh Baptists, and long before I took up the organ, Dad was a church organist before I was even born!