My Obsession with Musical Repertoires

I was just mentioning to someone earlier this evening, that my research has always been about repertoires.  My Masters at Exeter was in English plainsong repertoires.  My first doctoral studies foundered due to miscalculations of timescale on my part, but I did examine a lot of fifteenth century English cantus firmus settings before admitting to myself that I hadn’t left enough time to get the thing written up and submitted.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and my interest in research was rekindled by the discovery of three early nineteenth century flute manuscripts from Dundee.  What did I do?  Listed the repertoire, researched the books, and wrote an article for the RMA Chronicle about it.

That was enough to convince me that I really did want a PhD, and this time I completed it part-time, on time.  My subject was on late eighteenth and nineteenth century Scottish song collecting.  This fitted my interests as well as my occupation as Music and Academic Services Librarian at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where we offer degrees in Scottish music amongst many others.  Moreover, having experienced the difficulties of visiting distant manuscripts in the pre-internet days, I now wanted to be sure that if there were physical items that I simply had to see, I had a good chance of them being within easy reach for my part-time research existence.

I’m currently seconded part-time to postdoctoral research on an AHRC-funded project into Bass Culture in Scottish Musical Traditions – the accompaniments and basslines of Scottish fiddle collections.  More repertoire studies?  You bet!

That project ends in mid-October 2015, and after that I’m conducting a shorter piece of research into early copyright music collections.  I’m looking forward to exploring the collections in St Andrew’s University Library Special Collections, and I’m hoping by the end of it I may have devised a larger-scale project to take this research further.  However, one thing at a time – I have to finish the massive, somewhat daunting database for the present project first!  The spreadsheet is all there – we’re at the editing stage now, before it is turned into a website for all to see.  A bit like the Hilaire Belloc verse, “it makes one gape and stretch one’s eyes”.  But it’ll be fantastic once it’s up and running.


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