50 Shades of Teaching Artist

To the teaching artists who work with clay, fabric, paint or in the performing arts, much of what I do must seem very far from teaching art in any sense at all.  Nonetheless, I teach performing artists, I’m a performer myself (albeit in a small, local way) … and my relaxation often involves textile arts, so yes, I’m a teaching artist.

I blogged earlier this week about my conference-attending this month.  You could argue that all conferences are learning opportunities – I’m sure my line-managers would agree! But what I’d like to pick out for special mention (in the context of being a teaching artist) is the Academic Music Librarians’ Seminar at the IAML (UK and Ireland) Annual Study Weekend. I was gratified to find that Adam Smith from the Royal Academy of Music had blogged about it on the IAML blog, so I saved the link, because it compliments my own notes from the session.

The sessions looked at different aspects of our work as music librarians, and obviously it’s about more than teaching library skills. We heard about user format preferences for different kinds of audio (vinyl is popular with jazz musicians!) – and electronic versus paper books.  We heard about library surveys.  Richard Chesser talked about research training programmes at the British Library, which cover a wide range of topics essential to researchers.  And we heard – as I’ve mentioned – about the RNCM’s use of a giant Snakes and Ladders board in their induction sessions.  I was also interested to hear that they run separate sessions for their international students. Speaking personally, I think I’d prefer to keep our brief library tours and then maybe have an extra session called ‘Meet the librarians’ which anyone could attend, but which would be particularly targeted at students from different cultures/ with hesitant English.

Karen took to the floor to host an open-participatory segment, asking those among us how we get the music from our collections off the page (if we do at all) and in through people’s ears – so as to promote the use of the collections themselves, not just the pieces being performed.

My own session was requested at very short notice, so I decided that leading a session and facilitating a discussion of practice was pragmatically the most feasible, but would also give me useful experience in this kind of seminar. After all, it wasn’t all about our practice at RCS, but simply sharing ideas about what works in terms of getting readers enthused about some of our most special, rarely seen items.  So I started by talking about some ventures that I’d encountered, in St Andrews, Oxford Bodleian and the Jerwood Library at Trinity Laban, and then invited everyone else to share their best outcomes.

  • Peter Linnett, Librarian at the Royal College of Music, explained that the library works with the performance department and in particular those concerned with historical performance. This leads to ‘exploring the archives’ sessions at which readers can see manuscripts, perhaps using materials to prepare for a concert. Crucially, such sessions get into the monthly RCM events guide.  They also have ‘Turning the Page’ postings on the website.  Peter also reminded us that the library doesn’t have to focus solely on big names – even highlighting minor composers or less flashy ‘treasures’ still shows what the library does and what it can offer.
  • Richard Chesser (British Library) told us about the live music element in what they do – eg, Chris Scobie had a live quartet playing Donizetti, and the Stefan Zweig collection of 120 manuscripts were drawn upon for a concert in the Wigmore Hall. Again, marketing and promotion are key – getting the library mentioned in the programme to highlight the importance and relevance of the materials that are curated in the collections.
  • Geoff Thomason (RNCM) cited public performances of Arnold Cooke’s 6th Symphony and a 1905 cadenza for the Schumann Cello concerto – emphasising, like Peter and Richard, the desirability of making sure the marketing department knows that the library has had input by making these special materials available to performers. He also stressed that related archival material can also be displayed in connection with library initiatives or public performances.
  • Roy Stanley (Trinity College Dublin) told us how the library responded to requests for increased access and publicity surrounding the Irish composer, Enid Boyle (fl. 1920-60s), by digitizing and making many of her manuscripts available online, and also encouraging postgraduates to make performing editions.  These might one day be published and made available to purchase. Roy also told us about library collaboration with the Irish Traditional Music Archive, in which ITMA published two volumes of the mid-19th century James Goodman’s tune collection, and put material on their website.  This led to performances, broadcasts, a CD and a symposium.  (I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to being a little envious at these remarkable outcomes!)

I am hatching a plan involving an exceptionally rare string quartet from the late eighteenth century, that we’ve recently acquired.  We have possibly the only copy in the UK.  Until I’ve had discussions with colleagues at work, I’d better not share what is (in my mind, at least!) a rather exciting idea – no praise like self-praise – but I can certainly say that I have learned lessons from the shared experience session that I led, and I’m hopeful that we might be able to facilitate quite an exciting event if all goes well.



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