I’m quite interested in the early history of Scottish libraries. My own current part-time sabbatical is concerned with the published music that legal deposit libraries (the University of St Andrews in particular) claimed from Stationers’ Hall in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and I’m particularly curious to know what happened to the music, and how much it was actually borrowed from the university libraries who received it.
Now, St Andrews isn’t that far from Dundee – or Innerpeffray, come to that – so I was interested to see a link to a new blog from the University of Dundee’s Centre for Scottish Culture. PhD student Jill Dye is studying this historic library, and posted an informative blog entry a couple of weeks ago. You can read it here:-
This might be about a different kind of library, and books rather than music, but I’m still interested in this important part of Scottish library history. We both touch on book history, though mine is a story of books containing music, more than books containing words. Indeed, the books about learning music were also preserved carefully at St Andrews University Library. I wonder how much overlap there might be of that particularly niche repertoire?!
Last Friday saw me giving a bicentennial talk about the First Edinburgh Musical Festival, at Edinburgh Central Library. This was a collaboration between myself, Bronwen and Anne, the librarians responsible for music services there. They handled the ticketing and the venue, and also mounted a display of relevant publications. I did my research in Glasgow and travelled through to Edinburgh for the day, to give my talk. Edinburgh historian Eleanor Harris kindly shared her transcriptions of Caledonian Mercury columns with me, and I drew upon these as well as the festival reportwritten by a youthful George Farquhar Graham.
Almut, our counterpart in the National Library of Scotland, put on a complementary exhibition on her side of George IV Bridge! Remarkably, the exhibitions had picked out different material for display, so the audience was encouraged to take a look at both.
My talk included a couple of Handel soundtracks, and two excerpts of long-forgotten pieces that I had unearthed to play on the Clavinova. (That was the most nerve-wracking bit. I don’t claim to be a recitalist!)
As I mentioned before, by sheer good luck, I was able to go on a guided tour of Parliament House (the old one), the morning of my talk. It made all the difference to have stood in the hall and imagined it ready for the very first concert, complete with organ imported from Covent Garden for the week.
31 people attended my talk, and the feedback was very positive; astonishingly, they even liked my playing! In my 27 years in Scotland, I had never collaborated with Edinburgh Central Library before, but it was a triumphant success. I do hope we get to repeat the experiment again some time!
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! Writing 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
For 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 registrar 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 AccorHotels.com competition: A Tale of Three Cities. Entrants are challenged to write around the theme, ‘Three things I love about my favourite city’.)
I’m writing what I hope will be a controversial conference paper for the forthcoming Understanding Scotland Musically AHRC-funded two-day conference in Newcastle, 20th-21st October. I’ll be making the point that pinning down what Scottish music actually IS, is pretty much like going to look for the place where your ancestors come from, and wondering why it doesn’t look the same. You can’t compare what people thought Scottish music was, 200 years ago, with what people think it is now. Indeed, if you try to compare what I think Scottish music is, with what you think Scottish music is, or what my son, or your granny, think Scottish music is, you’ll get as many different answers.
Where do the wynds, vennels and dual carriageways come into it? Ah, that would be telling! Though I can tell you that if you see a small, middle-aged personage taking photographs in the middle of a roundabout in Greenock with a perplexed look on her furrowed brow, then you can be fairly sure that’ll be me.
The abstract for my paper can be found under the “Musicologist” tab on this blog.
The blog homepage is the reflective journal itself. Additional pages accommodate my e-portfolio and other relevant information about the various aspects of my professional practice, thus:-
Feedback – I have few opportunities for requesting feedback, but it is important to me that learner’s comments are gathered together to inform my future practice.
Music Librarian – ‘user education’ includes introducing readers to the library catalogue and relevant e-resources as well as encouraging good research and bibliographic skills appropriate to the individual reader’s context and level of study.
Musicologist – I give occasional lectures and seminars both within and without the Conservatoire in my capacity as a postdoctoral researcher.
Organist/Choir Trainer – the practical, artistic aspect of my profile.
PDP – my Professional Development Plan as a Teaching Artist
Personal CV – my scholarly writing and presenting are all part of my professional profile. (Besides keeping my CV up to date with recent papers and presentations, I also maintain an Academia.edu presence; and upload what I can to Research Gate, which is a good discussion forum.)
Resources – an almost inevitable outcome of my librarian/musicologist existence (not to mention a key focus of my present postdoctoral research) is that I have honed my bibliographic skills to a high level. The Resources page details my professional reading for the duration of the Teaching Artist course, with occasional annotations. Annotated bibliography is an art in itself; for day-to-day purposes, I only annotate occasional entries .
One of my main objectives in undertaking the Teaching Artist short course was to equip myself with more knowledge and understanding of good contemporary pedagogy. Starting this blog was part of our digital ‘orientation’, both to facilitate our own reflection and to enable us to share comments with our course-leaders and fellow creative artists. This latter activity thus constitutes peer-review, offering each of us the opportunity to make constructive observations about our colleagues’ practice.
As an experienced blogger, reflecting upon various aspects of my work is relatively second-nature to me, but the present subject matter – being a teaching artist and practitioner – was completely new. The 29 posts that I have made include the course assignments (lesson plan, theoretical account, contextual study, theoretical appraisal of my teaching and learning methods, and self-assessment of online discussion), and a few lighter postings when multi-tasking my daily existence threatened to get on top of me; but there are still a good number of postings about my course studies.
In general, the blog represents a series of reflections on recommended course readings; and on my own practice. I have sought to reflect upon ways in which the theoretical readings can be applied to my professional teaching practice. (There was a period of adjustment as I realised that my usual third-person, objective research mode of writing needed to be adapted to suit first-person reflection in this new ‘social sciences’ discipline.) I have had opportunity to reflect before, during and after teaching or presenting experiences, and hope to continue in this practice in the months to come, in order to build upon positive and lessen negative outcomes in the future.
Of all the readings that I have done, constructive alignment theory resonated the most with me, and I read various recommended articles by John Biggs before I wrote my blogpost about it on 2 April 2014:-
I had already read Salman Khan’s The One World Schoolhouse (2012) before attending the Teaching Artist course, so I have some familiarity with the concept of ‘flipping the classroom’. Even if Khan’s practice is primarily in the digital world, the idea that students make their own meaning in their studies by being more practically involved in them, is just as much applicable to face-to-face teaching. Many of my readings, but most particularly those by Biggs, made me begin to realise that I needed to make my teaching much more interactive, and my lesson-plan for a session on postgraduate research and bibliographic skills has been designed to take this into account. Once I had shared the lesson plan in our collaborative space, Steph gave me helpful feedback, reassuring me that I was thinking along the right lines:-
“Hi Karen, I like how precise and to the point your lesson plan is. Everything is described in a clear fashion that makes it easy to understand each activity. Do you find that 60 minutes is a suitable amount of time to teach the students what they need to know? The learning outcomes here would make this a very useful session to include at the beginning of a Higher education course, when research and bibliographic skills are expected to be used on a regular basis. I certainly felt/feel intimidated and unsure about the correct way to document references and resources, so it would have helped me!”
“It certainly sounds that you have quite a challenge on your hands delivering the amount required into the time you are given, and I think you utilise you materials and resources very well by exercises such as the emails beforehand and follow-up that you offer. Don’t worry about being a pain …”
Another problem that my reflections continually came back to, was the lack of context and continuity in the kind of teaching that I’m required to do. Again, with the abovementioned lesson-plan, I’ve tried to create context by contacting students in advance of the session (see the invitation HERE), and also sought instant feedback at the end of the session. The lesson took place today (19 May 2014), and I intend to follow up with an email to all students and their course-leader a couple of days later, once I’ve transcribed and summarised the feedback forms.
Reading about deep, surface and tactical learning was informative, and reinforced my long-held belief that students do not always see the relevance of information skills to their courses in a conservatoire. If learning how to access a particular database or format a bibliography are not directly relevant to, for example, learning the harpsichord, and moreover are not even assessed, then they are reluctant to engage fully – even tactical learning will not take place. I need to continue to work on ways of helping students see the connection between information literacy and academic success, and the major benefits for their future careers whenever information is needed for a programme note or other piece of written work, whether creative or perhaps linked to a business proposal.
Indeed, I can draw certain parallels between my information skills teaching and the sessions I have led on the Scottish music BA course. When I’m talking about historical Scottish song collections, my subject matter is at least pertinent to the degree course. However, my research was effectively a combination of musicology and cultural history, whilst student on the Scottish music course are primarily motivated by performing, composing and improvising it. My material is informative, and there certainly is the expectation that these students will have a thorough grounding in the history of their subject, but I have to accept that 18th – 19th century Scottish musical and cultural history may not have as much appeal as a series of gigs or a recording session. Again, I must continue to seek ‘hooks’ to draw them into my historical world, and find ways of demonstrating the relevance of the subject that I am teaching. This is definitely an area that I would like to continue to read and reflect upon, and I should like this to evolve into a more scholarly article in due course.
THE TASK ASSIGNED:-
“Having kept a journal for the duration of the course, you are required to summarise your key learning points from the course and post your summary to your ePortfolio. In your summary, highlight what/who has informed your learning and identify any changes you have started to make to your teaching practice. Where changes have been implemented, summarise the impact this is having on your students’ learning experience. Again, in your summary make reference to literature and dialogue with colleagues, peers and your students that are informing your learning and prfessional development . In your summary identify key areas, issues or opportunities you wish to develop following the course.
You should make regular entries into your Online Journal from 5 March to 5 May 2014. Your journal summary should be completed and uploaded to your e-Portfolio by 19 May 2014.”
I'm a musicologist disguised as a librarian. I've been writing this blog as part of my PG Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Arts Education, at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.