Tag Archives: Scottish music

So, What Do You Teach?

By the end of last week, I was getting quite good at explaining that teaching is only part of my role!  It was a fairly natural thing to be asked, considering I was at the International Society for Music Education biennial conference.  I was beginning to think maybe I could do with a new job title, something like “Teaching Researching Librarian”.  It’s important to ‘own’ your practice, and to be able to rationalise why you do what you do.  I’m beginning to feel that teaching is genuinely part of my practice, which is an interesting development, considering I had no intention of teaching when I chose instead to become a librarian several decades ago!

Monday was mostly spent at the conference. Tuesday in the Library. Wednesday a research day in St Andrews.  Thursday was split between the Library and the conference, and Friday, mainly at the conference.

Scottish Music Educati0n in Recent Years

I attended Charles Byrne’s symposium, Transformations and cultural change in Scottish musical education: historical perspectives and contemporary solutions. He reminded us of the emergence of traditional music as a strong component in music education, with people like Hamish Henderson and filmmaker Alan Lomax igniting a new interest in grassroots culture, ceilidhs and other iterations of traditional music.  This was mirrored by a blurring of the boundaries between formal and informal learning, and the growth of the Feis movement.

Simultaneously, there was a swing towards student-centred learning, and new thinking took centre stage: creativity, inclusion, diversity and equality. In schools, the new Standard Grade showed different emphases to earlier exams, based on all-round musicianship, multi-genre and more focus on the integrated curriculum.

There was now a move towards the professional development of traditional music tutors, and the principles of learning and teaching were summarised in a memorable acronym: PREPARE.  (Participation, Resources, Ecological (music within the community), Performance, Activist, Reflective and Ethical.

Charles’ paper was subsequently responded to by Marie McCarthy, Martin [check surname], Jane Southcott and Josh Dickson. Charles’ themes were recalled and elaborated upon, particularly with regard to more emphasis on ‘meaningful engagement’ as opposed to an over-emphasis on assessment; on community and traditional music. Martin is contributing to a forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Community Music, due to be published in 2017 (edited by Lee Higgins and Brydie-Leigh Bartlett – I haven’t found reference to it on the OUP website yet).  Josh spoke about a new approach to assessment in pre-honours years at RCS, and also alluded to Lori Watson’s comments about elitism, defending elite artistry in both innovation and continuation of tradition.  Our traditional music students develop their own identity as a musician, as well as authenticity and integrity, in their journey as aspirational performers.

Being ‘Real’

How does all this fit into my own practice? As someone who generally delivers one lecture or seminar at a time, it can be difficult to relate the bigger philosophical arguments to my own context, but it is still important to understand how what I teach sits alongside what the students are learning in other parts of their course.  I’d like to know how the concept of ‘authenticity’ for today’s traditional musicians sits alongside the issues of authenticity that I research and talk about in an 18th-19th century context. Do we actually mean the same thing? Authenticity in an individual’s own performance practice, isn’t quite the same as the insistence on authenticity for individual tunes and accompaniments, but being ‘authentic’ is clearly a thread that has been interwoven through traditional music for a very long time indeed.

Symposium on Assessment

Five presentations were given.  Even though the speakers often worked in the context of school rather than university, the practical suggestions meant that there would have been much food for thought for everyone.  Since we have been encouraged in our own PGCert studies to consider how we assess learning to have been acquired by our students, I took copious notes.  I’ll reflect on these in my next posting.

 

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Mind the Gap! One Project Ends and Another Begins

Teetering on the Brink …

I was sitting checking hyperlinks today – not the most riveting of activities, I must admit – when it dawned on me that my next research day is the last scheduled day that I’ll be working on the Bass Culture project that has occupied me for the past three years.  (Every week, I’ve been working three days as a librarian and two as a postdoctoral researcher.)  When I go to the research room on Tuesday, it will be to finish checking links for the database that will become a searchable website.  Even though I’m sitting at a desk in my own institution, I’ve been part of a small research team for the length of the project.

But when I go to the research room on Wednesday, it will be to start setting things in train for the new project, investigating the historic Copyright Music Collection held at the University of St Andrews. The days I’ll be at my research desk won’t change, but there won’t be a team – just me.  And while I’m getting stuck into the new project, I’ll also be thinking about how I can extend it, both in terms of scope, and the practicalities of making it happen.

Whilst I’ll still be in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries – my natural habitat, it seems! – my focus will change, too.  On Tuesday, I’ll be dealing with Scottish fiddle tunes that would have been performed by Scottish (and sometimes English) fiddlers for dancing, or keyboard players just for pleasure.  On Wednesday, I’ll be starting to contemplate predominantly English publications imported to Scotland under copyright legislation. Indeed, when the University authorities went through their legal deposit acquisitions, I’ll wager they were rather stymied as to what to do with this musical stuff.  Hardly the stuff for philosophers, theologians or mathematicians!

So my research topic is still in Scotland, but in a rather different context!

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PS  Exchange Talk at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland at 6 pm, 12th October. 

Bonny Scot Returns to Scotland

Today’s anthem was sung by a quartet of voices rather than the choir – just for a change.  The piece started life as an 18th century flute tune before I set to work on it!  I don’t think the congregation had ever heard a harpsichord effect, on the Clavinova before – I thought it was remarkably effective for accompanying four singers in a tune from that era.  So, what we had was an Anglo-Scottish flute tune called ‘The Bonny Scot’, first published in London in the early 1700s, turned into a sacred anthem by an Englishwoman for performance in Scotland.  Work that one out!

Someone asked me afterwards what the piece was.  I summarised by explaining that the soprano sang the original flute tune, the alto and baritones sang my accompaniment, and the words were taken straight from another hymn with a suitable meter!

A Weekend Full of Surprises

St Mungo's Centre conference (2) St Mungo's Centre windows (2)So, the Musica Scotica conference is behind us.  It was declared a resounding success. The St Mungo Museum was a  delightful venue – I’m sharing some pictures of the room we met in, and the view out in the courtyard.

St Mungo's Centre courtyard (2)Besides a host of interesting papers, there was the unveiling of Elizabeth Ford’s reproduction Crathes flute – she got an instrument maker to reconstruct a flute the likes of which has never been seen anywhere else but on the ceiling at Crathes, and then played it to Crathes flute by Elizabeth Ford (2)us. We heard John Maxwell Geddes talk about his compositional inspirations, and went to St Bride’s Episcopal Church to hear his latest commission.  And we heard Pete Stewart talking about early representations and references to bagpipes.  Yes, he played several sets of bagpipes, too.

IGlasgow brooch coat of arms (2) certainly didn’t expect to be presented with a gorgeous Glasgow brooch at the end of the conference, but it is so lovely that I thought I’d share it here too – a final surprise for me!

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 www.gla.ac.uk/mcewen

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 museumconference2015@musicascotica.org.uk

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.
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Publication of proceedings

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

Scottish versus English, Folk versus National, Tradition versus Revival …

I’m enjoying Maud Karpeles’s biography of Cecil Sharp.  It’s interesting reading about his folk song collecting, and how he was determined to get folk song back into the school curriculum so that children would get acquainted with their heritage.  He also got involved with Morris and folk dancing, and got quite hot under the collar about well-meaning people who were happy to get the dances DANCED, without being too concerned about the niceties of accuracy.  By all accounts he was an astonishingly dedicated and hard-working individual.

His definition of ‘folk’?  Something passed through the oral tradition, perhaps modified as it was transmitted, but certainly not a “national song” published in a book and henceforth preserved in aspic.  Something more fluid in form, then.

I began thinking about Miss Milligan, who did similar work with Scottish dancing for what became the Royal Scottish Dancing Society.  She, too, decided ‘how it should be’, and tried to set standards and codify steps and dance-movements. (My mother-in-law was her first pianist at Jordanhill Teacher Training College, as it happens.)

Does it not seem that both Cecil Sharp and Miss Milligan, having collected something that they feared would perish if it weren’t revived, then proceeded to try to pin down and ‘fix’ the very traditions that they were saving?  It’s as though each was saying, ‘this is what I consider the purest form of THIS song, THIS dance, and THIS is how it should be from henceforth.’  Indeed, my mother-in-law, a longstanding and loyal member of the RSCDS, later earned a scroll of recognition of her ‘outstanding service and loyalty … maintaining the aims of preserving the standards and traditions of Scottish Country Dancing …’  There it is again – preserving standards and traditions.

But!  This laudable attempt to keep something pure and unchanged is at the same time at variance to the idea of a fluid folk tradition.  Saying, ‘we do it this way, this is the best way, and this is how it must be done’, is a rather risky way of encouraging the next generation to adopt traditions and make them their own.  (We could say the same about churches clinging to metrical psalms, I guess, but I’m not blogging about that just now!)

My thesis touched on some of these arguments in earlier times.  Sharp and Miss Milligan were positively modernists compared to my research into Scottish song collecting from 1760-1888, and I really want to read more before I leap into old arguments with my size three wellies on and upset everyone who knows more about the early 20th century collectors.  More anon, then.  Until then, I must be restrained and willing to be corrected!