President’s Report to the RMA AGM, September 2019

Royal Musical Association Annual General Meeting 2019
12 September 2019, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester

President’s Report

This is the 145th President’s report to the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Musical Association, and my second of three. It’s that time on the bell curve of responsibility when you start to reflect on what we’ve managed to achieve together over the past couple of years; and on what I’ll be handing over to my distinguished successor in a year’s time.

And there’s a lot to report, as I’ll come onto later. But firstly some richly deserved thanks. To start with this splendid conference, held for the first time since Glasgow 2002 at two venues, across conservatoire and university sectors. The call for papers was rewarded with a challenging selection process, spanning every aspect of music research. Naturally this included composition and practice of all kinds, together with some innovations in the form of a much-needed focus on well-being.  The resulting conference has broken all records, with over 240 delegates, 30% of them from overseas institutions representing 22 countries. 

I’m sure you’d like to join me in thanking Rebecca Herissone and her team in the university, and Barbara Kelly and hers in the college, for all the brilliant work they’ve done in hosting this event. Institutional collaborations come with their own challenges, but it seems to have been an exceptionally smooth partnership, enabling the extraordinarily rich and varied programme we are all enjoying. Our thanks to everyone on the programme committee, including the RMA’s Michelle Assay, who all played such a key part in making the conference so successful.

The Research Students’ conference was held at Sheffield in January, and I’d like to thank Tim Shephard and his team there for another great event, once again held in fruitful collaboration with the British Forum for Ethnomusicology. The Association has also sponsored or ‘badged’ a colossal number of events throughout the year, including a diverse menu of study days and training organised by Susan Bagust and Nuria Bonet.

It’s a sign of the vibrancy of the RMA that such a large and impressive field put themselves forward for election to Council. We thank everyone who threw their hat in, and I very much look forward to working with President-elect Barbara Kelly in the long 15 months of handover. I’d like to congratulate our new Vice-President and welcome five Ordinary Members of Council, as well as Patrick Huang who was elected as a student representative last January.  

This is the time to thank outgoing Council colleagues who will have served their term in December. First I would like to thank – in her role as Vice-President – Barbara Kelly, who has already contributed in so many ways to the Association over many years and been an enormously supportive colleague, not least as Chair of Search Committee.  We thank her most warmly, as well as four departing members who have done such excellent work on behalf of our membership: Andrew Kirkman, Cormac Newark, Caroline Rae, and Piers Hellawell.  Will Finch has made a very valuable contribution as student representative.  

I would also like to thank Paul Watt who has served with distinction as editor of the RMA Research Chronicle for the past seven years. He will be seeing through the next volume while consideration is given to the journal’s future format and while a new editor is identified.

Since our last meeting we appointed Ellen Falconer to the new role of Communications Officer, a post she has made her own with a host of ideas designed to show that the RMA is indeed part of the 21st century. Thanks also to Mike Byde (our restyled Digital Technology Officer) who has played his part in this transformation.

My final thanks go to the chairs of the other committees – Chris Banks who generously returned to Publications Committee, Elaine Kelly of Search, as well as Pauline Fairclough of Awards, and Thomas Schmidt of Events (both leaving their roles after many years of committed service). And of course to my colleagues Valerie James and Jeffrey Dean, both of whom paddle tirelessly under the calm surface, in ways of which most of us have no knowledge whatsoever.  We are very grateful to you all.

Next some congratulations.  First to Gundula Kreuzer who will be awarded the 2019 Dent Medal next year; and secondly to Emily MacGregor for the Jerome Roche Prize.  I am also very happy to announce that Honorary Membership – a much valued honour that previously counted only seven recipients – has been granted to three distinguished scholars: Kofi Agawu, Joshua Rifkin and Susan Youens.

It’s been an extraordinarily busy year.  And in many ways a troubling one, as we face continual uncertainties over everything from Brexit and immigration rules, to an unstable job market and pensions, to student fees and declining numbers taking music in secondary schools. It’s hard not to feel beleaguered sometimes, as instrumentalist forces and sections of the media seem bent on belittling the importance of the arts for today’s society. Even something so apparently benign as Open Access turns out to be a stick to beat us with, as the consequences for journal and book publishing in the humanities might appear to be ignored. 

In all of this, the RMA has a very active role to play. Through its Council and its members, it is playing a full part in trying to counter the worst effects of these developments, working with our partner organisations. And where we can, we are directly influential in speaking up positively for the interests of music, as for example over the PlanS open access initiative, and in helping to shape the REF guidelines for practice research and impact.

I said last year that I saw our advocacy role as one prime objective.  I identified diversity – both personal and cultural – as a principal area for development, so as to further reflect and extend the music research community.  Three important initiatives have resulted. 

One is a Music Education outreach project which Deborah Mawer has founded, and about which members will hear more over the coming months. Assuredly, without a flow of committed and talented students we simply will not have music research to discuss at conferences like this in the future.

Another is around Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, which I initiated in partnership with MusicHE (the former NAMHE), the British Forum for Ethnomusicology and Laudan Nooshin at City University. The initial focus has been on BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) routes into and through higher education. A highly successful workshop in May will lead to a conference on 24 January for which a call for papers will be announced soon.   And relatedly, former Vice-President Rachel Cowgill has been elected chair of the LGBTQ+ study group, in succession to Danielle Sofer.

Thirdly, the Practice Research forum is about to be transformed into a Study Group under the leadership of Scott McLaughlin. We thank Nick Fells for all his work in setting up the forum, and look forward to future developments with great interest. One area we are currently looking at is providing more opportunities for the RMA’s early career composers.

Do get in touch with us if you would like to be involved in these or any other initiatives.

Our commitment to developing postgraduate and early career support remains paramount. We are also increasingly aware of the needs of our many members lacking the security of an institutional base.  Last year I announced a 67% increase to the small grants scheme – one heavily subscribed by students and early career researchers, and others without a full-time income. The outcome, reaching near 20 members, was extremely gratifying and this level of support will continue.

To enable us to do more, Council is building up a fund-raising initiative, with plans for a campaign of smaller gifts and a longer-term capital fund leading up to our 150th anniversary in 2024.  I am very grateful to Warwick Edwards for all his dedicated work here: do contact him if you would like to be involved.  And our JustGiving site is awaiting your support for our important work in the future (

Finally I have three important announcements to make. 

You may have read about the first already.  Our two journals, JRMA and the Research Chronicle, are moving to Cambridge University Press in January. Our thanks to Simon Keefe for his tireless efforts in achieving this transition.  Editor Freya Jarman and reviews editor Sarah Collins have been closely involved in transitional arrangements with Holly O’Neill at CUP, and we greatly look forward to developing this new relationship into the future. We will also be consulting with the membership about new directions here, so please do take a little time to respond to a questionnaire when you receive it.

Secondly, many of you will have attended a meeting with our European colleagues organised by Barbara yesterday.  This resulted in the official launch of the new Network of European Musicological Societies (NEMS), which will provide an invaluable platform for co-operation and a collective voice for our discipline.  (To allay any doubts, ‘musicological’ in this context should be read as embracing all forms of Music Research, including practice.)

And thirdly, it gives me great pleasure to announce that Council, with kind agreement from The Michael Tippett Will Trust and The Michael Tippett Musical Foundation, has approved the founding of the RMA Tippett Medal for composition.  It’s an important signal of our commitment to practice, and we believe that a link with one of Britain’s most original creative minds – one who stood out for his social and political courage and integrity – will do honour to the Association. Details will follow, but I should say now that composition is to be understood in the very widest context here. My thanks to Piers and to Pauline for all their work in setting this up.  I myself am extremely excited by this new and significant addition to our schedule of awards.

I’d like to close by thanking you all for your commitment to the RMA.  Do enjoy your evening and the rest of the conference.

Simon McVeigh

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