Conference Report: KVNM-RMA International Postgraduate Symposium

Held over July 3 and 4, the Online KVNM-RMA International Postgraduate Symposium in Music Research 2021 was a collaborative effort between the Royal Society for Music History of the Netherlands (KVNM) and the UK Royal Musical Association (RMA). While COVID-19 regulations had led to modified output in 2020, this online gathering allowed the organizers in 2021 to present this, the third conference, as the first fully digital iteration of the conference. There was no cost for registration for presenters, a measure which was seen as being of particular benefit to students. Sessions were made open to the public also free of charge.

Single sessions presented by twenty speakers were run over the course of both days. Session chairs were on hand to assist, as presenters shared their research through screen share using video conferencing platforms. While there were some technical issues with audio or visual content, these were swiftly addressed by organizers. There were short breaks held between sessions, but no online social events took place. The conference brought together Master’s students and doctoral researchers from institutions based in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The breadth of study between these two countries at the postgraduate level was evident. A variety of approaches to music research were shared throughout the conference including, but not limited to, fieldwork, composition, historical, and empirical research.

Given the juxtaposition of the two locales, research similarities were well grouped, both within subcategories and in allowing similarities of broader scope to be made clear overall through the presentations. Presenters shared their research on topics such as music and politics – particularly World War II research with multiple papers addressing elements of the era. Further, from the first session of July 3, various compositional perspectives were offered over both days. During the conference, performance practices and pedagogy, and the physicality of music and music creators/performers also emerged as a theme. Opera featured prominently over both days, with various topics such as Parody under Fascism: The Case of Ghedini’s La pulce d’oro (1940) by Maria Grazia Aurora Campisi from the University of Birmingham which examined the decline of Italian opera staged through Ghedini and the role of parody in crisis. Hindemith’s Operatic Triptych and Discourses of Expressionism in Weimar Culture by Daniel Boucher also from the University of Birmingham, questioned perceptions of cultural politics from 1920s arts and culture. Split Characters in Twentieth-Century Opera by Eva van Daele from the University of Ghent demonstrated layers of ‘disturbances’ between the relationship of performer and character. The physicality of music was examined through presentations such as The Potential Effects of Weight Training on Singers: Review and Meta-Analysis by Kari Ding from the University of Edinburgh where the body as an instrument was examined through the lens of weight training as a cross training method opening a conversation for further research, and Optimizing Performance: Pre-Performance Routines in Professional Orchestral Musicians by Berenice Beverley Zammit from the Royal College of Music. In this presentation Zammit introduced the FIT MUSICIAN survey, as she shared findings from the HEartS Professional – a project launched by the RCM to examine the physical activity of musicians during lockdown.

Several other presentations examined the challenges and advantages of a year spent largely remotely, using online means, with presentations such as The Future is Now: Virtual Music Performance in the 21st Century by David Cotter from the University of Cambridge which showcased compositional research using distance and ‘lag’ as a compositional element, this research approached the creative partnerships operating remotely and the use of omnidirectional feedback loops in the virtual domain. The Challenges of Online Piano Teaching During Covid-19 by Angela Qiao from the University of Edinburgh examined digital pedagogy as a practical research approach, Qiao acknowledged the difficulties of online instruction but also highlighted positive aspects and shared feedback gathered from a small sample of piano teachers working in the digital space. These presentations undertook the challenge of digital creation, and stood as a testament to the enduring nature of music creation and pedagogy. Throughout the conference presenters demonstrated engagement with contemporary issues and themes, which were expressed in a myriad of ways. The details for the next 2022 KVNM-RMA International Postgraduate Symposium in Music Research will be announced in due course.

About the author:

Lark McIvor is a composer and musicologist with a Masters in Music Composition from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Musicology from the University of Edinburgh. Currently, she is completing her PhD in Creative Music Practice at the University of Edinburgh. Her work incorporates new approaches to ethnomusicological research, cultural representation in contemporary classical music, graphic notation and experimental composition. For more on her work please visit for compositions, research and more.

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