Conference Review: BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference 2022

The annual BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference, a collaborative event between the British Forum for Ethnomusicology and the Royal Musical Association, was held at the University of Plymouth from 6-8 January 2022. The conference is always a wonderful opportunity for graduate researchers to present their work, with a wide array of topics and approaches to music facilitated through the combined interests of the organising associations. The conference ran in a hybrid format, allowing for researchers who were unable to travel to attend, as well as fostering the in-person conference feeling that we have all been missing in the last couple of years! Both the staff and students at the University of Plymouth worked hard across the conference to ensure a smooth running of this hybrid set-up, which made for a largely successful interaction between those in the room and those on Zoom.

Over the course of the three days, there was an extraordinary array of topics presented, with 35 sessions comprised of 88 student papers, compositions, and lecture-recitals. Topics ranged from eighteenth-century music and opera to country and pop music, performance practice, current compositional outputs, responses to the pandemic, and the Porthcawl Elvis Festival. Complementing these student-led sessions were keynote lectures and training sessions that gave further insight and support regarding academic life and ECR trajectories. Finally, two composition sessions with the Hermes Experiment and electroacoustic composers showed the wide range of research carried out in the field.

Two keynote lectures were given at the conference:  Amanda Hsieh’s ‘From Hasegawa’s Terakoya to Weingartner’s Die Dorfshule’, and Lyndsey Copeland’s ‘On Touching: Techniques of the ear in online genres’. Both papers presented contrasting topics and approaches to research, reflecting the interdisciplinary setting fostered by the collaboration of the BFE and RMA. I found the breadth of these topics particularly engaging in their approaches to the subjects, presenting work that was stimulating both in terms of content and research strategies. Hsieh’s RMA keynote used Hasegawa and Weingartner’s works as anchors for a wider discussion on Japanese-German relations in the early twentieth century, weaving together aspects of politics, cultural exchange, and gender studies to present a fascinating insight into the musical and historical links between these two nations. On the opposite side of the research spectrum, Copeland’s BFE keynote focussed on the contemporary topic of digital media for private listening. Inspired by the rise in ASMR and its associated genres throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Copeland guided her audience through this online world and the technologies utilised to combine social and scientific studies focussed around the auditory role of the ear in such intimate settings.

We were fortunate to have the expertise of these two keynote speakers not only for their own research presentations, but also for a Q&A training session. It was a great opportunity to hear about the career trajectories of both academics, and ask our own questions as to pursuing academia and for the advice of two researchers who have both been through the post-doctoral/ early career stages recently. Other training sessions organised throughout the conference included a session on mental health for research students, which included the official launch of the new RMA-affiliated Music and Mental Health Group, run alongside a session about the EDIMS Parenting and Caring Working Group, as well as training on Articulating Practice Research. These training sessions covered a wide range of focusses, and it was good to see attention on the holistic as well as academic across the conference.

Due to the wide-ranging parallel sessions that ran across the three days, I am not able to comment on all sessions, however will focus on some of the papers and panels that particularly stood out to me.

Two sessions on women musicians presented important research being carried out into a number of performers and composers, including Clara Wieck-Schumann (Ning Hui See, Royal College of Music) and Czech women composers (Barbora Vacková, University of Huddersfield). In the first of these sessions, Rachel Watson (King’s College London) gave insight into an organisation active in the late-nineteenth century in her paper ‘Imitating Vienna? The Baden-Baden Lady Orchestra at the Royal Aquarium’. The focus of female musicians active in London organisations was picked up again in the second of these sessions by Anastasia Zaponidou (Bangor University) whose research centres upon May Mukle in ‘A Life in Paper: Exploring the Activities of the Female Cellist in the Society of Women Musicians’.

A session on Music and Authorship provided insight into these issues across a number of historical and contemporary settings, with papers by Céleste Pagniello (Princeton University), Clive Mead (University of Plymouth) and Eirini Diamantouli (University of Cambridge) covering topics of authorship in ballet, composing without credit, and Soviet Union songs in the Greek resistance. These threads of historical and contemporary research into issues of gender, identity, and theatre were also addressed in research concerning operatic settings. Tomos Watkins (University College Dublin) presented on ‘White self-fashioning in Les Indes galantes’, addressing eighteenth-century representations of race and gender in France. In the same session, Ali McGowan (Edinburgh Napier University) presented current thought on expression and self-actualisation as realised in new perspectives on operas in ‘Queering Carmen – telling trans and nonbinary stories in the current operatic canon’.

On Thursday 6th, The Hermes Experiment were the ‘in house’ ensemble (on ‘The House’ Stage) for a composition workshop, allowing for the professional performance of a number of student works. The composers received a filmed recording of their piece as well as valuable feedback from the members of the prestigious ensemble. On Friday 7th, electroacoustic composers assembled in the House to listen to and discuss their pieces in a session led by Archer Endrich and Núria Bonet (University of Plymouth). A poster competition also ran throughout the event, which was sponsored by Cambridge University Press. The winning entry by Yanyi Lu (University of Hull) was titled ‘Second language singing curriculum design: learning Mandarin through singing’.

As always, this year’s BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference was a wonderful way to begin 2022, and special thanks must be given to Núria Bonet and all at the University of Plymouth for hosting so successfully, and facilitating a warm and welcoming environment for new and returning students alike. Many thanks go also to the RMA Student Committee and to the BFE Student Representative.

Looking ahead, the next conference will be held at Northumbria University from 10-12 January 2023.

Ellen Stokes is a third-year PhD researcher at the University of Huddersfield, whose work focuses on the instrumental manuscripts of Antonio Salieri.

Additional information by Núria Bonet (University of Plymouth)

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