RMA Research Colloquia in Music

Royal Musical AssociationMusic hosts a series of colloquia on behalf of the Royal Musical Association featuring national and international guest speakers, along with staff and postgraduate students.

Change of venue – All talks take place in the Club Room, 14 University Gardens (see map), except for Shain Shapiro’s, which will take place in the Concert Hall, Main Building.  All sessions are free and open to the public, a warm welcome is extended to all.

2023/24, semester 1 — Wednesdays at 5.15pm

Wed 4th October
Dr Dr Brianna E Robertson-Kirkland (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland)
The Power of Singing for Health and Wellbeing: Scotland’s Singing for Health Network

Scotland’s Singing for Health Network (SSfHN), launched in March 2021, after being awarded a 2-year networking grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh to support a range of activities that would bring Singing for Health practitioners together with medical practitioners and researchers. The decision to form a network, which is run by Dr Brianna Robertson-Kirkland (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and University of Glasgow) and Dr Sophie Boyd (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) emerged after the 2020 Spheres of Singing conference, where singing for health practitioners from across Scotland came to discuss and promote the power of singing for health. Many highlighted the frustration of working in isolation, with little access to up-to-date research, or even the opportunity to share their experiences with other practitioners working in the same field. Much of SSfHN’s activities is in response to these concerns, as well as forming connections and promoting existing singing for health projects in Scotland. Specifically, we have mapped Singing for Health groups in Scotland and have provided links to research evidencing the potential impacts singing can have on individuals, patients, service users, and singers. We hope that the map will be useful to those searching for a Singing for Health group in their area and to health professionals such as nurses, GPs, and link workers who might want to recommend a Singing for Health group. This work has led to much larger discussions regarding social prescription models and community referral programmes, and where singing for health fits into these initiatives. Evidence shows that singing, specifically singing in a group can benefit a person’s health, but can it be offered, in a formal way, as a form of social prescription? What training is offered to singing for health practitioners so that both they and the people they are working with are appropriately safeguarded? In this presentation, I will reflect on what SSfHN has achieved in the last two years and the key questions we are still investigating in relation to Singing for Health in Scotland.

Wed 18th October
Yaou Zhang (University of York)
Unquiet Sexual Liberation – Attitudes towards Sexuality in Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw from 1954 to 2020

Relatively little scholarly attention has been paid to the production of Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera The Turn of the Screw (1954). As one of Britten’s most remarkable operas, it has been understood as a work that depicts either the psychological processes of the characters or a ghost story. The story of the libretto was from Henry James’s novella of the same name. The novella was created in 1898 and is one of the best-known ghosts stories in literature, having been adapted numerous times including Britten’s Screw. Since the legalisation of homosexuality and the liberation of sexuality in the late 1960s, scholars have focused on and debated sexual elements among the opera characters.

My research focuses on the experience of seeing the opera on stage over several decades. This chronological research into productions of the opera not only offers a sense of how the stage performance can contemporarily shape and alter audience members’ understanding of the opera, but also clarifies a landscape of changed values of sexuality in aesthetics and receptions.

To examine the hypotheses in interpretation and reception, I use qualitative research to examine the sexual elements in different productions. For instance, I have conducted field research into the topic by arranging interviews with the creative team and visiting Opera North in Leeds, the Britten-Pears Foundation in Aldeburgh, the Theatre Collection at the University of Bristol. The collected data reveals the “hidden identity” in creative teams’ interpretations, social preferences, and rediscover that have previously remained unseen.

Wed 1st November
Dr Alice Masterson (University of Glasgow)
‘Little Girl Blue’? The mediation of the posthumous careers of female singers

This paper explores how female singers who faced a degree of condemnation in public discourse during their career have found ‘redemption’ through death and asks what ideological functions the posthumous narratives woven around them serve. Frequently, mediated retrospectives reframe the musician as a victim of their own success, of the people around them, or of fame and the dangers that come with it. These framings often remove agency by suggesting that the singers were not in in control of their actions and in doing so recast them as inherently vulnerable, regardless of their public persona during their lifetime. The paper argues that the meanings constructed around these posthumous careers serve a redemptive impulse in cases where a female artist dies through misadventure. It draws primarily on newspaper articles to explore the mediation of the careers and posthumous reputations of five high-profile female singers who had well-known struggles with substance abuse and died of either related complications or overdose: Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Karen Carpenter, Amy Winehouse, and Whitney Houston. Running throughout the narratives created around these artists, and vital to the redemptive impulse, is the media ascription of authenticity, both in terms of the artists’ musical and public personae and their personal lives. In short, commentators seem particularly concerned with finding the ‘true’ self of the artist, and these constructions rationalise self-destructive actions, frequently working to present the singers as lacking in autonomy. I argue that the redemptive impulse works to control ‘transgressive’ femininity; a ‘deviant’ woman is perceived to pose less of a threat if she is not seen to have complete agency over her actions

Wed 15th November
Dr Jenn Kirby (Goldsmiths, University of London)
The Body in Electronic Music Performance: a movement-led approach to instrument design

In this presentation, I discuss how I seek to incorporate intuitive body movement into the design of digital musical instruments and performance systems. The body can be considered a component of the performance system, alongside sensors, data, mappings and hardware devices. The components become entangled, so that changing one component, such as the position of sensor on the body or the model of a device, changes the interaction between components, affecting the overall system behaviour. With this approach an instrument is not designed and then given to a body, but instead it is designed with and through the body. This presentation will feature demonstrations of instruments and gestural mappings aimed to enable embodied performance.

Thu 16th November, Concert Hall (note change of venue)
Dr Shain Shapiro
“This Must Be The Place: How Music Can Make Your City Better” (Book Launch)
Please book your place on Eventbrite
Dr Shain Shapiro will deliver a lecture exploring the role that music can play in improving our cities & places and engage in a discussion with special guests.

This Must Be the Place introduces and examines music’s relationship to cities. Not the influence cities have on music, but the powerful impact music can have on how cities are developed, built, managed and governed.

Told in an accessible way through personal stories from cities around the world — including London, Melbourne, Nashville, Austin and Zurich — This Must Be the Place takes a truly global perspective on the ways music is integral to everyday life but neglected in public policy.

Arguing for the transformative role of artists and musicians in a post-pandemic world, This Must Be The Place not only examines the powerful impact music can have on our cities, but also serves as a how-to guide and toolkit for music-lovers, artists and activists everywhere to begin the process of reinventing the communities they live in.