Ballets and bagpipes and audible birth?

What do lost ballets, trans-medial machines, sonic aspects of childbirth and an Argyll piper have in common?

Answer:  They all feature in current PhD research topics at the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge.

Last week saw an afternoon of presentations by seven current PhD students at the Faculty of Music Recital Room, giving an intriguing insight into what they are studying.  Each graduate student gave a 30 minute synopsis of their research to their peers and Faculty members.  From the Pendlebury Library’s point of view, it’s very interesting to see what they are researching – as we meet these students in passing in the library (some more than others!) and have only a sketchy awareness of what their topic is in depth.  For many of them, the resources of the music collections at Cambridge University Library will be of primary importance; but they also use the collections at the Pendlebury Library of Music.

Sir Arthur Blis

Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975)

Graduate student Michael Byrne began performing at the Royal Opera House and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, joining a community of actors that would serve as the foundation for his doctoral research at the University of Cambridge, for which he has received one of the studentships from the Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice . His PhD “Embodied Transmissions: Recreating the lost ballets of Helpmann and Bliss” seeks to provide a historiographical framework through which ‘memory texts’ can be structured, curated and evaluated, integrating performance studies, musicology and the analysis of various productions from the Royal Opera House’s established repertoire.  The composer archive of Arthur Bliss at Cambridge University Library is a valuable primary source.

Another research topic is “Counterphrase, composition and repertory: how an Argyll piper used nine pitches to articulate musical structure in 1797”. Barnaby Brown  is the first Highland piper to apply the principles of the early music movement to pibroch, and is currently writing a PhD thesis on pibroch at the University of Cambridge, funded by the AHRC project  “Bass culture in Scottish musical traditions“.

1940s phonograph advert

1940s phonograph advert

Looking back at 1940’s America, Ely Rosenblum’s presentation “Sharing is an American Institution” focused on amateur phonography and trans-medial machines during that era. Active in sound studies, music research and anthropology, Ely Rosenblum is a PhD candidate in Cultural Musicology under the supervision of Professor Nicholas Cook with his dissertation “Compositional Techniques in Field Recording After 1950″.

Anija Dokter is a Gates Scholar specialising in Sound Studies whose research is a feminist study of the sonic aspects of childbearing. Her work sits within the broader network of feminist scholarship on gender and embodiment, as well as work on the sonic aspects of bodies and their treatment in social scripts, medical institutions, and so on.

Both Anija and Ely are co-convenors of “Sound Studies: Art, Experience, Politics” –  a three-day academic conference at CRASSH, University of Cambridge in July 2015. The conference will feature presentations by leading academics and practitioners in the field of sound studies, alongside papers by graduate students and early career academics.

Nonantola Abbey, Italy.

Nonantola Abbey, Italy.

Giovanni Varelli is a PhD candidate in Music (Historical Musicology) under the supervision of Prof. Susan Rankin. He is currently working on musical notations in early-medieval northern Italy.  Giovanni’s presentation was entitled “Designing a Musical Notation: The case of Carolingian Nonantola”, discussing how the monks of a northern-Italian abbey developed a way to write the sounds of music from the ‘Dark Ages’, and why it is important to study it. Giovanni’s research hit the headlines recently concerning his discovery of the earliest known practical example of polyphonic music – found in a British Library manuscript in London.

Finally, not to be left out, were the last two presentations:  Arild Suarez Stenberg “Can layout and engraving rules affect the readability of musical scores?” and Thomas Wilder, “The forging of an icon: the Violin in Nineteenth Century London”.  What a wealth of research going on under our noses at the Music Faculty!


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