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.  All sessions are open to the public, a warm welcome is extended to all.



201617 Music Colloquia semester 2


Our 2021/22 RMA Research Colloquia series resumes for semester 2 on Wednesday 19th January 2022.

These take place in Room 2, 14 University Gardens at 5.15pm. 

Attendance is free and open to all, but registration via Eventbrite might be required to ensure capacity is not surpassed. If you are a member of staff or postgraduate student at the College of Arts, you will receive details of registration requirements through the College’s mailing list. Otherwise, please check nearer each colloquium’s date for Eventbrite links.

Some of the colloquia might also be streamed – details, again, will be sent through the College’s mailing list.

Wednesday 19th January.

Phil Alexander (University of Edinburgh). “Listening in on the Jewish Gorbals”

In 1904, the Yiddish poet and Glasgow union activist Avrom Radutski described the Jewish population of Scotland as “a mere drop in the ocean”. By the beginning of the 1920s, however, this drop had swelled to around 15,000 people, with ripples that connected Eastern European immigrant roots to an evolving Scottish cultural sensibility.

In this talk, we will listen in on several moments of early 20th century Scottish-Jewish musical life — spanning religious and secular identities, public and private space, and east-west dialogues. Listening in like this can reveal alternative narratives and histories, giving detail and texture to larger migration patterns. We can hear how Scotland’s Jews negotiated their hyphenated identities, and the changing responses of a small, fluid and dynamic group of immigrants to questions of cultural memory, assimilation, past lives and future trajectories.

Wednesday 2nd February.

Yvonne Liao (University of Edinburgh). “‘Global Winds’: Circulations, Circularity, and Coastal Historiography” 

Across the historical disciplines and their multiple research languages, there remains a prevalent interest in the stories and narratives of coastal port cities, notwithstanding a parallel interest in inland ports and the logistics landscape of ‘dryports’ (e.g. Bergqvist, Cullinane, and Wilmsmeier 2016). This coastal interest, moreover, has had the inextricable effect of shaping and even reinforcing conceptions of maritime (and imperial) history. In the study of twentieth-century musical circulations, for example, can be found an extensive literature on the migratory practices and communities whose documented lives are often articulated with the role of colonial port cities as hubs of encounter and exchange (e.g. Denning 2015; Yang, Mikkonen, and Winzenburg 2020). Conversely, and just as salient, are the concomitant challenges of disentangling from, without losing sight of, the received worldviews long perpetuated by oceanic webs of trade and empire, as well as their attendant knowledge of a ‘historical geo-economics’ (Sivasundaram, Bashford, and Armitage 2017). 

Yet this ambivalence of perspectives also points to the new and untapped possibilities of exploring a coastal historiography from within — and the additional perspectives it may bring on charting musical continuity and change. More specifically, what may a post-maritime view of musical circulations entail? My talk offers some related reflections, by centring on musical imports and their circularity in the colonial non-colony of (coastal) treaty port Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s, and focusing on two wind imports: the military wind band, and the harmonica, a wind reed instrument. Crucially, here, in emphasising circularity over circulations, my discussion considers the extent to which these so-called musical imports — despite their transnational and transhistorical influences — can be understood as ‘global’ musical imports, or ‘global winds’. Can it be assumed in other words that such imports feed into one sweeping circulatory movement of an interconnected port world, and a singular maritime imagination writ large? Two case studies serve to inform my assessment, respectively the Shanghai Volunteer Corps Band and the print discourse of Chinese harmonica magazines. More broadly, in rethinking the meanings and trajectories of dissemination, I contemplate fragmentary ideas of the global at the interstices of (examining) coastal historiography and its lived experience.

Tickets can be booked via Eventbrite for in-person attendance. 

Wednesday 23rd February.

Matthew Machin-Autenrieth (University of Aberdeen). “‘Flamenco from Shore to Shore’: Nation Branding and Cultural Diplomacy in the Western Mediterranean”

Between 2012 and 2014, the autonomous Andalusian Government in Spain spearheaded a project of cultural diplomacy called Flamenco de Orilla a Orilla (Flamenco from Shore to Shore) in which flamenco, Spain’s most well known dance and music tradition, was used to promote intercultural dialogue across the Strait of Gibraltar. Held across ten cities in Andalusia and Morocco, the Orilla project consisted of professional training courses in flamenco production, talks, conferences, business networking days and concerts. In this paper, I examine the objectives of the Orilla project, both in terms of the advancement of Andalusian political and cultural interests, and as a way of building artistic and cultural connections with communities in Morocco and with Moroccan immigrants in Andalusia.  

Following Doeser and Nisbett’s analysis of how culture is instrumentalised in diplomacy, I argue that the Orilla project constituted a form of ‘reaching out’ (cultural diplomacy) and ‘standing out’ (nation branding). Flamenco was harnessed as a social and economic ‘motor’ to facilitate cross-border collaboration built on the rhetoric of historical and cultural commonality between Andalusia and Morocco. Moreover, the project was tied up with migratory politics in Andalusia given its attempts to reach Moroccan immigrant communities and facilitate interculturalism. In this paper, I ask: how and why was flamenco used as a form of cultural diplomacy? How are music diplomacy projects such as Orilla implicated in the wider context of Spanish–Moroccan geopolitical relations? How can we determine the efficacy of such projects? In addressing these questions, I examine how flamenco has become a useful tool for cultural rapprochement with Morocco while at the same time advancing Andalusian interests. Yet I also highlight some of the shortcomings of such projects that limit Moroccan agency and fail to reach target communities.  

Wednesday 9th March.

Richard Gillies (University of Glasgow). “Singing Soviet Stagnation: Vocal Cycles from the USSR, 1964–1985”

‘Stagnation’ (or zastoy in Russian) was a retrospectively applied term coined by Michael Gorbachev to refer to the social, political, and economic stasis that set in during Leonid Brezhnev’s premiership. While the term ‘stagnation’ is in many ways a thoroughly appropriate descriptor for the gerontocratic political inertia of the soviet state during the 1970s, it does not reflect the extraordinary diversity of social-cultural activity that was taking place below the surface of official authoritative discourse. This presentation offers an examination of the kaleidoscopic cultural atmosphere of the period through the lens of vocal cycles by Dmitri Shostakovich, Georgy Sviridov, and Valentin Silvestrov.


Wednesday 23rd March.

Elodie A. Roy (Northumbria University). “Phonographic peripheries: Home recording in the interwar period”

Conventional narratives of early phonography tend to linearly focus on the development of the recording industry at the turn of the 20th century, mapping out the seemingly steady rise of recording artists, engineers and critics, and celebrating famous names or iconic careers. In such a context, early users of phonographic devices are almost exclusively described as listeners and consumers of pre-recorded, or canned, music. This paper examines the non-commercial and peripheral – yet culturally significant – practice of amateur self-recording (or home recording) in the interwar period with a focus on Europe and the US. Drawing from archival research as well as from the theoretical insights offered by sociologists of music, technology and everyday life (Finnegan 1989; Théberge 1997; Hennion, Maisonneuve, Gomart 2000) and media archaeologists (Levin 2010, Brock-Nannestad 2012), it surveys the constellation of devices, materials and knowledges inventively mobilised by emerging home recordists between the wars. Taking into consideration recent arguments for the decentring of the ‘phonographic regime’ (Bohlman and McMurray 2017; Roy and Rodríguez 2021), the talk contributes to a more diverse and open-ended understanding of interwar sound-recording cultures, recovering some of their more marginal and anonymous actors.