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 talks take place in the Club Room, 14 University Gardens (see map).  All sessions are free and open to the public, a warm welcome is extended to all.

2023/24, semester 2 — Wednesdays at 5.15pm (unless otherwise noted)

Thu 18th January
Fátima Volkoviskii (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)
‘Between High & Low Brow: Spanish Singing Style in Early Recordings’ 

Spanish recordings of the early 1900s reveal performing practices with a vocal code particular to this period. These early recordings demonstrate the migration of singers between different musical genres as one characteristic of the Spanish musical scene of the time. They also show how different ways of interpretation of the same piece were accepted and, overall, a wide variety within the Spanish singing style.

During this period, classically trained singers recorded songs of a more popular nature and audible evidence suggests a particular use of vocal gestures and expressive traits as part of these performances. Recordings display different modes of expressivity, transforming certain vocal habits from the lyrical tradition into a vernacular idiom. We will review how the cultural context of Spanish singers of the early 20th century allowed for a broader palette of vocal style for classically trained singers as well as explore how two singers, María Barrientos and Conchita Supervía, interpreted Spanish art songs within this cultural context.

Wed 31st January
Les Back (University of Glasgow)
‘What Sociologists Learn from Music: Identity, Music-making, and the Sociological Imagination’

Sociologists very often have extra-curricular lives as musicians. This article explores the relationship between musical life and sociological identities. Through a range of examples from Howard Becker’s grounding in field research as a pianist in the Chicago jazz clubs and his theories of deviance, to the connection between Emma Jackson’s life as a bass player in Brit pop band Kenickie and her feminist punk sociology, an argument is developed about the things sociologists learn from music. Based on 28 life history interviews with contemporary sociologists this paper shows how sociologists learn – both directly and tacitly – to understand society through their engagement with music. Music offers them an interpretive device to read cultural history, a training in the unspoken and yet structured aspects of culture, and an attentiveness to improvised and interactive aspects of social interaction. For sociologists, involvement in music making is also an incitement to get off campus and encounter an alternative world of value and values. Music enables sociologists to sustain their research imaginations and inspires them to make sociology differently. However, the article concludes that in the contemporary neoliberal university it is harder for sociologists to sustain a creative hinterland in music. The tacit knowledges that often nourish sociological identities may run the risk of being depleted as a result.

Les Back teaches sociology at the University of Glasgow and his books include The Unfinished Politics of Race (University of Cambridge Press, 2023) and The Art of Listening (Berg, 2007)

Wed 28th February
Susan Cook (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
‘American Musics in Transatlantic Contexts: Listening Across Nation and Race’

My research area is U.S./American musical repertories with a particular focus on ragtime and dance music before World War 1. More recently, this work has taken a transatlantic turn as I’ve explored the reception of syncopated musics beyond the borders of the United States. My presentation will focus on a new project begun here in Glasgow. In trying to answer an initial question about the reception of John Phillip Sousa’s band at the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition, I’ve uncovered archival materials that raise provocative issues about nationalized and racialized musical identities at the turn of the 20th century. In the work of Glasgow Herald music critic Robert Turnbull, I have found evidence of the sonic “residue” of blackface minstrelsy and its power to shape how audiences subsequently heard and understood music of all kinds.

Susan C. Cook has been on the faculty of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1991 and is currently a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of York and a visiting research fellow at the University of Glasgow. During her ten-year term as the School’s director, completed last academic year, Professor Cook oversaw the successful completion of a new music performance building. Her research and teaching continue to focus on American musics of all kinds and demonstrate her commitment to feminist methodologies and interdisciplinary cultural criticism. She is the co-editor of the award-winning Cecilia Reclaimed: Feminist Perspectives on Gender and Music (Illinois, 1994) and of Bodies of Sound: Studies Across Popular Music and Dance (Ashgate, 2013). She has published essays in The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music, the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, and The Arts of the Prima Donna, co-edited by Rachel Cowgill. Cook’s essay “Watching Our Step: Embodying Research, Telling Stories,” on the gendered and racialized meanings of ragtime social dance, won the Lippincott Prize from the Society for Dance History Scholars. Following this current year of research leave, she will return to her monograph, Watching Your Step: Ragtime Culture 1896-1916, which explores the multiple practices and meanings, local and transatlantic, of social dance and popular music before the Great War.

Wed 13th March
Andrea Schiavio (York University)
‘Social Interaction and Creativity in Musical Learning: Insights from 4E Cognitive Science’

In this talk, I introduce and contextualise the notion of "musical synergy," supported by the conceptual framework of 4E cognitive science and a range of recent qualitative and quantitative studies on musical development, learning, and pedagogy. This work helps provide a taxonomy of musical synergies observable from early infancy to adulthood, revealing music cognition as an embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive phenomenon.

Andrea Schiavio is Lecturer at the University of York (UK) and President of ESCOM, the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music. After completing his doctoral studies in Sheffield, he held several postdoctoral positions in the US (Ohio State University), Turkey (Bosphorus University), and Austria (University of Music and Performing Arts Graz and University of Graz). He is author of more than 70 peer reviewed publications (including a monograph for MIT Press), and one of three founders and Editors of the newly established book series Music as Art and Science (OUP).

Wed 20th March
Vera Wolkowicz (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris / University of Glasgow)
‘From Egalitarianism to Exoticism: The Education of Latin American Musicians in Paris, c.1880–1930’

Since the late 19th century, many Latin American artists sought an education or continued their studies abroad. Various governments in the region encouraged these initiatives through scholarships or state subsidies so that those who demonstrated potential could pursue a musical education in different European centers. One of the most popular destinations was the city of Paris, which was perceived as a hub of modernity and cosmopolitanism. While this topic has been extensively explored in the fields of visual arts and literature, there has been little study regarding the communities of Latin American musicians in Paris.

In this presentation, I will provide a general overview of the number of Latin Americans who studied in public and private musical institutions in the French capital between approximately 1880 and 1930. From there, I will analyze the different identity processes that developed as a supranational community over time and how Latin American musicians were influenced by both socio-political events and the internal policies of musical institutions, which either restricted or expanded opportunities for foreign students.

Vera Wolkowicz obtained her PhD (2018) and Master’s degree (2013) in Music from the University of Cambridge and a Bachelor’s degree in Arts from the University of Buenos Aires (2009). With an interest in the study of the early musical nationalisms in Latin America at the beginning of the 20th century, she is the author of Inca Music Reimagined (Oxford University Press, 2022) and Música de América: estudio preliminar y edición crítica (Biblioteca Nacional and Teseo, 2012). She is currently a Marie Sklodowska-Curie postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Research on Arts and Language (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris) and the director of the scientific project “Art Music in the Latin American Press (1900-1950),” at the Institute of Performing Arts (University of Buenos Aires). In March she will start a position as Lecturer in Musicology at the University of Glasgow.