BFE-RMA Research Student’s Conference 2024

Report by George O. Speck

Running from 10-12th January at Cardiff University, the collaborative nature of the BFE-RMA Conference always leads to an environment of fruitful interdisciplinarity. This year was no different, and a wonderful way to kick off the new calendar year. Whilst presenters unable to travel were able to make use of Zoom, 2024 also adopted a fully in-person format for attendees, allowing us to all benefit from free-flowing conversations in coffee and lunch breaks. Not to mention a fabulous trip to Tŷ Cerdd (Music Centre Wales) and the Wales Millennium Centre for those on-the-ball enough to sign up in time!

Over 3 days the conference played host to a staggering 80 postgraduate papers, 4 electroacoustic performances (music by Stephen Jackson Banks, Jérémie Martineau, Rachael Gibson and Juan Hernández), 4 training discussions, 2 keynotes, musical workshops and panels, and one captivating evening concert (the wonderful Trio Anima, performing music by John Dowland, Nathan James Dearden, Hilary Tann and Claude Debussy). The presentations and recitals were divided into 30 sessions by theme, all tied together by the common concept of ‘Identity’.

There was a clear sense that the quality of student research on show was outstanding, and a number of sessions that I attended tied in to ‘Identity’ in especially interesting ways. At one of the opening sessions, the methodological contrast between Anna Tharia’s (University of Liverpool) historically grounded investigation of the ‘Relationship Between Place and Class Identity in the Beatles’ Ascent to Fame’, and Luigi Monteanni’s (SOAS, University of London) ethnographic deep-dive into the connection between ‘Extreme Metal Ideology’ and ‘Countryside Imagery in West Java’ showcased the advantage of the broad theme, with the resultant discussion benefitting from the input of multiple backgrounds.

Dr E. Falade, presenting on “Queering the Black Musical Atlantic”. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page.

A personal favourite was the session grounded by our geography and dedicated to Welsh Perspectives, in which Isabel Grace Thomas (University of Newcastle), Fenella Briggs (Cardiff University) and Roddy O’Keeffe (MTU Cork School of Music) delivered papers on the ‘Tensions between Industrial Heritage and Music Practices in Working Men's Clubs of the South Wales Valleys’, ‘Welsh National Identity, Music and the Master at the Investiture of the Prince of Wales, 1969’ and ‘The Guinness Choir at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, 1964 and 1967’, respectively. As we return to fully in-person conferencing, special mention must also go to those who travelled from afar to be with us this year. For instance, Kelwin Mateus Monteiro (University of Aveiro) travelled all the way from India to present on the construction of a New Historical Identity of Goa in Dulpods.

This year’s evening keynotes were given by Dr Gabrielle Messeder (City, University of London) and Dr Saeid Kordmafi (SOAS, University of London). Reflecting the interdisciplinary setting, the presenters had diverging approaches to their musical study. On the Wednesday, Dr Messeder showed us the continuing value of ethnography as explorations of the praxis of musical communities. The explored cases of samba musicians in the Lebanese wedding industry are stark examples of both the musical and practical issues that performers working in diasporic communities continue to face, from the need to ‘tropicalise’ their work to the pressure they can face from immigration regulations.

Dr Gabrielle Messeder, delivering the Jerome Roche Keynote Lecture. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page.

The day after, Dr Kordmafi provided sharp insight into the value of Artistic Research as a means of exploring and transforming a musical style and community. In his case, this was a move to revive an Iranian classical style perceived as stagnant by incorporating ‘transnationality’ and increasing rhythmic interplay in improvisations. Both presentations were grounded in the scholars’ own experiences and were supplemented with useful video examples to directly highlight the phenomena under discussion. This contributed to an impressive clarity of message in both keynotes, aided further by the speakers’ impressive responses to questions from their audience.

Dr Saeid Kordmafi’s BFE Keynote. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page.

On top of the excellent scholarly content, the presentation skill level on display was also noticeably high. I would personally reserve special commendation for those who were doing so for the first time in their careers, all of whom took to the task of delivering their research naturally. I wouldn’t have been able to work out who the first-timers were, such was their ability to deliver their research like an experienced speaker!

Jimmy Goeijenbier, playing as a part of a lecture-recital on Performing the Commissioned Works of the Dublin International Piano Competition. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page.

Another highlight were the two practical workshops of Javanese Gamelan and Collective Improvisation, providing a delightful contrast to the surrounding presentations and grounding the conference through their focus on practical music-making. We also benefitted from four training sessions, a great forum for postgraduates to hear the practical expertise of established scholars in areas such as academic resilience, the path to successful publishing and chairing sessions at conferences. The final day also included an insightful panel discussion on the challenges that scholars can face freely expressing viewpoints within the field, notable for its focus on the realistic action that can be taken in this area. All of these discussions were incredibly useful for early-career scholars as they look to enter and contribute to the academic industry in meaningful ways.

Javanese Gamelan workshop. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page

The warmest of thanks must be given to all the students and staff at Cardiff University who worked tirelessly to help deliver a wonderful three days of idea-exchange for the postgraduate musical community. Thanks also goes to the technology team, both for their role in facilitating the smooth running of slides and their facilitation of online presentations, without which several of us would not have been able to share our research. They now pass the BFE-RMA torch on to the University of Aberdeen, who are due to host the 2025 edition.


Bio: George Speck is a second year PhD candidate at City, University of London. His research focuses on the experiences of jazz musicians participating in Networked Music Performances.