BFE-RMA Research Students’ Conference 2023

Report by Charlotte Schuitenmaker

BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference 2023 – Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne

What a pleasure it was to start off 2023 with yet another in-person BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference. Hosted by Northumbria University, many of us made our way to Newcastle upon Tyne – with the additional online day for those unable to attend in person, facilitating an inclusive and more environmentally-friendly event.

With this year’s theme “Borderlands,” I was excited to see a variety of papers on the programme covering global as well as local insights of music-making crossing, blurring, and (re-)imagining borders in the areas of gender, disciplines, nation, landscape, and, of course, musical genre. On the first day (online), Monday 9th, the RMA EDI Working Group facilitated an important session on EDI (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion) that combined contributions from Amy Blier-Carruthers, Diljeet Bhachu, Shzr Ee Tan and Laudan Nooshin. For those interested, the Music Higher Education EDI report which was discussed in the session can be found here:

This was followed by the first in-person day of the conference (Tuesday 10th): full of excitement and ready to fill our newly acquired notebooks (thanks Northumbria University!), we kicked off the day with panels on language, genre, and musical institutions. Luigi Monteanni (SOAS University of London), for example, set the tone with his enthusiastic energy exploring genre formations between Réak and Extreme Metal in West Java. Directing our focus from Bandung to Berlin, Kirsten Etheridge (Oxford Brookes University) followed with an in-depth exploration of David Bowie on the New Romantics. Michael Saunders (Northumbria University) closed one of the first in-person sessions with a valuable contribution on the collaboration between Charles Mingus Jr and Joni Mitchell, deconstructing ideas on cultural appropriation and gender issues.

A music conference isn’t a music conference without an engaging form of music education. Yanyi Lu (University of Hull) managed to make the whole room sing in Chinese, enriching my personal Chinese vocabulary with words such as ni hao and xie xie (we all have to start somewhere!) through the children’s song “Are You Sleeping?”. She convincingly explored the connections between language acquisition and singing and showcased a variety of teaching techniques.

Eimear Hurley presenting on music education in Yorkshire. Photo by author.

The first keynote address of this conference was delivered by Professor Juan Diego Díaz (BFE, University of California, Davis) titled: “Traveling Together: Reflections on Accompanied Ethnomusicological Fieldwork in West Africa”. This inspiring talk presented an insight into Professor Díaz’s fieldwork processes, that entailed travelling to various communities connected over ancestral ties: Brazil’s Bahia, Togo and Benin, together with Tabom musician and master drummer Eric Odwarkei Morton. He showed us the diasporic connections within Tabom populations while exploring intricacies around issues such as cultural authenticity and the bureaucracy around the selection process of the chosen travelling musician, Eric. This journey is also presented in the form of a documentary:

We continued the conference on day 3 (Wednesday 11th) with the first panel in Northumbria University’s Great Hall, which started the day off right with Ke Ma’s (Guildhall School of Music and Drama) presentation illustrating the ways in which Chinese musical influences have shaped Western piano music. She demonstrated her argument with beautiful live piano-playing, exploring Chinese cultural influences in these compositions.

Leandro Pessina presenting on music tourism. Photo by BFE/RMA Twitter page

The third day was packed with 17 different panels, covering a wide range of topics including cultural heritage, composition, place, and a variety of workshops. While Rowan Bayliss Hawitt (University of Edinburgh) explored the relations between geology and Scottish Folk Music through an important focus on Deep Time in our current time of climate crisis, Ruari Paterson-Achenbach (University of Cambridge) investigated affective listening experiences through music by singer-songwriter Connie Converse. Ruari aims to explore alternative forms of (queer) knowledge making through intuition and intimacy.

A very welcome session was the “What Next?” training, convened by Dr Núria Bonet (RMA, University of Plymouth) joined by panellists Hannah Rowe (Routledge) and Dr Clare Seymour (Trinity College London), with impromptu input from Dr Matthew Machin-Autenrieth (BFE, University of Aberdeen). This session provided insights on potential avenues post-PhD: the world of (academic) publishing, what it entails to be a music examiner, how to obtain that teaching opportunity, and tips and tricks around postdoc applications. I am sure I am not alone in saying that this was a much-valued addition to the programme tailored towards postgraduate students.

The second keynote was delivered by Dr Brianne Dolce (RMA, University of Oxford) with her presentation titled “In Search of Women in Medieval Music History”, providing us an insight into musical engagement by women in the medieval Low Countries. Often not included in music histories, Dr Dolce illustrates that women did indeed very much participate in musical life, such as those living in beguines for example. With this, she reveals alternative histories of medieval musical cultures. We celebrated a great third conference day with drinks and (an abundance of) nibbles, and finished the day where we started: in the Great Hall where Trio Northumbria played pieces by J.S. Bach, Zoltan Kodály and Ernest John Moeran.

And how time flies! Day 4 (Thursday 12th) included panels on environment, women, and instruments. Dieter Hearle (University of Plymouth), for example, showcased a brilliant sonification of the Plymouth buoys’ light sequences, which led him to build a computer game exploring alternative tools for music composition. Those fortunate enough to register for the IKO workshop on time had the pleasure of listening to sounds through the first IKO icosahedral loudspeaker in the UK. This loudspeaker makes sounds “move” in various directions, an experience not to forget! We finished this year’s BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference with final panels, which included topics such as ambient and environmental Japanese music by Matthew James (SOAS University of London) and an engaging exploration of the global race for the world’s largest pipe organ by Michael Koenig (University of Oxford).

The IKO speaker. Photo by author.

It was a successful edition, and we must give a very special thanks to this year’s hosts at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne. Next year’s BFE/RMA Research Students’ Conference will take place at Cardiff University on 10-12 January 2024. See you then!


Report by Charlotte Schuitenmaker (SOAS University of London)