Conference review, by Marnix Wells

Dr Richard Widdess (SOAS, Indian Music head) organised a centenary conference at the Department of Music , Cambridge to celebrate the lifetime achievements of the late Dr Lawrence Picken of Jesus College. Dr Alan Marrett, ex-student of Picken and researcher on the interpretation of ancient Togaku scores preserved in Japan, gave a lecture on the preservation of aboriginal music with a film of his participation in a ' burn 'em rags' funeral ceremony in Northern Territories. He argued that the preservation of this musical heritage was important culturally for the local community involved and hence environmentally since it was a mainstay of a people who possessed age-old knowledge of how to manage that environment. Dr David Hughes spoke directly of Picken's musical work on Sino-Japanese music in a panel which also covered his work in structural biology which was his original field, and his extraordinarily comprehensive classification of Turkish musical instruments from children's toys upwards. Hughes explained that Picken's principal thesis, in the reconstruction of classic Tang dynasty music from millennium old Japanese scores, argued for a greatly increased tempo in performance from that currently practised in Japan's gagaku orchestras. In this regard he and his 'pupils' were able to demonstrate that this music, hitherto viewed as solemn ritual, could be convincingly played as spirited folk melodies, often with a distinctly un-Chinese air, not surprising since many of them are known to have originated as imports from inner Asia via the Silk Road. Sadly, despite Picken's amazing longevity and years of labour, there has been a hiatus of publications by his successors in his 'Music from the Tang Court' publication series since his passing. It is hoped this silence will not be long sustained.