Hello readers! This is my first blog post and so now is the time to introduce myself and my current project.
My name is Kate Neale and I grew up at Porthcothan Bay, on the north coast of Cornwall. This is a photo of me in Padstow on Mayday 2014. Padstow, just a few miles north of Porthcothan, has a very unusual and vibrant tradition known is Mayday. On the first of May (or the nearest Monday), the town is decked in greenery from the woods, ribbons, and two Osses (horses) dance around the town to the accompaniment of accordions, drums and singers. As a child my parents would bring my brother and I into Padstow to see the celebration, which we found very exciting. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere of Mayday – hearing the primal drum beat echoing through the streets, trying to get a glimpse of the whirling dance of the black, abstract horse, listening to the different groups sing the May song; ever since then, I’ve always tried to go to Padstow for Mayday since it continues to fascinate me.
ABOVE: The Blue Oss in Market Place on Mayday 2004, copyright Cornish Guardian
In 2007 I went to Cardiff University where I studied a BA in English and Music, and over the course of the degreee I became interested in ethnomusicology. There doesn’t appear to be a hard and fast definition of ethnomusicology, but broadly speaking it is the study of music in its cultural context; how individuals, groups, communities and societies understand and utilise music in different ways. With my mother being a music teacher, I grew up playing music and had always been intrigued by the power of music and its ability to define, direct and even create social situations. So when I realised that there was actually an academic field that fitted in with this interest, I had to go for it. I therefore focussed my final dissertation on Padstow’s Mayday, examining how the musical materials interacted with other elements of the festival to articulate identities and socio-cultural groups.
At the end of my degree, I received a departmental scholarship to complete an MA in ethnomusicology. This time I focussed my thesis on the Padstow carols; another, less well known musical tradition of the town. The Padstow carollers perform a small repertoire of unusual Christmas carols in various places throughout the town every Advent Sunday. This time I was interested in how different modes of performance intersected; some carollers read from the carol book, others from memory, and some doing a bit of both. I really enjoyed this project, and it was while researching the Padstow carols that I started to find references to carols being performed all over the world in diasporic Cornish communities.
And now, after three years of media work during which I continued to follow up various research threads in my spare time, and an application and interview for funding later, I’m delighted to find myself in the first year of my PhD. As it stands, my thesis is titled ‘Distant Cousins: Music, Community and Identity in the Cornish Diaspora’. My primary supervisor is Dr. John Morgan O’Connell, Director of Research at Cardiff University’s School of Music. My co-supervisor is Dr. Garry Tregidga, Director of the Institute for Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter.
So – that’s a brief introduction to me and how my project started off, and I’ll tell you more in a later post. I’m hoping to add posts fairly regularly with updates on what I’m doing, so thank you for reading and if you have any questions or feedback, please leave a comment or use the form on the contact page!