Conferences, conferences, conferences

As you can tell from a lack of blog posts, it’s been a busy few months on the PhD. Very shortly after I got back from the USA my dear grandma died, which meant that I didn’t do nearly as much work over the summer of 2016 as I ought to have done. However, since then I’ve been pretty productive in terms of my writing, and I’ve been to quite a number of conferences. I had realised I hadn’t spoken about my work outside of my universities, and so it felt like the time was right.  It’s been quite challenging applying for and then, once accepted, writing the papers for these conferences; contextualising your work anew each time is interesting, and also anticipating the interests of the specific audiences. I also find public speaking quite intimidating, so I’ve been doing as much of it as I can in an effort to get over that by brute force. And I think, to a certain extent, it has worked! So here’s a brief recap on my conference adventures of 2016-17 thus far – I would love to hear of conference experiences or advice in the comments.


22 October 2016: BFE ‘Radio and Ethnomusicology’ study day, Museum of Communication, Edinburgh, Scotland

First in the series was the BFE’s one-day conference on ‘Radio and Ethnomusicology’. The CfP for this conference came out while I was at the Library of Congress on the AHRC IPS Fellowship; while I was there, I met the quite brilliant Lawrence Davies, whose PhD focuses on the British blues prior to 1950s (he blogs about his own research here). Since we were both working on elements of our research related to radio, it seemed a good opportunity to get a panel together, and so we each reached out to colleagues who we thought might be interested. I was really happy when Lea Hagmann, a dear friend whose PhD focuses on the contemporary Cornish folk music revival scenes, responded, and so we submitted our abstracts and were accepted.

Lea and I spent a day enjoying the sights of Edinburgh before the conference. The conference was held at the Museum of Communication in Burntisland, which is a beautiful train journey across the firth from Edinburgh. This was the first time I’d spoken about my work to an ethnomusicological audience outside of my home institutions. Our panel was the first of the day, so personally I was glad to my nerves out of the way and could enjoy the remaining speakers! My paper discussed some of the work I had been doing at the Library of Congress, exploring the Grass Valley Carol Choir’s series of national radio broadcasts during the 1940s and how the scripts of these broadcasts depicted the singers and their songs. I thoroughly enjoyed the wide variety of speakers and subjects; Lawrence wrote a great summary of the day here. It was also brilliant to hear Professor Timothy Taylor, of UCLA, discuss circulation, value and exchange in relation to musical goods in his keynote speech. I was also fascinated by the museum itself; during the lunch break we were lucky enough to get a ‘behind the scenes’ look at some of their vast collection of radio technology.


26-7 February 2017: ICTM Ireland: ‘Sustainability and Revival’, Maynooth University, Ireland

Again, the CfP for the Ireland chapter of ICTM’s conference came out at just the opportune time; I was working on the revivals of Cornish carolling traditions in each of my locations, and it would have been silly not to suggest to Lea (whose work focuses on revival) that we form a panel. We each reached out to colleagues in the hope of forming a panel focussing on Cornish revivals, and were delighted when my co-supervisor, Dr. Garry Tregidga, suggested that he discuss the Cornish anthem ‘Trelawney’ and its position within the Cornish Celtic revival of the early 20th century.

Again, the day before the conference Lea and I enjoyed a trip into Dublin to sightsee; we walked around the lanes, listened to some fantastic sessions, watched a beautiful sunset and finally enjoyed a Guinness while watching one of the Six Nations matches in a quiet pub on the riverside. The conference itself was in Maynooth University, a short train journey from Dublin. It is an absolutely beautiful campus, with a very ‘college’ feel; our accommodation was in one of the main buildings with an expansive quad.

The conference itself was hugely interesting, with a vast range of papers. Professor Jeff Todd Titon gave the keynote speech, titled ‘Eco-trope, Eco-tripe: Sound Cultures, Sustainability and Revival’, via Skype, as he was unable to be there in person. For me personally, a standout of this conference was the roundtable discussion regarding ‘Irish traditional music: Continuing and evolving the revival process’. I was particularly interested by Grace Toland, the Director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, who talked about how the organisation makes archival sources available to learners of Irish Traditional Music. This was my first experience of actually chairing a panel, introducing myself, Garry and Lea to our listeners. In my paper, I compared and contrasted the revival and re-enactment of the carolling traditions in Moonta and Grass Valley in the present day, exploring the interesting continuities and divergences from historical practice. Our panel was on the morning of the second day, and unfortunately some of the delegates could only attend the first day, so we had a smaller audience than I had initially anticipated. However, we were all asked interesting and insightful questions and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to discuss our work.


19 April 2017: ‘Digital Folk’ conference, Sheffield University

This conference was the culmination of the ‘Digital Folk’ project, a large scale research project I didn’t actually give a paper at this conference. I had been to the project launch in London in 2014 and was intrigued to see the end results.

Again, how digital media are changing the way we as researchers and practitioners are engaging with folk musics.


20-23 April 2017: BFE Annual conference at Sheffield University

Finally, following the Digital Folk conference, Lea and I again spoke on the same panel at the BFE’s annual conference. We had actually applied independently for this conference, but weren’t surprised to find ourselves on the same panel. We were in good, Celtic-themed company with Jeffrey Taylor, an MA student at the University of Memphis, Dr Patricia Ballantyne, of the Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen. This was the largest conference I have attended thus far and it was brilliant to be surrounded by ethnomusicologists at all stages of their careers – and quite extraordinary to be able to appreciate the variety of work being done, as evidenced by the five parallel panels on at once over two and a half days. The keynote was given by Professor Michael Bakan of Florida State University regarding the agency and autonomy of informants in ethnographic research, and he highlighted the fact that sometimes we don’t need to interpret; actually, the perspective of our informant IS the interpretation.

At this conference I gave a paper regarding the Cornish Association of South Australia constructed a Cornish identity that was overtly bound up in terms of an ancient racial Celtic heritage.

I unfortunately appear to have failed to take photographs of three parts of the conference I very much enjoyed. First was the tabla concert by Yogesh Samshi, which was one of the most extraordinary displays of virtuosity I have ever witnessed; even more so for the gentle and open way in which he described his art to the audience. I also had an excellent evening at the conference dinner and open-mic night. Jeffrey Taylor, the other speaker on our panel, got the proceedings going with two Quebecois Jews-harp tunes, and from there we travelled the world in sound – including Jerriais singing, Japanese cowboy songs, a bite-sized Irish session on flute and accordion, and many more. I very much enjoyed visiting Sheffield; the conference venue itself was called the Diamond, a very new building close to the city centre which was excellently laid out and whose break-out space in the centre greatly facilitated the many conversations over coffee – and rather brilliantly, ice-cream at one point – in the breaks. Having only really travelled through it before, I found Sheffield to be a vibrant city with some very good (if swiftly removed!) street art which I noticed the presence, and immediate absence of, close to the conference venue itself.

So there we have it; four conferences, three papers, great networking, fantastic memories, and both old and new friends. The conference streak isn’t over; during my research trip on Australia this year I gave a keynote speech at the Cornish Association’s History Seminar, but I’ll be writing about that in a separate post. I’m also giving Kernewek City Lit’s annual Rosyer Lecture in July, and earlier in the year I applied to participate in a round-table at SEM’s annual conference in Denver in October, so there’ll be more to report on those in due course. However, I don’t expect that I’ll be submitting abstracts for more conferences any time soon; it’s been fantastic to be able to talk about my research to such a variety of audiences but the priority now is completing my thesis.

Any thoughts on attending/speaking at conferences during the PhD? I certainly felt like I should be doing them, although I can now see how much time they take from writing, but the benefits are also clear.

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