Posts Tagged ‘Writing Club’

The Fourth Meeting of the Postgraduate Writing Club

University of Leeds, 6th March 2014

From left to right: Andrew Cheetham, Danielle Hood, Daniel Holden, Joseph Knowles, Martin Curda, Derek Scott and Stephanie Jones.

The latest meeting of the Postgraduate Writing Club took place on 6th March 2014. The event, sponsored by the SMA, was hosted by the music department of the University of Leeds and chaired by Professor Derek Scott.

Although the number of participants was lower than last time, this was not to the detriment of the intensity and richness of discussion. The quality of the meeting was also ensured by the fact that all papers reflected a late and mature stage of research, and are now being prepared for publication. On this occasion the Writing Club allowed us to test our work against friendly criticism of fellow postgraduates before subjecting our papers to the full rigour of the peer-review process. As ever, the meeting unfolded in a climate of good humour, friendship and mutual support.

Martin Curda’s study of ‘The Body, the Grotesque and Carnival in the music of Pavel Haas’ relates the work of a relatively obscure composer to the context of Czechoslovakian avant-garde of the 1920s, thus bringing new material into the Anglophone musicological discourse. The discussion initially focused on the problem of translation of the terminology used by Czech musicologists and the idiosyncratic theoretical language of Leoš Janáček. Subsequently, attention was shifted to the position of Czechoslovakian avant-garde in the plurality of European avant-garde movements of the 1920s. Comments have also been made on formal structure of the text in relation to the problem of transition from a PhD thesis chapter to the format of a journal article.

Andrew Cheetham’s recent conference paper, combining archival research with comparative analytical enquiry, brings to light a hitherto unknown connection between particular works of English seventeenth-century composer George Jeffreys and the madrigals of the (in)famous Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. The panel suggested ways to expand the analytical section of the paper, which is to become a chapter in a collected volume dedicated to Gesualdo, by considering broader issues of genre and style. It has been pointed out during the discussion that further research might focus on Jeffreys’s choice of literary text and scrutinise the extent to which it corresponds with the expressive language, apparently inspired by Gesualdo. Andrew was also encouraged to elaborate on the historical and technical implications of the fact that Gesualdo’s madrigals were transcribed into figured bass notation for a performance in which Jeffreys himself is believed to have taken part.

After lunch, Derek Scott enlightened us with his talk on ‘how (or how not!) to deal with T.V. and radio’. Drawing upon his widespread experience with all forms of media, Derek selected a couple of his most recent appearances, such as BBC Breakfast TV (2011), The One and Only Mrs Mills (2012) and Len Goodman’s Dance Band Days (2014) to provide advice about what really went on behind the scenes, the most important of which was ‘what might interest you might not interest the BBC’ (there were plenty of examples). Moreover, we are all now thoroughly informed that the BBC do at times try and recruit junior academics for research on the cheap and that it is often best to politely decline certain requests. Not that Derek wanted to put us off from enjoying a few minutes of fame here and there. Indeed, a public appearance looks great when having to demonstrate ‘impact’ in a research proposal. All in all, it was very interesting and useful to hear about the realities that an academic can face when dealing with media appearances.

Danielle Hood contributed her study of ‘The Uncanny Topic in the Fünf Orchesterstücke Op. 16’, approaching Schoenberg’s music in a novel way – from the perspective of Freud’s theory of the unconscious. Outlining the continuity with the ‘Ombra’ topic of earlier music, she identifies in Schoenberg’s works the topic of ‘the Uncanny’. Drawing on Freud’s description of the term, she suggests ways in which anxiety, repression and castration complex are signified in Schoenberg’s music. During the discussion, several pieces have been identified which might be eligible to scrutiny from a similar perspective. Finally, several remarks were made on the form of the soon-to-be-submitted article; given the breadth of Danielle’s (brilliant, one must say) conceptual argumentation, a careful use of subheadings might help the reader navigate in the text.

The research seminar which was to conclude the day was, unfortunately, cancelled. However, this provided the company with welcome opportunity to continue the discussion over a pint at the local pub, and what a discussion it proved to be! Small talk aside, some of the serious topics that came up included conference presentation experience, academic opportunities, research methodologies and avoiding sexism in academic writing. Now, lest anyone gets the wrong impression, we actually had fun – not only in the pub but throughout the day. The Writing Club meetings offer much more than a platform for heavy academic discussion: they create a sense of community. We would therefore like to thank the people who made it happen this March and encourage more people to join us for the next meeting, details of which will be advertised in due course. Finally, special thanks are due to Derek Scott for the advice, encouragement, support and wonderful hospitality.

Martin Curda

Posted on 10th March 2014 by Shay Loya in Reviews, SMA No comments » Tags:

SMA Postgraduate Writing Club, Third Meeting

Participants, from left to right: Miona Dimitrijevic, Stephanie Jones, Kirstie Hewlett, Becky Thumpston, Andrew Cheetham, Alex Glyde-Bates, Joe Knowles, William Green and Martin Curda.

With Dr Kenneth Smith adopting the persona of a rather more youthful Lord Alan Sugar, the third SMA Postgraduate Writing Club session was held in the ‘board room’ on Saturday 5th October at the School of Music, University of Liverpool.

The first candidate up for interrogation was Joseph Knowles from the University of York who submitted a draft chapter entitled ‘Chromaticism in Gesualdo’s Madrigal ‘Mercé grido piangendo’, which is due to be published in Reappraising the Seiento: Compositional Procedure in Italy and England. In his chapter, Joseph uses pitch class set theory to enlighten the reader about the possible hidden relations that can be found between the use of chromaticism and the theme of ‘death’. It was agreed that, despite being in draft form, the chapter made for a very interesting read. The discussion offered a plethora of ideas that mainly focused on the various ways in which the chapter could be restructured and expanded to best utilise the word count available.

The second candidate to find themselves in the limelight was Miona Dimitrijevic from the University of Strasbourg. Miona submitted a script entitled ‘Cyclic Integration in Max Reger’s Symphonies’ that was originally written for the 17th Biennial International Conference on Nineteenth-Century Music. It was through the discussion of Miona’s paper that a number of broader issues about writing conference papers were raised, such as: tailoring the content of your paper to the audience that shall be attending; approaches to structuring your paper to fit within time constraints; and guiding the listener successfully through a well-conveyed argument. This session neatly complemented the previous, and rounded off the first half of the afternoon with much food for thought as the group broke for lunch to refuel and oil the brain cogs.

Up next was Dr Kenneth Smith who talked to the group about the process of being peer-reviewed, providing a positive spin on the “horror stories” that us fledglings are likely to encounter in the not too distant future. Listening intently, the group recognised that any advice on how to deal with the harsh reality of anonymous experts thoroughly criticising your work is invaluable (even if Kenneth did summarise a key coping mechanism as “murder your children”). Yet as was demonstrated with real examples, some peer-reviewers can be useful for providing valuable, encouraging feedback on how a piece of work can be improved. So not all is doom and gloom. After all, publishing during or/and after PhD is all part and parcel of hearing those well-known words ‘you’re hired!’.

The third candidate to put forward a piece of writing was Becky Thumpston from Keele University who submitted a draft chapter from her PhD thesis entitled ‘Towards a tripartite theory of musical agency’. After debating Becky’s personal niggles about Julian Lloyd-Webber and deciding whether they should actually be incorporated into her thesis, the group discussed the theory that Becky includes in her chapter to support her argument and whether certain theoretical passages would be better placed at the beginning of the chapter. Despite the elegance and quality of Becky’s work, the group could no longer suppress their need to focus on minor details, so the session, and indeed a very enjoyable afternoon, was brought to an end by identifying a few inevitable spelling errors and extra spaces.

If it were not for Kenneth Smith and my fellow student representative Kirstie Hewlett, as well as the generous financial support of the SMA, this successful and highly beneficial afternoon would not have gone ahead. So on behalf of the rest of the group I would like to openly say thank you very much for your time, energy and travel bursaries.

Arrangements for the next writing club meeting will take place soon. In the meantime, if you are interested in attending – or even hosting – the next session, Kirstie and I would be delighted to hear from you at

Steph Jones, SMA Student Representative

Posted on 21st October 2013 by Shay Loya in Music Analysis, SMA No comments » Tags:

SMA Postgraduate Writing Club, Second Meeting

On Saturday 27th April 2013, the SMA’s Postgraduate Writing Club met for the second time at the University of Manchester, and what a productive meeting it was!

The session hit the ground running with Joseph Knowles’ chapter ‘Gesualdo, Composer of the Twentieth Century’, which will be published in the edited collection Critical Music Historiography: Probing Canons, Ideologies and Institutions. The proposed output of Joseph’s work initiated much fruitful discussion about how to nurture your argument to make an analytically based chapter appeal to the reader of a non-specialist publication. My own contribution—a conference paper on Schenker’s engagement with the radio, which I am now writing up as a journal article—opened a dialogue about how to package your research to appeal to the readership of specific journals. Olga Sologub’s chapter on ‘Symphonic Explorations’ in Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony closed the session. By far the meatiest offering, her chapter was met with a lengthy discussion on structuring your writing with thematic (as opposed to chronological) markers; the group’s response also touched upon strategies of bringing analytical prose to life through employing active language. Our guest chair, Dr Laura Tunbridge, sparked the final discussion of the day with the neatly provocative question: ‘is analysis important?’. Whether feeding back into our own work as practising musicians, elucidating the qualities in music that move us, or satisfying a proclivity towards close textual study, analysis was, and indeed continues to be, a highly valued tool to all present.

The SMA is extremely grateful to Dr Laura Tunbridge for giving up her Saturday to chair the session, and to Olga Sologub, who—in her continuing involvement with the society—graciously offered to host the meeting. I would also like to personally thank Becky Thumpston and Daniel Elphick, who provided much fuel for the discussion. The next meeting of the Writing Club will take place at Keele University in the autumn. If you are interested in getting involved, or if you would like to nominate your institution to host a meeting, I would be delighted to hear from you. You can get in touch at

Kirstie Hewlett, SMA Student Representative

Posted on 27th May 2013 by Shay Loya in Music Analysis, SMA No comments » Tags:

Postgraduate Writing Club

Clockwise, from left: Becky Thumpston, Jun Zubillaga-Pow, Olga Sologub, Kirstie Hewlett

Huddled around a table in the intimate setting of Room C143 at City University London, four postgraduates spearheaded what might be one of the most exciting of our student rep, Kirstie Hewlett’s (University of Southampton), ventures: a ‘Postgraduate Writing Club’. The idea behind this initiative was simple enough: to form an analysis-centred study group, comprised of postgraduate students engaged in the discipline from around the country. The event was bound to generate the kind of concentrated disciplinary discussion and group dynamic that cannot be expected in local groups with wider interests, however interesting and useful these may otherwise be. Moreover, this meeting—the first, we hope, of many—was specifically designed as a ‘dry run’ for the RMA conference this January. And so Becky Thumpston (Keele University), Olga Sologub (University of Manchester) and Jun Zubillaga-Pow (King’s College London) presented papers that were still in-progress, though at an advanced, nearly finished stage, which gave each one of them an opportunity to focus on the delivery. A frank exchange of views about the more memorable as well as problematic aspects of each paper followed. (To save time and allow more discussion, Kirstie Hewlett graciously withdrew her paper.)

Each paper gave us a taste of the participant’s PhD research. Thumpston’s paper on Britten’s Symphony for Cello and Orchestra focused on the tension between energized gestures through which ‘agency’ is projected and a form of stasis through which it is dispelled. This study was derived from a wider interest in narrativity in 20th-century British concertante cello works, which is the topic of her PhD. As part of a revisionary dissertation on Prokofiev’s harmonic language, centring on the composer’s Eighth Piano Sonata and the Fifth Symphony, Sologub’s paper allowed us a glimpse into the work of Yuri Kholopov. Sologub contended that Kholopov’s important work on Prokofiev deserves to be far better known in the West, especially in the way it rigorously tackles Prokofiev’s flexible negotiation of diatonic and chromatic spaces, beyond the more narrow interests of systematic but mutually exclusive theories of tonality and post-tonality. The most interdisciplinary paper was Zubillaga-Pow’s, an offshoot of his PhD on the way Schoenberg’s music intersects with philosophy, psychology and ethnography. The paper examined five different analyses of the Third movement of Schoenberg’s Fourth String Quartet as instances of the three psychoanalytic orders of neurosis, psychosis and perversion, all of which were considered in relation to the philosophy of chance.

The post-presentation discussions dealt not only with the content of individual papers but, even more pointedly, with the delivery itself. For example, in relation to her paper, Thumpston found the discussion fruitful in ‘its exploration of strategies for presenting analysis to a non-specialist audience’. Each speaker had a slightly different goal in that respect, but thinking through the target audience was useful to all present, not least myself. Much of the discussion surrounded the issue of sharpening the message and the mode of communication itself, so that ideas are better understood and pitfalls of misunderstanding avoided. The order and structure of ideas was also a major talking point, as well as big issues in our disciplines such as the relationship between theory and analysis, accessibility vs. analytical substance, and so on. And there was no shortage of smaller, more practical issues: for example, how to identify and weed out cross-references from the dissertation that no longer make sense when isolated in a conference paper.

A moment of inspiration

This hardly covers the topics raised, nor does it convey the energy and enthusiasm that animated the discussion around the table. But it gives a little taste, I hope, of what that intensive and thoroughly rewarding afternoon was like. A delightful dinner followed, or so I heard: unfortunately I had to miss it.

Any takers for the next meeting? As the host of this one and (paradoxically) its non-student invited guest, I can only heartily recommend it. The next meeting is provisionally planned to take place in Manchester during the Spring. If you are a postgraduate interested in having your work discussed, or, indeed, if you would like to nominate yourself to host future meetings of the Writing Club, please get in touch via this blog, or through our profile, which is managed by Kirstie. Further information about the next event will be emailed out when the details have been confirmed.

Posted on 4th December 2012 by Shay Loya in Reviews, SMA No comments » Tags: