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.