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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steph Jones, SMA Student Representative