Some thoughts on the 59th Annual Conference of the Royal Musical Association 
Last week I attended the 59th annual conference of The Royal Musical Association at Nottingham University: 
 
In her introduction in the conference materials, Barbara Kelly, RMA President, highlighted the breadth of material to be covered at the event: 
 
'[The conference] reflects a vast range of musical subjects, contexts, places, time periods and methodological approaches. It brings together multiple areas within music studies, including practice research (performance and composition), music analysis, organology, opera studies, as well as many interdisciplinary perspectives. It includes contributions from across many genres, including classical, pop and jazz and non-Western traditions, and covers several centuries, from early music to the contemporary period. It also addresses issues that are key priorities for our discipline, such as music within the curriculum, the environment, race discrimination and representation, class, politics, war and gender’. 
 
The scope of the conference was indeed very wide. Of particular interest were the keynote lectures. Professor Mark Burford presented a talk entitled ‘Music in Crisis: W. E. B. Du Bois, Propaganda, and the Black Atlantic’, in response to his nomination as recipient of the Edward J. Dent medal. Burford’s meticulously researched and detailed presentation offered an overview of his latest research on DuBois: a civil rights activist, author, professor, editor and the first African American to graduate from Harvard University (with a PhD in history). Burford focused on DuBois’ influence as co-founder and editor of Crisis, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People's newspaper, which was highly influential in promoting artists and writers to both black and white populations for a quarter of a century from 1910-1934. Professor Naomi André's lecture, ‘Opera’s New Realism: Expanding Narratives and Representation’, was a discursive discussion on how 'black opera' can shed its status of 'shadow culture' and play its part in what she describes as a process of 'Harm-Care-Repair'. André illustrated her ideas with commentary on three recent operas, Blue (2019), Omar (2023) and The Factotum (2023). 
 
The conference atmosphere was inclusive and welcoming, and the breadth of specialisations and perspectives of the attendees reflected the wide range of topics covered. However, I left the conference a little puzzled. The Association, founded in 1874 ‘for the investigation and discussion of subjects connected with the art and science of music’, states that today it embraces ‘every conceivable aspect of music research’. As corporations, charities, and political parties are well aware, the attempt to respond to every conceivable interest carries the risk of obscuring an organisation’s core purpose and relevance. I could not help feeling that ‘the art and science of music’ were difficult to discern at times in the enthusiasm to expound on broader political issues. 
Tagged as: RMA
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