The Blog of Ian Pace, pianist, musicologist, political animal. A place for thoughts, reflections, links, both trivial and not so trivial. Main website is at http://www.ianpace.com . Contact e-mail email@example.com.
Over the course of the last 5-6 years, I have been progressively researching many aspects of music in higher education (HE) in the UK, including its history and development, the rise and fall of certain types of courses and their recruitment, staff-student ratios across departments, student satisfaction, curricular issues, the presence of practitioners in faculties, and so on. Some of this is based upon data provided by the Higher Education Standards Authority (HESA) which is permitted for internal use within institutions only, so I cannot give details of that here except where I have been specifically authorised for in other publicly-available writings. Other such research is based upon plenty of information in the public domain (including quite simply information about faculties, courses, etc., which universities are legally obliged to publish on their websites), also that from other organisations dealing with university admissions and so on, and historic data from various yearbooks which detail courses available (old editions of the British Music Yearbook and British Music Education Yearbook are especially useful in this respect, as are some wider university guides), not to mention numerous individual histories of specific universities and wider historical writing on HE in general.
Scholarly writing on music in higher education is overwhelmingly dominated by that from a pedagogical/educationalist perspective; this is vital, but so is historical writing and that based upon data showing the current state of the sector at any one time. Amongst the relatively few published resources I would cite are Noel Long, Music in English Education: Grammar School, University and Conservatoire (London: Faber and Faber, 1959); the reports Making Musicians: A Report to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1965) and Training Musicians: A Report to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation on the training of professional musicians (London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1978); an important data set in ‘University Music Departments’, in Arthur Jacobs (ed.), Music Education Handbook: A Directory of Music Education in Britain with Reference Articles and Tables (London & New York: Bowker, 1976), pp. 86-102; Dorothy Taylor, Music Now: A Guide to Recent Developments and Current Opportunities in Music Education (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1979); another worthwhile data set in ‘UK Music Degree Courses: A Complete Guide’, The Musical Times, vol. 136 no. 1830 (1995), 417-24; Helena Gaunt and Ioulia Papageorgi, ‘Music in universities and conservatoires’, in Susan Hallam and Andrea Creech (eds.), Music Education in the 21st Century in the United Kingdom: Achievements, analysis and aspirations (London: Institute of Education, 2010); Edward Breen, Thurston Dart and the New Faculty of Music at King’s College London: A 50th anniversary biography (London: King’s College London, 2015); Gareth Dylan Smith, ‘Popular Music in Higher Education’, in Ioulia Papageorgi and Graham Welch (eds.), Advanced Musical Practice: Investigations in Higher Education Learning (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 33-48, and several essays in Björn Heile, Eva Moreda Rodríguez and Jane Stanley (eds.), Higher Education in Music in the Twenty-First Century (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2019). Other resources are primarily journalistic (as are some of the above) or in the form of reports produced by some educational or policy institutions. I have no doubt that there is considerable scope for wider historical and institutional research into music in higher education, both in the UK and globally, not just into how it is taught, but quite simply what is taught and where?
This is a key moment for the UK music HE sector. While overall numbers of students have not fallen in the last 10 years and have actually risen slightly, there has been a major decline in the academic study of music, as compared to more practically-focused training. The blurring of boundaries between the two is more far advanced in the UK than in any European country of which I am aware (where, in general, a university degree is about studying musicology), and this has both positives and negatives. Undoubtedly the wider decline in music provision at primary and secondary level is a factor as explored in the report Music Education: State of the Nation, compiled in 2019 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the University of Sussex . What this all means for the future of university study of music in particular, and quite simply what university departments can do to survive, are key questions. In the period since 1945, there were only ever a small few closures of departments – St. Andrew’s (1988); Leicester (1991); Aberystwyth (1992); and temporarily Aberdeen (1992) (reopening in the early 2000s) – but since 2004 there have been a numerous others where departments have closed or all undergraduate programmes have been suspended – Reading (2004); Exeter (2004); Roehampton (2010); East Anglia (2011); Lancaster (2015); Essex (2016); Abertay Dundee (2019); Cumbria (2022); and Wolverhampton (2022). Other departments such as Keele, Brunel and Kingston have considerably modified their offerings, away from musicology and away from classical music.
However, in the period since 1992 in particular there have also been numerous new departments and courses which have opened, in particular since the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act, which enabled former polytechnics and colleges of higher education to apply for full university status. The growth in music courses in this part of the sector has concentrated on popular/commercial music, music technology and more recently musical theatre. Other relevant developments include the effective trebling of tuition fees to £9K per annum effective from 2012, in conjunction with other cuts to teaching budgets in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which meant that students were saddled with much greater debt than ever before, and the removal of caps on undergraduate recruitment from 2015-16, creating more ferocious competition between departments. The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union effective from January 2020 has caused increased fees for EU students, the impact of which on recruitment is still in an early stage (also complicated by the pandemic). Also recently, and in particular following the 2017 Higher Education and Research Act, which amongst other things established the Office for Students (OfS), which took over some of the responsibilities of the then-abolished Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The architect of this act, Lord Johnson (formerly Jo Johnson, brother of the former Prime Minister), who was Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation from 2015 to 2018, made clear very recently his aim that the OfS would encourage the growth of ‘alternative education providers’ (paralleling the growth of academies and free schools at primary/secondary level) which stand outside of the more directly state-regulated sector. As such, some private music providers have been able to obtain university status and/or access to student loans. The growth of these institutions has also in some ways undercut the rest of the sector, subject to fewer checks and balances, not required to share information about recruitment, progression, and so on, often offering 2-year degrees, having little if any research dimension, and in general no more than at most token academic content. The results of the growth of private higher education providers has been surveyed very critically in a US context in an article by economics professor Dennis A. Ahlburg (‘Skunks in an English Woodland: Should England embrace for-profit Higher Education’?, Political Quarterly, vol. 90, no. 2), and I believe we would do well to digest this critique in the UK.
In this and subsequent blogs, like anyone else I am not immune to the possibility of human error in my data, but will generally try and correct any errors I or others find. Furthermore, as individuals come and go from departments, my data may become out-of-date or some may already be (these lists were compiled initially in February 2023). As such, I do invite others either to contact me privately or post on here with constructive information in this respect. I also recognise that some of the issues affecting Scotland are somewhat different to those in the rest of the United Kingdom, as Scotland continues to offer free tuition to all Scottish students.
Types of Music Departments in the UK
Here and elsewhere, the primary focus of my research is on undergraduate provision. There are universities which offer some post-graduate taught courses in or related to music, but do not have a music department (such as Reading or University College London, both of which offer music education). In another blog I will detail existing post-graduate taught courses, but in general those departments upon which I focus have full music departments and offer degrees for undergraduates.
I divide higher education providers for music into six fundamental categories:
(a) Russell Group: those members of the organisation founded in 1994, currently comprising 24 universities which offer music degrees. At the time of writing there are 18 of these: Birmingham; Bristol, Cambridge; Cardiff; Durham; Edinburgh; Glasgow; King’s College, University of London; Leeds; Liverpool; Manchester; Newcastle; Nottingham; Oxford; Queen’s University Belfast; Sheffield; Southampton; York.
(b) Mid-Ranking: those full universities which are neither Russell Group nor post-1992 (see below), 15 of which offer full music degrees: Aberdeen; Bangor; Brunel; City, University of London; Goldsmiths College, University of London; Hull; Keele; Kent; Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts (LIPA); Royal Holloway, University of London; Open University; Salford; Surrey; Sussex; Ulster. There are three others which skirt the boundaries of this category: Reading (which had a music department until 2004), which offers a degree in Primary Education and Music; Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, which offers one degree in Sound Design and Production; and SOAS, which ran a sole music degree, with tiny numbers, until 2020 or 2021, but now offers only joint degrees with music.
(c) Post-1992: institutions which were polytechnics or colleges of higher education, or occasionally another name before 1992, but which now (or following mergers with other institutions) have full university status. 66 of these offer music degrees: Anglia Ruskin; Bath Spa; Bedfordshire; Birmingham City (though the music department here largely comprises the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire); Bishop Grosseteste; Bolton; Bournemouth; Brighton; Buckinghamshire New; Canterbury Christ Church; Central Lancashire; Chester; Chichester; University Centre Colchester; Coventry; University of the Creative Arts; De Montfort; Derby; East London; Edge Hill; Edinburgh Napier; Falmouth; Gloucestershire; Glyndŵr, Greenwich, University Centre Grimsby; Hertfordshire; Highlands and Islands; Huddersfield; Kingston; Leeds Arts; Leeds Beckett; Lincoln; Liverpool Hope; Liverpool John Moores; London Metropolitan; London South Bank; University of the Arts London; Manchester Metropolitan; UCEN Manchester; Middlesex; Northampton; Northumbria; Nottingham Trent; Oxford Brookes; Plymouth; Plymouth Marjon; Arts University Plymouth; Portsmouth; Ravensbourne; University Centre Rotherham; Southampton Solent; Staffordshire; Sunderland; Teesside; University Centre at the Heart of Yorkshire; South Wales (largely encompassed by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama); Wales Trinity Saint David; West London; West of England; West of Scotland; Westminster; Winchester; Worcester; York St John; University Centre at the Heart of Yorkshire.
(d) Others (Colleges of Higher Education, etc.): those other institutions offering degree-level courses. 8 of these offer full courses: Greater Brighton Metropolitan College (Brighton MET); Burnley College; South Gloucestershire and Stroud College; Lincoln College; Loughborough College; Middlesbrough College; Newcastle College University Centre; Rose Bruford College; West Suffolk College. A further 12 offer solely ‘Top-Up’ courses, equivalent to the final year of an undergraduate degree, enabling students to upgrade an existing qualification to become a degree: Bedford College Group; University Centre Calderdale College; Cardiff and Vale College; New College Durham; Hereford College of Arts; Hull College; City of Liverpool College University Centre; Morley College; City College Plymouth; Sheffield College; East Sussex College.
(e) Conservatoires: institutions with a greater focus on performance and 1-1 tuition, but offer full music degree courses, of which there are 9: Royal College of Music (RCM); Royal Academy of Music (RAM); Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD); Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance; Leeds Conservatoire; Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM); Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (RBC); Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS); Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD).
(f) Private Providers. Here I list the 9 providers offering undergraduate degree courses via UCAS: Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM); British and Irish Modern Music Institute University (BIMM); Futureworks, Manchester; Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP); Liverpool Media Academy (LMA); London College of Creative Media (LCCM); Point Blank Music School; SAE Institute; Waterbear College of Music. Some of these are more akin to franchises than simple physical institutions – BIMM, Point Blank and SAE have branches in various localities and in other countries. Some others which might be listed here, such as the dBS Institute, are almost wholly directed by other universities (in this case Falmouth), so I do not classify them as independent providers, though I am aware that some of the categorisations are open to challenge.
Categories (a)-(c) and (e) are those for which most information is available, and so form the basis of my study. Notwithstanding some blurring of the differentation between universities and conservatoires/practical training schools mentioned earlier, differences still remain (and conservatoires require certain provisions to be able to call themselves as such), not least in terms of the nature of the staffing base, as I will detail below.
The use of some such categories is certainly open to question in terms of how much they reveal. There is no necessary reason to believe that research-intensive universities deliver any better teaching than others, and so the Russell Group should not be seen as an equivalent of the US Ivy League. Furthermore, 1992 is now three decades ago, and the trajectory of various institutions can be more significant than their provenance. At the time of writing, in terms of the nature of their offers, faculties, research record, etc., it would be difficult without prior knowledge to know in exactly which category the likes of Huddersfield, Keele, Kent or Oxford Brookes, for example, belong. Nonetheless, the categories do still have some wider purchase – at a conference in London on Higher Education in Autumn 2022 which I attended, a representative from the organisation Unifrog, who help students with making application choices, revealed that by some considerable measure the most frequent search criterion used by applicants was whether an institution is a member of the Russell Group or not. There is also a real distinction between the Russell Group and many of the post-92s in terms of the role that research plays – only 25 out of the 66 post-1992 institutions listed above were submitted for the 2021 Research Excellence Framework, and none of the Colleges of HE or private providers (though most of the conservatoires were).
Using data derived from HESA figures, which I received permission to use in one of the Times Higher articles I published last year, the following is the breakdown of numbers of students in different parts of the sector who were admitted in the 2020-21 academic year, excluding those who entered Colleges of HE and private providers for which data is either unavailable or incomplete:
Russell Group: 1778 students (25.1% of university students, 19.9% of those in whole sector) Mid-Ranking: 775 students (10.9% of university students, 8.7% of those in whole sector) Post-1992: 4534 students: (64% of university students; 50.7% of those in whole sector) Conservatoires: 1853 students (20.7% of whole sector).
2020-21, which was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, may seem an unrepresentative year, but I can aver that figures for the previous few years were not significantly different in terms of the distribution or overall numbers.
Thus claims that the Russell Group would ‘hoover up’ the majority of students following the lifting of caps have proved unfounded. By far the largest numbers are those in post-1992 institutions, which for the most part offer degrees which do not coincide with what may be preconceptions of what a music degree entails. These are primarily vocationally-oriented degrees in music technology, commercial music, musical theatre, but not generally of the level of intensity of those in conservatoires. Data on employment prospects, and as such the relationship between such vocational offerings and actual vocations available, is unclear, as the current means of reporting this enables many institutions to give single figures for all creative and performing arts, which can be skewered because of the role of courses in Design, which are dominant in the creative arts and for which many jobs are available in various parts of industry (see also David Kernohan, ‘What are creative arts courses?’, Wonkhe Explainer, 14 December 2022). The future of many such music courses in light of intentions made clear by some politicians, and the 2019 Augur Review, to end ‘low-earning degrees’, as various creative/performing arts degrees do not tend to score well on this measure.
Many protagonists on music in higher education with a public profile, including myself, come from Russell Group or mid-ranking institutions. The type of sector they and their colleagues (and research collaborators) tend to see on a daily basis is not representative of that experienced by the majority of students, which should always be taken into account when aiming for broader conclusions.
The following data is compiled from the websites of universities, with extra details added where made available through colleagues working there. Some of the staff websites are more user-friendly than others, and some individual staff pages are not ‘live’, or have not been updated to account for changes in personnel. As such, there will inevitably be some degree of approximation, and of course staff will continue to change. Nonetheless, this data should give a reasonable snapshot of the situation at the time of writing.
I count here salaried academic staff in the departments in question, as far as I have been able to establish about their status (again, there may be some errors). I have not included visiting/associate/hourly-paid lecturers, other freelance staff, emeritus professors, research fellows, or technical staff. For this reason, for now I have limited this list to categories (a)-(c) above; at other types of institutions (especially conservatoires) are largely staffed by hourly-paid faculty. In some full universities this can also be the case, where there is a significant divide between research and research expertise and the demands of teaching, with a lot of teaching undertaken by hourly-paid staff or doctoral students. But this list gives an indication of which staff are given the most valued types of positions (for better or worse) at present. The relationship between salaried and hourly-paid staff may change or need to change in music as a result of greater integration of practitioners, and (as argued in some of my THE pieces) the need both to value their contributions and status more, as well as working to better integrate them into the values and practices of university education.
The categorisation is based primarily upon the areas of research or wider expertise made clear with respect to the staff in question, where these are clear. It should be borne in mind that some staff teach in part or whole in areas other than those of their primary research. Some categories are a bit blurred; in the UK the distinction between ‘historians’ and ‘theorists’ is nothing like as clear as in the US, and many (including myself) straddle both categories. For the most part the study of musical aesthetics is undertaken by those in the categories of history and analysis. Music technology is also a broad category, relating to a range of activities. Here I have added particular categories for those whose work is focused on composition and technology, or sound art and technology.
It is rarely the case that part-time salaried staff are indicated as such on university websites; in the absence of comprehensive data on this aspect, further approximation has to be assumed. Also, it is often unclear whether some staff have temporary or permanent contracts. Where I am aware, I have not counted temporary staff (as they are usually covering for permanent staff on sabbatical or research leave), but again there may be more approximations as a result.
Totals: 79 Historical 58 Composition/Sonic Arts 27 Theory/Analysis 24.5 Ethnomusicology 24 Performance 23.5 Pop/Jazz 19.5 Tech/Science 18 Music Psychology 8.5 Music Business/Management/Industry 6.5 Music for Screen/Film/Media 5.5 Education 5.5 Philosophy/Aesthetics (and some others in History or Analysis who engage with this) 2.5 Sound/Sound Studies 2 Acoustics 2 Gaming 1.5 Recording/Production 1.5 Musical Theatre 1 Music Sociology 1 Critical Musicology 1 Performance Practice 0.5 Music and Religion
(where a faculty member belongs in two categories, I add 0.5 to the total for each. For Historical/Analysis/Aesthetics, I have divided into 0.5 Historical, 0.5 Analysis, as these are the bigger categories. For the likes of Performance/Tech/Composition, I have added 0.5 to the first two, as these tend to be the most significant.).
Totals: 31.5 Composition 25.5 Tech/Electronics/Production/Recording 24 Performance 23 Historical 16 Ethnomusicology 13.5 Pop/Jazz 4.5 Musical Theatre (possibly more through Surrey) 2 Aesthetics 2 Community 1.5 Theory/Analysis 1.5 Music Psychology 1.5 Music Education 1 Instruments 0.5 Opera
Anglia Ruskin: 2 Musical Theatre; 8 Music Therapy; 4 Tech/Audio; 1 Composition; 1 Composition/Performance. Bath Spa: 1 Historical/Ethnomusicology; 2 Composition; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Jazz; 1 Musical Theatre; 1 Ethnomusicology. Bedfordshire: No salaried music staff are made clear via the website. Birmingham City: not included since the staff are largely employed by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Bishop Grosseteste: 1 Historical; 1 Performance. Bolton: 1 Screen/Composition. Bournemouth: 5 Tech/Audio; 1 Composition/Tech. Brighton: 1 Aesthetics (not just music); 4 Composition/Sound Art; 1 Pop/Sociology. Buckinghamshire: 1 Performance/Sociology; 1 Tech/Composition; 1 Composition/Sound Art; 1 Sound/Media; 1 Engineering/Production; 1 Pop/Performance/Production; 1 Audio/Sound; 1 Management; 1 Recording/Production Canterbury Christ Church: 2 Historical/Performance; 5 Composition/Sonic Art; 1 Performance/Tech. Central Lancashire: 1 Business/Industry; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Pop; 2 Musical Theatre; 1 Performance. Chester: 1 Popular Performance; 1 Composition; 1 Tech/Production; 2 Pop; 1 Journalism; 1 Musical Theatre. Chichester: 4 Performance; 5 Musical Theatre; 1 Orchestral. (Many Associate Lecturers and instrumental/vocal tutors). Colchester: 1 Popular Performance; 1 Screen; 1 Screen/Performance; 1 Education; 1 Musical Theatre. Coventry: 1 Composition; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Performance; 1 Pop; 1 Game Audio. Creative Arts: 1 Historical; 1 Composition/Screen; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Journalism. De Montfort: 1 Composition; 7 Composition/Tech; 1 Performance/Tech; 1 Audio. Derby: 2 Pop/Tech; 2 Production. East London: 4 Composition; 1 Songwriting/Production; 1 Production/Sound Design; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Performance. Edge Hill: 3 Production; 3 Musical Theatre. Edinburgh Napier: 1 Media/Pop/Cultural Studies; 3 Composition; 3 Performance; 1 Composition/Pop Performance; 1 Pop; 1 Education. Falmouth: 3 Composition; 1 Composition/Tech; 2 Musical Theatre; 3 Pop; 3 Tech/Audio; 5 Performance. Gloucestershire: 1 Composition; 3 Business; 2 Production; 1 Performance; 1 Pop. Glyndŵr: 1 Performance; 1 Tech/Production. (There may be a few more here). Greenwich: the Dance/Musical Theatre degree is offered via Bird College – staff do not appear to be on academic contracts. A few Sound Design staff appear to contribute to a wider course. Grimsby: Unclear from website. Hertfordshire: Unclear from website. Highlands and Islands: 2 Business; 2 Pop; 2 Composition; 5 Performance; 1 Education. Huddersfield: 1 Historical; 4 Composition; 3 Composition/Tech; 3 Performance; 4 Tech/Sound Production; 1 Pop; 1 Screen. Kingston: 1 Composition; 3 Composition/Performance/Tech; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Pop/Performance; 1 Education. Leeds Art: 5 Popular Performance; 1 Performance; 1 Tech/Production. Leeds Beckett: 2 Screen/Video; 8 Composition/Performance/Tech (one of these Songwriting); 9 Tech/Sound Production; 2 Performance/Production; 3 Performance; 2 Business; 2 Other. Lincoln: 1 Ethnomusicology; 1 Pop/Sound Design; 2 Composition; 2 Performance. Liverpool Hope: 2 Production; 1 Performance; 1 Pop. Liverpool John Moores: 1 Pop; 1 Ethnomusicology; 1 Music and Literature. London Metropolitan: 3 Tech/Production. London South Bank: 2 Sound Design. University of the Arts London: 1 Composition/Sound Art/Historical Performance; 4 Composition/Sound Art. Manchester Metropolitan: 1 Gaming; 3 Sound Design; 1 Composition/Recording. UCEN Manchester: None listed. Middlesex: 3 Composition; 1 Composition/Historical; 4 Management/Industry/Business; 5 Pop; 1 Jazz Composition/Performance; 1 Tech. Northampton: 5 Pop; 2 Pop/Production. Northumbria: 2 Historical; 1 Performance/Instruments; 1 Pop. Nottingham Trent: 1 Performance. Oxford Brookes: 3 Historical; 1 Pop; 1 Sound; 1 Screen; 1 Composition. Plymouth: 1 Education; 1 Psychology; 1 Musical Theatre; 1 Composition/Computing. Plymouth Marjon: no dedicated salared music staff listed on website. Arts University Plymouth: 2 Sound Art/Tech. Portsmouth: 1 Tech/Audio; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Music/Theatre/Other; 1 Musical Theatre. Ravensbourne: 3 Sound Design/Recording/Audio; 1 Musical Theatre Composition/Performance; 1 Performance/Composition. University Centre Rotherham: Not clear from website. Southampton Solent: 4 Popular Performance; 1 Pop; 1 Art/Music; 2 Composition (1 songwriting, 1 sound); 1 Management; 1 Performance/Sound; 1 Performance; 1 Sound/Tech; 1 Production. South Wales: not included since the staff are largely employed by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Staffordshire: 2 Tech/Engineering; 2 Sound Design; 2 Composition/Tech. (This list may not be complete as the website is very patchy). Sunderland: 1 Composition/Performance; 1 Composition/Sound Art; 1 Performance. Teesside: 3 Tech/Production. University Centre at the Heart of Yorkshire: Not clear from website. Wales Trinity Saint David: 3 Tech. West London: 1 Historical; 3 Tech; 1 Pop; 1 Pop/Tech/Recording; 3 Musical Theatre; 4 Performance (one non-Western); 2 Performance/Recording; 2 Production/Recording; 2 Composition; 1 Songwriting/Recording; 1 Sound/Sociology; 2 Management; 1 Screen. West of England: 7 Tech/Audio. West of Scotland: 2 Performance; 3 Pop Studies; 3 Composition; 1 Composition/Tech; 1 Tech. Westminster: 1 Performance/Composition/Tech; 2 Performance; 1 Performance/Industry; 1 Composition; 1 Tech/Production; 1 Music/Film. (May be others – website information patchy). Winchester: 3 Musical Theatre; 1 Tech/Production. Worcester: all academic staff for Musical Theatre here appear to be Theatre staff without specific music expertise. York St John: 3 Production; 2 Community; 2 Composition; 2 Performance; 1 Historical/Various
Totals(excluding Bedfordshire, Birmingham City (conservatoire), Grimsby, Hertfordshire, Plymouth Marjon, University Centre Rotherham, South Wales (conservatoire), University Centre at the Heart of Yorkshire): 87.5 Tech/Electronics/Production/Recording 80 Composition 74 Performance 37.5 Pop/Jazz 25.5 Musical Theatre 17.5 Historical 16.5 Management/Business/Industry 13 Screen/Film/Media/Gaming 9.5 Sound Design 8 Music Therapy 5 Music Education 3.5 Ethnomusicology 3.5 Sound/Sound Studies 1.5 Music Sociology 1 Music Psychology 1 Aesthetics 1 Music Journalism 0.5 Instruments
+ 9.5 Other
Colleges of HE, etc.
Here I only include those institutions which offer full degrees, rather than just top-up ones.
Brighton MET: 2 Recording/Production Burnley College: unclear from website South Gloucestershire and Stroud College: 1 Musical Theatre Lincoln College: unclear from website Loughborough College: unclear from website Middlesborough College: 1 Recording/Production Newcastle College University Centre: 1 Music unspecified; 1 Production Rose Bruford: 1 Sound; 1 Performance West Suffolk College: unclear from website
Totals (though information too patchy): 4 Recording/Production 1 Performance 1 Musical Theatre 1 Sound 1 Music unspecified
I am not listing here faculties at conservatoires, because of the great difficulty in establishing which faculty members count as research/academic staff and which not. Terms such as ‘Professor of Violin’ does not necessarily have the same meaning as a Professor in a university (and certainly would not necessarily imply a research position such as would require them to be submitted to the REF). I am also not including private providers since the precise status of staff is also not clear.
As mentioned above, many institutions also employ a considerable number of hourly-paid or visiting lecturers; at some these may be responsible for a large percentage of the teaching. But these have a different type of status (considerably more precarious), are often impossible to count, and are almost never research staff. This is just a list of salaried academic staff.
Grand Totals 169.5 Composition/Sonic Art 134 Tech/Electronics/Production/Recording 122 Performance 119.5 Historical Musicology 74.5 Pop/Jazz 44 Ethnomusicology 32 Musical Theatre (possibly more) 27 Theory/Analysis 23 Music Business/Management/Industry 21.5 Music for Screen/Film/Media/Gaming 20.5 Music Psychology 12 Music Education 9.5 Sound Design 8 Music Therapy 6 Music Philosophy/Aesthetics 5.5 Sound/Sound Studies 2.5 Music Sociology 2.5 Performance Practice/Instruments 2 Acoustics 2 Community Music 1 Critical Musicology 1 Music unspecified 0.5 Music and Religion 0.5 Opera Studies
The categories above are sure to be seen as problematic by some. The grouping together of music technology, electronics, production and recording might be argued to conflate a range of quite distinct activities, and some of the work in ‘Electronics’ in particular might be better grouped with composition. Similarly the ‘Historical Musicology’ not only spans a period of over a millennium, encompassing often radically different types of work, but also the work of some involved in this (including myself) overlaps with theory/analysis and aesthetics, while there are a small number whose work on popular musics or sound studies can be historical in nature. ‘Performance’ is also a broad category, involving performers in a range of different genres requiring different skills and expectations; the same is true of ‘Composition’. It also needs to be noted that a lot of individual and group performance teaching is undertaken by hourly-paid lecturers, usually specialists on a particular instrument/voice. But all categorisations inevitably involve some degree of simplification, and I think this one should help to understand and interpret the broader picture.
So, first of all I wish to consider from this the numbers of those academics whose work is centered around scholarly investigation of music (which we can broadly call ‘musicology’, even though some subsets of this, including music sociology, some ethnomusicology, or music education, may have more in common with other disciplinary fields than musicology), compared to those involved more often in practical music-making or other practical activity. I am including pop/jazz and film/screen/media/gaming within scholarly investigation, where the academics are not clearly indicated as composers in these fields (though this may lead to some minor inaccuracies), and similarly sound/sound studies, but sound design, musical theatre, music therapy and tech/science/electronics/production/recording are all classified as practical activities (even though some of these may include a detached and critically self-reflective component). Then the totals are as follows:
Russell Group: 202.5 scholarly (65.5%); 104.5 practical (33.8%); 2 other (0.6%). Mid-Ranking: 62.5 scholarly (48.8%); 61.5 practical (48%); 4 other (3%). Post-92: 101.5 scholarly (26.3%); 275 practical (71.2%); 9.5 other (2.4%). Colleges of HE, etc: 2 scholarly (25%); 6 practical (75%).
TOTALS: 368.5 scholarly (44.3%); 447 practical (53.8%); 15.5 other (4%).
The picture is clear – the Russell Group have a stronger tendency towards scholarly investigation, though still a sizeable component of practical activity; the two things are roughly matched in Mid-Ranking institutions; and there is a very strong tendency towards practical activity in Post-92 institutions and Colleges of HE, etc. Nonetheless, of the latter group, Bolton, Bournemouth, Derby, East London, Edge Hill, Glyndŵr, Greenwich, Leeds Art, London Met, London South Bank, University of the Arts London, Nottingham Trent, Arts University Plymouth, Ravensbourne, Staffordshire, Sunderland, Teesside, Wales Trinity St David, West of England, Winchester, Worcester have no obvious scholarly representation on the faculty, while the scholarly component at Buckinghamshire New, Central Lancashire, Chichester, De Montfort, Kingston, Lincoln, Liverpool Hope, Manchester Met, Portsmouth, Westminster and York St John is very small. Even amongst those institutions submitting to the REF in 2021 (Anglia Ruskin, Bath Spa, Canterbury Christ Church, Central Lancashire, Chester, Chichester, Coventry, De Montfort, East London, Edinburgh Napier, Huddersfield, Kingston, Leeds Art, Leeds Beckett, Lincoln, Liverpool Hope, Middlesex, Oxford Brookes, Plymouth, Portsmouth, West London, Winchester, Worcester and York St John) the majority of submissions were practice-based.
Representation of scholars is also thin at Brunel, Kent, LIPA, Sussex, Ulster amongst Mid-Ranking institutions, in the case of Sussex in particular a significant shift from their earlier profile. There are no Russell Group institutions with no practitioners, but this category is dominated by composers. Across the sector as a whole, there are more practitioners than scholars, but the margin is not huge.
There can surely be few subjects in which the gap between the Russell Group and the Post-92 institutions is so strong. It is hard to imagine a good deal of Russell Group lecturers teaching in the Post-92s, and vice versa. Only a small minority of Post-92 university music departments resemble the more traditional types, with a focus upon critical scholarly inquiry. Over three decades after the 1992 Education Act, the distinction between what were once universities and polytechnics is still very strong. Only with the advent of the Russell Group (arguably in response to the 1992 Act, to preserve differentials) comes the category of the Mid-Ranking, and in many ways these institutions face the biggest questions of disciplinary and institutional identity, and whether the students they aim to recruit are those likely otherwise to choose Russell Group, or alternatively Post-92, Colleges of HE, or private institutions. The profiles of Royal Holloway on one hand, or Kent on the other, differ very significantly.
The Post-92 institutions have a huge bias towards music of now, with little representation of music of previous centuries (including scholars working on historical popular music, jazz or technology) or other world traditions. There is however often a chasm between the dominant focus on commercial music in their courses and curricula and the relatively few staff with a significant commercial profile, at least in terms of composition and performance. For those institutions submitting to the REF this may relate to the relative difficulty of framing a good deal of commercial music (or mainstream classical, jazz, community music) as ‘research’, as I argued here. In music, the types of iconoclastic or avant-garde work which are most ‘REF-friendly’ (in the case of composition often very systematic work, or which uses brand new instruments or technology, or unusual techniques) can be at odds with those more familiar and popular types which can attract students, perhaps more so than in some other artistic disciplines, with such a strong chasm between the avant-garde and the popular in music.
Historical musicology and ethnomusicology are absent from the salaried faculties of most post-92 institutions. Wider approaches from the humanities or social sciences are not really represented either; these areas are undoubtedly concentrated in Russell Group institutions. In the Mid-Ranking sector, Aberdeen, Goldsmiths, the Open University, Royal Holloway and Surrey have fair representations of historical work, while City, Holloway and SOAS have a significant focus upon ethnomusicology. Musical theatre courses, again concentrated in the post-92 sector, rely heavily upon associate/visiting lecturers.
Amongst academics with a historical focus, there is a strong concentration upon the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Early music, meaning the whole Western repertoire of the pre-baroque (roughly pre-1600) period, is quite well represented in the RG, with 5 lecturers at Oxford, and 14 across the other institutions; at 3 mid-ranking (Bangor, the Open University and Royal Holloway); and 3 in the post-92 sector (Birmingham City, Northumbria, and Oxford Brookes).
More widely, the sector has more academics in the field of contemporary composition and sonic art than in any other category. Only a relative few of these could be said to be commercial composers, and even amongst the rest there is a general bias towards ‘new music’. As noted in my first blog post on new music published last year, this situation has been critiqued by various people, most notably musicologist Nicholas Cook, who argues that the representation of new music is out of all proportion to student interest in it. This almost certainly relates to the demands of the REF mentioned above, but it is a strange situation when students are considerably more likely to be taught by those with some expertise in a niche area of new music than one with expertise in Bach, Beethoven or bebop jazz. I will return to the area of new music in academia in the ‘New Music’ blog series.
There are various other conclusions which might be drawn from this data, including relating to the career prospects of academics in certain disciplinary fields. I will leave those for others to consider, and in future blog posts in this series will consider degree courses and curricula, as well as more on the historical development of the sector.
One of the biggest challenges for any performer of jazz, at least as the majority of jazz players I know would say, has to do with rhythm, and specifically the performance of uneven rhythms so as to ‘swing’. Some have tried to notate these, sometimes very approximately, sometimes in much more detail. But the consensus appears to be that codifying such a rhythm then simply executing according to the ‘rules’ thus generated will sound artificial and contrived. Furthermore, it is difficult via such an approach to be flexible in one’s ‘swinging’, as the nature of this can be subject to small variations depending upon the musical moment, or to respond to the particular variants heard from other players in a group setting. So in general, there is thought to be no real substitute for simply playing with others on a regular basis, and absorbing the rhythm through listening, imitation, osmosis.
A parallel situation applies to language learning. While it may be possible to learn a good deal of vocabulary and grammar, even some idiomatic usage, through independent study, from textbooks, etc., many believe there is no real substitute from being immersed amongst native speakers, having to communicate on a regular basis without necessarily having recourse to ‘guides’ when immediate responses are needed. This is not least to do with the process of learning a decent accent (something generally thought rarely to be possible to such an extent as one could pass as a native speaker to other native speakers, unless one learns from a young age), but also absorbing a wide range of idiomatic employment in the form of speech (writing is a different matter).
It would be rash to rule out the possibility that there could ever be found means of learning jazz performance, or languages, in such a way that obviates the necessity for such regular interaction amongst those who have absorbed the idioms. But I am not aware of such means having yet been discovered and comprehensively tested.
This brings me to the question of empirical musicology (by which I mean specifically that using empirical means of measurement of aural data, by software such as Sonic Visualiser or other alternatives) for the analysis of musical performance, something which has been on my mind during a (generally excellent and very stimulating) conference on Performance Studies which I am currently attending (today is the last day). Empirical Musicology is a relatively recent development, about which an important edited volume was published in 2004, edited by Nicholas Cook and Eric Clarke, and for which there is a dedicated academic journal. With roots in the use of quantitative approaches employed in music psychology, and some others relating to such things as bodily motion during performance, a range of musicologists have increasingly used this to analyse various parameters of musical performance, especially tempo and its modification, rhythm, also pitch, timbre (notoriously difficult to analyse using more qualitative means), dynamics and so on.
The value of musical analysis (in the broadest sense) is not uncontested; it is an activity developed within the realms of academia which has not necessarily played a significant role (or a role at all) in the actual work of a great many practising musicians past and present. Cook himself, in his book Beyond the Score: Music as Performance (about which I published an extended review-article which also considers more widely the field of performance studies) was sharply critical of what he described as ‘Analytically-Informed Performance’ (AIP) whereby performers shape their interpretations according to priorities determined by analysts. Focusing on some key writings by music analysts Wallace Berry and Eugene Narmour, Cook suggests this implies a hegemonic imposition of academic ideologies on the world of music-making, not least because the dialogue appears one-way; he believes analysts have as much to learn from listening to performers as vice versa. So far, I can agree that a more two-way approach would be fruitful, but here and elsewhere Cook expresses major scepticism about the possibility that performers could learn anything of value from analysis and analysts, questioning the value at all of a musicological discipline which he has also linked to creating artificial hierarchies of value.
Here I disagree. I have my own scepticism about the value of certain highly systematised modes of analysis, such as grew up especially in the early post-1945 era in the United States, which has been plausibly argued to have been driven both by a positivistic, scientistic academic climate in which research in the arts and humanities was valued largely to the extent it could on the surface mimic the trappings of a ‘science’, but also by the growth of mass education and the concomitant need to find approaches to analysis which could be taught on an industrial scale and learned almost by rote. Much of the analytical work I have read from continental European musicologists has been no less rigorous or thorough, but more ad hoc in nature, freely adapting a variety of tools (or creating new ones) according to needs of the music at hand, and as such avoiding the unhappy situation by which the key criterion appears to be whether the music serves to bolster the theory, rather than vice versa.
But if one embraces a broader conception of analysis, to encompass most approaches to understanding the inner workings of a musical composition (or a performance or other sonic phenomenon), then I think not only can this be invaluable for performers (and listeners) possessing any basic curiosity, but also actually something that many performers do as a matter of course to some extent, as I argued in a keynote lecture entitled ‘In Defence of Analytically-Informed Performance’, delivered in a conference in São Paulo in 2019, which I intend to revise for publication at some point soon.
It is very far from unusual, for example, for a performer to gauge a series of mounting dynamic curves in a series of phrases leading to a mini-climax according to the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic properties of the information contained in the score. This may be done in a relatively intuitive and non-systematic manner, but nonetheless does constitute a form of analysis, a discernment of aspects of the score which reveal something about the musical processes, which then inform aspects of the realisation of the score in performance. Whether this perspective is generated simply by playing the music to oneself and listening, or some more studied process of identifying chord progressions, melodic properties, etc., does not make it any more or less ‘analysis’, in my view.
I was doing this myself (essentially intuitively) when practising the opening passage of the last movement of Schumann’s Fantasy in C, op. 17, yesterday, trying out different ways of shaping the two-bar phrases in bars 5-14, in terms of relative dynamic peaks, my choices informed by such factors as the extent to which the music modulates away from the home key before returning to a dominant harmony on the relative minor in bar 10, or the transformation of the bass line from a descending progression starting in whole tones towards a chromatic one in bars 11-14. Much is at stake in these bars in terms of the expressive and emotional trajectory prior to a return to a dominant pedal point in the home key in bar 15. Similarly, the shift to the major submediant in bar 2 is striking in the context of the wider style. Even after having played this work for over 30 years and having heard many others perform it, it still makes an impact, and so I wonder about such questions as whether to register this sentiment by a small holding back of the pulse and tenuto at the beginning of bar 2.
Even if I am describing aspects of the score above using very basic technical terms, I do not believe that I am in any sense unusual in grappling with such interpretive questions; the use of that language is simply a way to articulate some information discerned essentially intuitively so as to be comprehensible to one reading this piece of writing.
Empirical musicology is on another level in terms of the technical language and illustrations employed. Over the course of the conference, I have been looking at highly detailed charts, multi-coloured shapes (containing many hues) to illustrate timbral properties, animated graphics to trace the variation in basic pulse during a performance. Much of this yields interesting insights and conclusions, some of which appear to be established on a more secure basis than might have been possible otherwise.
But then I do ask the basic question: what purpose does this research serve? In one case, the researcher suggested that they were attempting to codify the rhythmic practices found to be common in a particular regionality when performing some music identified with that regionality, so that those performing such works in more remote locations could do a type of ’empirical musicology in reverse’ (my term, not theirs) and translate these back into performance.
But this is where I become more sceptical, and wonder if the results of such a process would ever really convince, for the same reasons as those outlined above with respect to jazz or language learning. How much music-making can really be reduced to a finite set of stylistic principles which can be codified and reproduced so as to create plausible imitation of the ‘real thing’? I would need to hear a range of realisations of this model to judge that, but do not have a huge amount of faith. Musical style is not, I believe, something so easily reified, but a flexible and continuously developing thing, driven as much (in repertoire involving more than one musician) by regular interactions between players as by collective adherence to a set of rules.
The context of this had to do with global music-making, in particular performance of a certain repertoire at localities a long distance from the music’s point of origin, also the place where the most regular and distinctive performance tradition has occurred over an extended period. But one possible conclusion from the above – that it is no more possible to perform in a relatively ‘unaccented’ style without regular interactions with the music’s ‘native speakers’ than is the case for speaking a language – may be unacceptable in terms of global aspirations. I should emphasise here that the analogy of a ‘native speaker’ does not really have anything to do with particular upbringing, nationality and certainly not ethnicity; it is about whether one has had the opportunities over an extended period for acculturation through musical interaction with others well-versed in the style. This ought in theory to be perfectly possible amongst diaspora communities; a group of Georgian folk singers who relocate in Brazil could in some sense continue a tradition of such singing in the new location, and incorporate into it others not originally from Georgia (whether other social and political factors might influence the extent to which this actually happens is of course a whole other set of questions).
Empirical musicology applied to performance attempts to provide an alternative to this, a means of learning a style through applying a set of principles obtained through systematic empirical analysis of performance. Those employing those are of course also free to listen to the original performances too, but what they may not be able to do is play together with other musicians versed in it.
Is this a viable alternative? I am not sure, and would need much more evidence to be convinced. But there is another possibility to consider, related to the considerations of the post-1945 United States academic environment I described above. Whether or not this research has a wider ‘impact’ (to use a buzzword familiar to all those in UK academia), could such empirical musicology be notable primarily as a means of trying to turn a lot of what musicians do anyhow, without necessarily having any input from academics, so as to appear like a type of quasi-scientific ‘research’ which is thought to be the best way to secure the status and funding of a particular academic sub-disciplines?
For several months, various friends have known about the upcoming departure of Professor J.P.E. Harper-Scott from academia, at the age of 43, to take up a job in the Civil Service. To friends he is Paul, and I will refer to him as that from this point, as I am mourning the loss to the profession not only of a brilliant scholar, but also a close personal friend.
Paul published a ‘farewell blog post’, which has been widely shared on social media. In this, without engaging in any targeted critiques of individual scholars or groups, he identified the heart of the problem with which he no longer wanted to be continuously embroiled: an approach to scholarship which preaches dogma and allows for no dissent from orthodoxies, in drastic opposition to the spirit of critical thought which was what drew him to academia in the first place. He exemplified this with a stark statement (an imaginary one, but definitely of a type with which many will be familiar) about how, on account of the interactions between nineteenth-century music and imperial societies, ‘The classical music canon must be decolonised’ (my emphasis). He followed this with a considerably more nuanced view compared to this dogmatic utterance. Then he noted the necessary consequence which would likely be drawn of the dogmatic statement: that music departments stop teaching Beethoven and Wagner, rather than the alternative he suggests by which such music can be used as a means of understanding more about the social contexts from which they emerged. Then he went on to describe his own sense of joy and liberation upon discovering a lot of such music, coming from a background in which it played almost no part. There was a real sense of sadness in the portrayal of a situation in many quarters in which anyone who dissents from this type of ideology is subject to personalised attacks, shaming, no-platforming, and attempts to have them removed from their posts, and how the dogmatic approach mirrors that found in media, politics and business. This was not a world in which he any longer wished to operate.
At first, Paul’s blog post provoked a lot of expressions of sadness and regret, combined with various individuals imploring musicology to look at itself and how it has got to this state. I certainly recognise quite a bit of what he diagnoses, though some of this is more prominent in the US than the UK, and in the UK it is found in certain quarters much more than others. There is a pronounced divide within the UK sector between the ‘post-92’ institutions (former polytechnics before 1992) which in large measure (with a few exceptions) focus on more vocational teaching of Music Technology, Music Business, Musical Theatre, Popular Music Performance, and so on, and the Russell Group (the elite group of research-intensive institutions) in which there is a greater emphasis on a humanistic approach to the study of a wide historical range of music, ethnomusicology, critical academic study of music and its contexts, analysis, performance practice, and so on. Various institutions fall in neither of these groups, and often combine aspects of both approaches. Many of the Russell Group and mid-ranking institutions have taken on aspects of popular music (notoriously Oxford University’s recent introduction of a part-core module in Global Hip-Hop), music business, in some cases music technology, and so on, integrating these into wider curricula, but there has been less traffic in the other direction. Few outside of conservatoires would be able to complete their studies without at least facing some critical questions about the reasons for a canonical repertoire and especially the role of popular music and non-Western traditions relative to this, but many studying popular music can limit their focus exclusively to such music, usually overwhelmingly from the English-speaking world and from a relatively limited historical period, To engage with older historical popular traditions, or those around the world less deeply indebted to the Anglo-American model, is far more rare. Even within part of the sector, there are more than a few ethnomusicologists who heap down criticism on most things related to Western art musics, its traditions, and associated scholarship, often in deeply impugning, accusatory and denunciatory ways (there are some examples of this in this article, which can be found together with the companion piece ‘When Ethnography becomes Hagiography’ in this book) , but react with horror at even the slightest critique towards their own field. And, as for example expressed in relatively mild form in this exchange following a quite denunciatory radio talk by one professor on ‘Dead White Composers’, there are plenty in academia who will happily dismiss centuries of heterogenous traditions with a few tawdry adjectives (or, in many cases, claiming it to do little more than embody feudal, imperial, racist, misogynistic values – all true in some ways, and of other musics, but far from a nuanced picture) whilst making extravagantly liberatory or emancipatory claims for their own favoured popular musics.
But some of the responses on social media to Paul’s resignation post, including some from academics, exemplified a lot of what he was diagnosing. While a few respectfully questioned some of the arguments made and whether he represented the reality appropriately, others were extremely aggressive, personalised, espousing contempt bordering on hatred, righteous, while others flagrantly misrepresented what Paul’s article actually said, or attempted to undermine his words on ad hominem grounds. Others even claimed that the article caused ‘hurt’, and then felt obliged to denounce it and him as a result. There were no personalised attacks on anyone or any groups in the article, but this was not true of the responses, some of which seemed calculated to cause maximum hurt. This was the unedifying spectacle of a pile-on, and it was deeply disappointing to see some scholars, perhaps the types Paul had in mind when he spoke of those claimed to be ‘generally quite well-meaning’ but not ‘brave’, feel pressure to join in the mobbing.
Paul was clearly a brilliant scholar from the outset. His early work on Elgar (in Edward Elgar: Modernist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), drawing upon his PhD; Elgar: An Extraordinary Life (London: ABRSM, 2007); and the edited collection with Julian Rushton, Elgar Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)) made a very significant contribution to a wider body of scholarship drawing the concept of musical ‘modernism’ more broadly than hitherto and highlighting, with the aid of various analytical tools, the ways in which musical strategies, aesthetics, processes, structures and more left an indelible mark even on work not usually considered together with the most radical figures.
He became a full Professor at the relatively early age of his late 30s, and continued to be highly productive, having to his name by the time of leaving academia five sole-authored monographs, several edited volumes, and countless articles and book chapters (an unfinished book comparing neo-Riemannian analysis with Hugo Riemann’s own work will be completed by another scholar). He was also a highly respected, though far from uncritical, mentor to many junior scholars.
The most important aspect of his work, in my view, was his endless exploration of the relationship between music, musicology, and capital. In this he came from a position on the radical left, drawing upon Marxist models of capital, and was very critical of what he saw as much more casual work in which ‘capitalism’ is essentially viewed as synonymous with any system in which goods are bought and sold. Paul, by contrast, examined what he perceived as the ideological complicity of various strands of thinking fashioned as progressive, democratic, anti-elitist, etc., with the interests of capital. His position was made clear in the Preface to The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012):
But as well as critiquing scholarship on modernism in particular, the book constitutes a broader ideological critique of all manifestations of what could variously be termed postmodern, pluralist, or as Badiou would say democratic materialist musicology. I will therefore make a Leftist case for the possibility of an emancipatory politics that is diametrically opposed to the relativist–cultural sweep of (the bulk of: emphatically not all of) modern ethnomusicology, empirical musicology, musicology of pop music, and all other crypto-capitalist work on what are called musics, by showing how modernist music (on this new dialectical definition) helps to advance our most pressing present concern – to escape the horrors of the present by imagining the transformations of a coming society. (p. xiv)
The following passage indicates his type of argument at full flow:
[Richard] Taruskin’s second suggestion is that ‘cast[ing] aesthetic preferences as moral choices at the dawn of the twenty-first century is an obscenity’. Let us turn this on its head and insist instead that concealing the moral consequence of obfuscated xenophobic–capitalist aesthetic preferences at the start of the twenty-first century is an obscenity. What Taruskin is doing, of course, is to deny the emancipatory potential of classical music – not because he particularly disbelieves it, I expect (he wrote a five-volume history of it, after all) – but because it pleases him argumentatively to assault other musicologists. In parallel, he wants to say that popular classical music is more valuable – which is to say (as he does) more consumable – in the world of late capitalism. But this aesthetic decision in favour of the popular over the recondite has ethical consequences that Taruskin neither admits nor – as is clear from his gruff rejection of any possible link between aesthetic choice and ethical act – would acknowledge. But capitalism has subjects, subjects who are exploited, limited, have their life’s possibilities minutely circumscribed and controlled. Declaring in favour of the popular is fine as far as it goes, but doing so while denying any possibility of a truth-statement that exceeds the definition of the merely popular (that is, ideologically normative) with the intention of tearing apart the prevailing understanding of the situation – which for us today is global neoliberal capitalism – is simultaneously to declare in favour of the dictatorship of Capital, and the impossibility of its revolutionary destruction.
More extended such arguments can be found in the longer passage from this book, a link to which I posted earlier. In general, a good deal of his strongest critiques were directed at a particular Anglo-American ideological viewpoint, now common within musicology, which can loosely be associated with postmodernism, a position of high relativism which remains oblivious to the influence of capital. For myself, while I can no longer subscribe wholly to the type of Marxist thinking with which I once had some sympathies (and especially not the neo-Maoism of Alain Badiou), and believe the relationship between popular art and capital to be somewhat more complex, I do have other sympathies with various of his arguments from a social democratic perspective, one which rejects the untethered reign of market forces and the commodity principle as a fundamental measure of the value of everything, but believes in regulation, a strong public sector (including in the realms of education and culture), progressive taxation and public spending, and also which does not necessarily view the ‘state’ always as a malign and hegemonic force, but one which can equally act as a democratic check on the power of capital and big business. In this post, I have collated some examples of musicologists who are more explicit in appealing to commercial forces and the market as a supposedly emancipatory alternative to other means of cultural production, or sometimes denying there could be any alternative to the former. This is a perfectly legitimate perspective, and one which deserves proper consideration, but there are many obvious reasons to doubt the extent to which such an ideological viewpoint should be associated with the political left.
Paul also repeatedly returned to the issue of Anglo-American xenophobia in musicology. He was not alone in this; even Nicholas Cook, coming from a very different ideological and scholarly perspective from Paul, had reason to criticise what he called ‘the xenophobic essentialism that Taruskin seems on occasion to erect into a historiographical principle’ (Nicholas Cook, ‘Alternative Realities: A Reply to Richard Taruskin’, 19th-Century Music, vol. 30, no. 2 (2006), p. 208; a reply to Richard Taruskin, ‘Review: Speed Bumps’, 19th-Century Music, vol. 29, no. 2 (2005), pp. 185-207). Paul wrote about the ‘E→G→N short circuit’, which he associated especially with Taruskin, whereby Europeans (E) become conflated with Germans (G) which become conflated with Nazis (N). This is rooted within a tradition of neo-conservative thought, which sees American-style capitalist democracy, fascism, or Stalinist communism, with the latter two also seen as very similar in many ways, and European social democracy distrusted and sometimes demonised for its lack of wholehearted embrace of the US model.
Paul’s final book as an academic is The Event of Music History (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2021), some of which I am continuing to process at present, and about which I plan to write a more extended response. In this he sought to address fundamental historiographical questions and the question of what constitutes a ‘subject of music history’. He concentrated critical attention on postmodern theories of history such as those of Hayden White, F.R. Ankersmit, Keith Jenkins or Alun Munslow, as well as a range of alternative models provided within musicology, in particular some outlined by James Hepokoski (in ‘Dahlhaus’s Beethoven-Rossini Stildualismus: Lingering Legacies of the Text-Event Dichotomy’, in The Invention of Beethoven and Rossini: Historiography, Analysis, Criticism, edited Nicholas Mathew and Benjamin Walton (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 15-48). These could be delineated into four categories: (1) a critique of Western European canons and their ideological underpinnings; (2) an attempt to dilute what is perceived as an elitist, anti-democratic and German-centred canon by greater incorporation of Mediterranean opera, performer-centered composition, nationalistic works not traditionally viewed as significant, or types of popular or commercial music; (3) a more pronounced shift away from a German-centered canon towards alternative traditions coming from the opposite side of the ‘Beethoven-Rossini divide’ as articulated by Carl Dahlhaus, so that the likes of Donizetti, Verdi, Paganini or Liszt move to centre stage, while a focus on performance replaces score-based analysis, quite deeply distrusted; (4) more difficult to summarise, but employing the opposition between the ‘drastic’ and the ‘gnostic’ cited by Carolyn Abbate (in ‘Music – Drastic or Gnostic’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 30, no. 3 (2204), pp. 505-36), borrowed from philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch, focusing above all on musical reception, and valorising the performative/drastic in opposition to the gnostic. Paul examines these in some detail, in all cases critically, and proceeds in the book to engage with the work of Theodor Adorno to a more thorough extent than previously, leading to extended chapters returning to the central figure of Beethoven, the role of analysis in discerning the ‘truth content’ of his works, as well as questioning some reductive models of the relationship of Beethoven’s ‘heroic’ style to the Napoleonic era and so on.
I have significant differences with Paul on many issues. He is deeply invested in Lacanian psychoanalysis, about which I am more sceptical, as I am about some intellectual figures he strongly favours, such as Badiou or Slavoj Žižek. I take a somewhat different view of such issues as the ‘Beethoven-Rossini divide’, and have perhaps greater sympathies with views which believe in a certain decentring of a particular Austro-German canon (and as such, have more time for strategy 2 above, which has informed some of my own teaching), and even with those which make a rather stark valorisation between highly commercially focused music-making and that which exists with some degree of protection from the vagaries of the market. In that respect, I do not so strongly go along with every aspect of Paul’s critique of some of the arguments of Richard Taruskin, even though I also maintain some aspects of this and other critiques of this body of work. Paul is not sympathetic to the most of the field of historically-informed performance, from a position probably closer to that of Pierre Boulez than Taruskin, while I see this field as of huge importance and value. Furthermore, I believe some of Paul’s critiques themselves to be too all-encompassing in nature, though it is important to note, for example, his critique of some work of ethnomusicologist Henry Stobart was balanced by a counter-example taken from another ethnomusicologist, Martin Stokes. While heavily critical of a lot of directions in ethnomusicology, this did not amount to a blanket rejection of this sub-discipline. For myself, I think study of at least one musical tradition from outside of Europe or North America should be an core part of most music curricula, showing students very different musics, social and cultural contexts from those with which they are likely to be familiar, but have a variety of critiques of some methods and ideological positions associated with ethnomusicology.
But I recognise a lot of the tendencies outlined in Paul’s resignation post, especially the level of dogmatism, with bullying, pathologisation and demonisation as an alternative to any attempts at communication, engagement and scholarly critique with those of divergent viewpoints. This is very unbefitting of academia, and the very converse of genuine diversity (which should include ideological diversity) and a spirit of critical thinking. Paul has left behind an important body of work, and numerous other contributions to academic life – for example as an elected trustee of the Society for Music Analysis, like myself, and through his immensely generous work creating and maintaining the Golden Pages, an invaluable resource for all musicologists listing upcoming conferences, dissertation abstracts, citation guides, online resources, university music departments, and more. But he had weathered the storms for as long as he wanted to, and wished (on an entirely voluntary basis) for a career change, also in light of an unhappy situation where cuts were made to his department at Royal Holloway, which was also a key arena for very pitched battles between factions. For my part, I am simply very sad to see the departure of both a friend and a scholar for whom I have the highest respect, even where we disagree. British musicology will be all the poorer without Paul.