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Faculty Colloquia

The weekly Colloquia present engaging and thought-provoking research papers covering an eclectic mix of topics and musical styles. They provide stimulating opportunities to hear and discuss the latest research by distinguished scholars and musicians from the UK and abroad.

Colloquia are held on Wednesday evenings in the Recital Room (unless otherwise specified) of the Faculty of Music, West Road. Please arrive at 4.50pm for a 5.00pm start. Papers are followed by discussion and a drinks reception with the speaker. Admission is free and open to the general public. All are welcome to attend. 

Please note Colloquia are currently being held online, please email for any enquiries.

Should you be unable to attend or wish to view one of the sesions again, many of our Colloquia are available via the Faculty's YouTube channel.

Colloquia Contacts

Ekaterina Pavlova -

Eirini Diamantouli -

David Cotter -


20 Jan 2021

Dr Ariana Phillips-Hutton

Title: In Good Conscience: Empathy and Ethics in Musical Conflict 


Teach the world to sing, and all will be in perfect harmony – or so the 
songs tell us. Music is widely believed to promote unity and peace, but 
the focus on music as a vehicle for fostering empathy and reconciliation 
threatens to overly simplify our narratives of how interpersonal 
conflict might be transformed. In this presentation, I ask fundamental 
questions of the ways and means by which music might promote conflict 
transformation. I critique the reliance on musical empathy and its 
ethical imperative of radical openness; instead, I position it alongside 
the acknowledgement of moral responsibility as a fundamental component 
of music's capacity to transform conflict. Illustrated by examples from 
Australia and Canada, I assess the complementary roles of musically 
mediated empathy and guilt in societies struggling with a legacy of 
racial conflict, and argue that a consideration of musical and moral 
implication as part of studies on music and conflict offers a powerful 
tool for understanding music's potential to contribute to societal 

27 January 2021

Dr Shzr Ee Tan, Royal Holloway, University of London

Title: Western Art Music in Chinese (counter)tropes: From Wang Yuja in Herve 
Leger to 'Nerd-cool' of Twoset Violin


This paper challenges stereotypes of East Asian performers in Western 
Art Music as emotionless automatons amidst burgeoning fears of the rise 
of China as an industrial and politico-economic force. Recent 
rebalancing of global (arts-spending and arts-hungry) power has led to 
the influx of Chinese music students and artists (aka the 'New Yellow 
Peril') in conservatories, music departments and orchestras around the 
world, leading to the further troping of East Asian musicians as scions 
of rich, single-child families - even as the emerging demographic itself 
has been contributing to the sustenance of recruitment-savvy education 
and arts sectors. Drawing on work by Yang (2007), Yoshihara (2008), Hung 
(2009), Tan (2014) and Kawabata & Tan (2019), I examine how old and new 
stereotypes ride uneasily alongside 'model minority' narratives of East 
Asian diasporic musicians. Increasingly, figures such as Yuja Wang, Lang 
Lang and YouTube stars Twoset Violin are claiming new agencies in the 
shaping of Western Art Music scenes in multiple, contested, meme-based, 
fan-friendly and gently-confrontational expressions of musicality 
through performances of race and gender. Other examples I will discuss 
include Yundi Li, Zhu Xiaomei, the fictional 'Ling Ling' and Ray Chen. 
Examining their multifarious articulations of Chineseness in the plural, 
I argue that increasing self-awareness of privilege as well as 
self-exoticisation plays an important role in staking highly-nuanced and 
shifting Chinese musical positionalities which have emerged in the 
parsing of intersectional racisms coming to full tilt in the (after)math 
of COVID-19 and #BlackLivesMatter in 2020.

3 February 2021

Dr Makoto Harris Takao, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign


Viols and Voices in Sixteenth-Century Japan: The Role of Music in the Jesuits’ Education of Children in the Province  of Bungo


“My dear brethren, with these little boys Our Lord is going to bring 
fire all over Japan, that it may flare up in the fire of his love.” So 
claimed the Portuguese missionary Luís de Almeida of the young viol 
players trained at the Jesuit elementary school in the city of Funai 
(present-day Ōita) in 1562. Situated in the ancient province of Bungo, 
this region is a recurrent reference in the annals of Japan’s so-called 
Christian Century (1549–1650). An epicenter for the Jesuit mission 
endorsed by its ruling daimyo, it was here that a standard was set for 
the “Western” musical education of Japanese children, encompassing both 
vocal practices and instrumental tuition. In this presentation, I will 
trace the presence of these children in Jesuit records throughout the 
1560s, looking to how their training in and performance of liturgical 
and secular music fulfilled key proselytic and political objectives. 
Indeed, there has been a tendency in scholarship to date to approach 
these instances of music-making as detached episodes when, in fact, 
there are deep connections between people and places that warrant closer 
inspection. This presentation thus etches out a broader narrative of the 
developing musical practices and identities of Japanese Christian 
(kirishitan) communities that began to take shape in the early decades 
of their formation.

10 February 2021

Professor Joseph Straus, City University of New York

Title: Musical Modernism and the Representation of Disability


Modernist music is centrally concerned with bodies and minds that 
deviate from normative standards for appearance and function.  The 
musical features that make music modern are precisely those that can be 
understood to represent disability.  Modernist musical representations 
of disability both reflect and shape (construct) disability in a eugenic 
age, a period when disability was viewed simultaneously with pity (and a 
corresponding urge toward cure or rehabilitation) and fear (and a 
corresponding urge to incarcerate or eliminate).  The most 
characteristic features of musical modernism—fractured forms, 
immobilized harmonies, conflicting textural layers, radical 
simplification of means in some cases, and radical complexity and 
hermeticism in others—can be understood as musical representations of 
disability conditions, including deformity/disfigurement, mobility 
impairment, madness, idiocy, and autism.

17 February 2021

Dr Mina Gorji, University of Cambridge

Title: Lyric Quiet: Listening to "Frost at Midnight"

This talk explores the experience and representation of quiet in 
Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight" to ask broader questions about the ways 
poetry can register and express volume and sound dynamics. It offers 
historical contexts for understanding the poem including the development 
of musical and rhetorical notation for volume as well as accounts of 
shifting reading practices in the period. It demonstrates how "Frost at 
Midnight" offers a rich nexus for thinking about the experience and the 
representation of volume, and of silence, in Romantic lyric. The poem 
invites further thinking about the semiotics of sound and silence 
through a playful interplay between eye and ear. Coleridge was 
fascinated by visual codes for sound and the ways in which patterns of 
sound can be seen as well as heard, and his poems are full of accounts 
of different kinds of sound, which complicate the distinction between 
silent and vocalised reading. Coleridge provides an especially 
interesting case study not only because he was writing on what has been 
described as the cusp between reading aloud and silent reading, but also 
because he was deeply interested in musical forms and in the science and 
semiotics of acoustics. The essay demonstrates how shifts in volume can 
be expressed and experienced in a poem's own acoustic, rhythmic and 
verbal textures as well as through shifts of tempo, and suggests that 
the representation of different levels of sound in "Frost at Midnight" 
challenges and extends what is understood by 'silent reading. More 
broadly, it proposes that volume be understood as part of a critical 
discourse about genre and considers the critical language we might use 
to describe volume and dynamics. Arguing that Coleridge's lyric poetry 
has its own playful modes and codes for communicating degrees of sound, 
the essay proposes that volume is a neglected but significant figure in 
Lyric studies.

24 February 2021

Professor R. Keith Sawyer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Title: Teaching musical creativity using guided improvisation


I will describe the pedagogical approach I call "guided improvisation." This approach is inspired by research on music and theater improvisation, yet it is generally applicable across disciplines. Guided improvisation emphasizes the teacher's careful balance of structure and improvisation. Teaching is most effective when the instructor facilitates the classroom such that the teacher and students can be said to be improvising together, a form of group creativity. Yet, this is difficult for teachers, because structure and improvisation are always in tension. I call this challenge "the teaching paradox." I show how instructors can best address the teaching paradox by drawing on concepts and techniques from staged ensemble performance. I situate this approach within a broader body of research on effective learning in all school subjects to show that guided improvisation is aligned with current research on effective teaching and learning.

3 March 2021

Dr Matthew D. Morrison, New York University

Title: William Henry 'Master Juba' Lane and the making of Blacksound in the 
United States and United Kingdom

This talk will consider how Black performance practices influenced the 
proliferation of blackface minstrelsy as the first form of global 
popular music in the mid-nineteenth century. I argue that William Henry 
"Master Juba" Lane—Long-Island born African American performer known as 
the "father of modern tap dance"—emerged as one of the first 
international pop stars in the US and the UK as a result of his unique 
amalgamation of black performance aesthetics with blackface tropes 
previously developed mostly by white (Irish) performers. I explore 
Lane's performance in London at Vauxhall, described and represented in 
copious historical documents, to illustrate how improvisation, 
syncopation, the banjo, and the idiosyncrasy of black performance 
aesthetics directly shaped popular music, culture, and racial identity 
through early blackface and the materialization of Blacksound. This 
chapter continues to theorize through the concept of intellectual 
performance property to account for the ways in which performance, and 
black performativity in particular, has historically been constructed as 
public domain, both in the United States and United Kingdom.

10 March 2021

Professor Michael Beckerman, New York University
Title: "From the Monkey Mountains to the Suicide Bridge: The Hidden Subjects of 
the Haas Brothers"


At some point in the early 1920’s Pavel Haas took a vacation in the Czech Moravian Highlands, known colloquially as the “Monkey Mountains.”   A few years later he referenced this experience in the programme for his second string quartet, the jazzy final movement of which is suddenly interrupted by a song he had written for his lover.  More than a decade later he worked on a symphony, unfinished when he was transported to Terezin, which includes “hidden” quotes from the St. Wenceslaus Hymn, the Horst Wessel Lied, a 15th century Hussite war song and Chopin’s Funeral March.  While in Terezin, he composed a choral work with a frontispiece that looks like musical notes, but actually spells out a message in Hebrew.  Then, in the summer before he was transported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered, both his Songs on Chinese Poetry and his Study for Strings were performed (the latter memorialized in the infamous Terezin propaganda film) and each had its own reference to other works.

Fast forward six years.  Pavel’s younger brother Hugo, in the 1930’s a kind of Czech Cary Grant, has escaped from Europe and made enough money as a character actor in Hollywood to start his own B-movie production company.  One of his very first noir films, Girl on the Bridge has its own hidden secret, and the secret is…his brother Pavel.  

This talk explores the connection between the brothers, presents examples of their intertextual framing, considers the question of artistic secrets, and argues that some works were created for an audience of one.


17 March 2021

Dr Daniel Elphick

'Music on a Leash': Socialist Realism across Twentieth-Century Music

'Awful'... 'supporting tyranny'... 'mammoths and mastodons': 
socialist-realist music provokes strong rejections. Original attempts to 
define it lurched into prescriptive platitudes, or projections of 
intention on the part of music critics; Levon Hakobian has recently 
side-stepped the term altogether and refers to the 'Big Soviet Style' 
instead. This paper details the afterlife of socialist realism in the 
latter half of the twentieth century, with globe-spanning examples. I 
argue that socialist realism is an aesthetic in need of reappraisal, as 
a trend just as important as modernism to our understanding of art music 
composition since 1900. Our music histories have become stuck in the 
narrative rut somewhere between Fukuyaman 'End of History' and Fisher's 
'Capitalist Realism', and we need socialist realism to get out.

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