My trip to British Columbia, the Canadian Rockies, and Calgary

I just got back from a wonderful week-and-a-half-long trip where I visited two friends in British Columbia, hiked in the Canadian Rockies, and attended the 2016 conference of the Canadian University Music Society (MusCan) at the University of Calgary.

This was my first time visiting western Canada. The Rockies were absolutely gorgeous, particularly Lake Louise and Banff. I also very much enjoyed spending a few days in Kimberley, BC with my friend Sunny, where I got to see her in action as a small-town minister (and I sang in her church choir in a Sunday service!), and spending a night with my friend Kelly and her family at their picturesque home nestled between the mountains outside of Golden, BC. Calgary was a pleasant surprise: for a large city, there are sure a lot of nice, large parks, people are quite friendly, and it was relatively easy to get around on public transit. The large Heritage Park living history museum was a great stop that I’d recommend for anyone visiting Calgary. In addition to learning about the history of trading, farming, the railroad, and oil in western Canada, I gained a greater appreciation of Indigenous history and cultures and the Chinese immigrants who built North America’s western railroads (for little pay and with tragically high mortality rates and few legal protections). I was also pleasantly surprised to stumble across an early 20th-century prairie synagogue, where a “Mrs. Ullman” told me in a heavily Yiddish-inflected accent of the good life she left behind in Europe to come to a more tolerant place for Jews.


Me with Sunny at a waterfall in Kimberley, BC



Me in Banff


The MusCan conference was held as part of the Canadian Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, where 70 different Canadian academic societies for the humanities and social sciences held meetings and conferences. I attended three events open to all Congress attendees, of which I particularly enjoyed the Gay History Walking Tour, where I learned of the impressive work that University of Calgary students, faculty, and staff have been doing to support the LGBT community since the 1970s. I was especially thrilled to see multi-stall “all-gender washrooms” on campus. It turns out the University and Calgary have a rich LGBT history. You can read more about this history at the website of the Calgary Gay History Project.

At MusCan one of the most informative event I attended was a panel on music history pedagogy. I learned of some new teaching resources and strategies that I am eager to implement in my classroom in the fall. The conference was held jointly with the Canadian Association of Music Libraries, so I got to attend a fascinating keynote presentation given by Laura Millar on the challenges that libraries and archives are facing as we enter the digital age. Simply put, the internet has made lots of information accessible to us anywhere and at any time, but there are few mechanisms for ensuring the longevity of this information (think of how often you encounter broken links). Thus, librarians, archivists, researchers, government organizations, and software and hardware developers need to be working together to ensure that the resources we can access on the web today are available for many years to come. I also attended a fun presentation by John Higney about music with anti-Stephen Harper messages in the 2015 Canadian federal election. Harper inspired many attack songs, probably because he was an easy target as a (rather amateur) musician himself and because he had served as Canada’s controversial Prime Minister for nearly ten years. These songs were likely an important impetus behind the recent shift to a Liberal majority parliament.

My MusCan presentation was related to my dissertation work on the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, but went beyond my dissertation to consider the similarities and differences between King’s and Libera, another popular English all-male choir that sings sacred music. Libera sings pop and classical crossover music in concerts that are elaborately staged “liturgies” that include artificial reverb and amplification, whereas King’s sings more traditional classical works in Anglican services and does not use sound manipulation technologies. Despite these differences, I argued that the two choirs are similar, as both sing with the so-called “English sound” for sacred choral music (light, bright, breathy, and with limited vibrato and few changes in expressive elements such as tempo and dynamics), both are part of a longstanding commercializing and popularizing impulse in sacred choral music in Britain (think of the BBC’s many broadcasts of sacred music starting in the 1920s), both present a carefully crafted image to listeners (albeit different images), and both provide moving spiritual and musical experiences to listeners. If you would like to learn more about my presentation, I have uploaded the PowerPoint (both as .pptx and .pdf files) to Dropbox: Below are three short YouTube videos that I discussed in the presentation:

1) The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge singing Once in Royal David’s City (first hymn in the video), sung at the choir’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols service, December 2011


2) Libera singing “Libera” by Robert Prizeman (2007 concert video)


3) Interview with Libera fan Mark Prouse from 2009 TV documentary (play to 22:21)


Overall, I had a great trip. I am sad that it is over, but excited to get to enjoy another summer back in Montreal!


Sir David Willcocks (December 30, 1919–September 17, 2015)


Image from

Last Thursday, Sir David Willcocks, one of the more influential choral conductors of the second half of the twentieth century, died at the age of ninety-five in Cambridge, England. Sir David is perhaps most well known for serving as Organist and Director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge from 1958 to 1973. While at King’s, he brought the choir into the age of the LP, producing many popular recordings, such as the famous 1964 release of Allegri’s Miserere with Roy Goodman as treble soloist (Evensong for Ash Wednesday, Argo ZRG 5365, 1964, LP).

In addition to recordings, Willcocks began regular collaborations between the choir and leading instrumental ensembles of the day, including the English Chamber Orchestra, the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Leonhardt Consort. And he increased the international profile of the choir, starting annual tours abroad, including one that went as far as West Africa (1972).

I had the privilege of meeting Sir David two years ago in Cambridge, chatting over tea with him and his wife Rachel Willcocks about my doctoral thesis on “Early Music and the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, 1958–Present.” Since a good portion of my thesis considers his impact on the choir, it was a real treat to talk with him.

Many of Willcocks’s contributions, both to the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge as well as to other ensembles and institutions, are detailed in a lengthy obituary in The Telegraph. It is quite enjoyable to read, as the author also considers Willcocks outside of his musical career, writing about his personality, his heroic service during the Second World War, as well as the fact that he was almost expelled from the Westminster Abbey choir school for smoking!

I do, however, disagree with two points made in the obituary. Having listened to the first recordings of the choir (from 1927) at the British Library, I do not believe that Willcocks “redefined” the King’s sound. From its earliest recordings to the present day, the choir has had a relatively bright and light sound (particularly among its boy trebles) with limited vibrato and limited changes in expressive elements such as tempo and dynamics. We can gather this from footage of King’s from the 1941 British propaganda film “Christmas Under Fire” (see below and compare to the 1964 Allegri recording above). Willcocks helped popularize the sound through his many recordings and international tours, but he did not fundamentally alter it.

Secondly, I do not believe that Willcocks’s “approach was the antithesis of the early music movement.” True, King’s is not a professional choir that specializes solely in medieval, Renaissance, or Baroque music. Yet the choir’s sound is quite similar to that of many prominent vocal ensembles in the early-music revival, particularly ones that grew out of English choral traditions, such as the Clerkes of Oxenford, the Tallis Scholars, and the Sixteen. These choirs also have light and bright sounds, with little vibrato and limited changes in dynamics and tempo. In addition, King’s was recording, performing, and broadcasting large amounts of early choral music before a critical mass of these professional early-music ensembles emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. King’s and Willcocks undoubtedly played large and important roles in the modern revival of early choral music.

Dissertation outtakes: Incontinent choristers, manly countertenors, screaming babies, and musicological gossip

Over the past two years, as I have worked on my doctoral dissertation on the early-music revival and the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, I have come across many amusing—and some downright hilarious—quotations and anecdotes. Because most of them do not make sense to include in my actual dissertation, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favorite “dissertation outtakes” here on the blog.

King's choral scholars 1966 image

Image from Nigel Perrin, et al., The King’s Singers: A Self-Portrait (London: Robson, 1980), 14.

1) No incontinent choristers need apply

Last April, I came across a brochure advertising the choir to potential boy trebles (and their parents) from the late 1960s/early 1970s. Interestingly, the brochure specified that boys suffering from “nocturnal incontinence” could not be admitted to the King’s College School as boarding students (and all boys singing treble in the choir had to be boarding students). A slip was even included for each applicant’s doctor to sign, certifying that he was “not subject to asthma, chronic cough, shortness of breath, frequent sore throats, hoarseness or loss of voice; that he has not permanently enlarged tonsils nor enlarged gland in the neck; also, that he is free from incontinence of urine, and from any bodily infirmity, and that his general health is good.” Were the laundry capabilities of the school not that good at the time? Think of all the eight-year-old boys who could have become world-famous singers but didn’t because they couldn’t stay “dry” every night—what a shame!

2) Stephen Cleobury likes screaming babies

In a 2001 interview, King’s music director Stephen Cleobury said the following about his preference for “natural” singing:

“The ideal voice that I like, particularly with children, is what you might call ‘natural.’ The most natural singing you will hear is when you get a two-year-old toddler or baby lying on its back screaming its head off. That’s free vocal production because there are no tensions. They’re not thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve got to sing a high note.’ It’s a free voice, it’s usually got a natural brightness.”

From Jeffrey Sandborg, English Ways: Conversations with English Choral Conductors (Chapel Hill, NC: Hinshaw, 2001), 85.

3) Countertenor choral scholar is very manly

The program book for a concert given by the King’s choral scholars in June 2013 included short biographies of all the singers, including one countertenor who evidently wanted listeners to know how manly he was (and that he had worked at the Waitrose supermarket chain). Or is his bio a parody responding to the common notion that men who sing high are effeminate?


Image from the program booklet for “Concerts at King’s. Singing on the River: A Glorious Evening of Summer Music from Byrd to the Beatles,” Sunday, June 23, 2013, King’s College, Cambridge.

4) Philip Brett is “aggressively gay” and other musicological gossip

In his memoir, former choral scholar Humphrey Clucas reminisces about people who were students with him at King’s in the early 1960s, including Philip Brett, Margaret Bent, and Ian Bent (although Clucas does not mention the Bents’ surname, given the timeframe and the details provided it is very likely that he is writing about them). Brett and the Bents went on to become influential musicologists, so it is especially amusing for me to read. I am not entirely sure what is meant by “aggressively gay,” though, and apart from this passage I have only ever heard positive things about Brett. I also somehow doubt that musica ficta was significantly responsible for the breakup of the Bents’ marriage.

“Then there was Philip Brett… He seemed gentle, and very English; he wore shabby sports coats and grey flannel trousers. He was a research student, doing Renaissance music; he edited our Taverner. I remember his being worried about a girl called Margaret, who was engaged to a fellow-student; he did not think they were right for each other. I wondered if he was keen on her himself. He went to America—and a year or two later he was back with long hair and beads, aggressively gay. I sometimes saw articles of his about gay issues in Britten operas, not all of which I agreed with. He was right about Margaret; the marriage broke up. ‘They even argued about musica ficta,’ someone told me.”

Quotation from Humphrey Clucas, Taking Stock: The First Sixty Years (Surrey: Lewin, 2005), 42.

5) Unmanly Victorian singers don’t know how to ride horses

Apparently the concerns over the manliness of singing that we saw in Feargal Mostyn-Williams’s bio above are quite deep-seated. One editorial published in The Musical Times in 1889, for instance, referred to men who sing as: “Not men but diseases… destitute of any manly grit or vigour, who have never played cricket or been astride a horse in their lives” (from “Manliness in Music,” Musical Times 30 (1889), 461). I suspect that many of the singers currently in the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge have also never ridden horses, although I don’t know about cricket.

From Earth to Ether: The 2015 Montreal Baroque Festival

I recently attended about a dozen concerts and lectures at the Montreal Baroque Festival. I have been thinking a lot about how this festival was different from the Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF), which I attended earlier this month and discussed in a previous blog post.

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Ensemble Caprice plays outside following its concert at the Montreal Baroque Festival, June 25, 2015. Photo taken by Jacob Sagrans. Musicians, from left to right, are: Matthias Maute, David Jacques, Lucie Ringuette, Sophie Larivière, and Susie Napper.

Montreal’s festival is significantly smaller than BEMF. It runs for just four days and the most well attended concert (the final one) filled McGill’s 600-seat Pollack Hall to about 75% capacity. At many of the other concerts, most seats were empty, perhaps because the Festival ran concurrently with both the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Festival de musique de Lachine. In Boston, many concerts were sold out and were given at venues that could hold up to a thousand people (such as Jordan Hall). The low attendance in Montreal was unfortunate, but on the plus side it did mean that the concerts felt quite intimate.

I liked that the Montreal festival was more laid back, friendly, and inclusive in feeling than BEMF. Before and after concerts it was common for audience members and performers alike to hang around outside (when weather permitted), chatting about the music on the program and enjoying free snacks provided by Festival staff and volunteers (more on the snacks below).

In Montreal, individual ticket prices ranged form $20 for students/seniors to $40 for regular admission. The cheapest concert I went to in Boston cost $55 (US, or about $68 Canadian), and there were no discounts. People who are less willing or able to spend fair sums of money on early music were probably better represented in the Montreal audiences and the Festival, while less well attended than BEMF, likely reached a broader range of the local population.

Montreal, like Boston, featured some very high caliber performers and presenters (although not as many as BEMF). They included pioneering Belgian Baroque violinist and violoncello da spalla player Sigiswald Kuijken, internationally renowned Acadian soprano Suzie LeBlanc, French musicologist Gilles Cantagrel (who gave brief lectures on Bach’s cello suites), and rockstar Québécois Baroque violinist Olivier Brault.

The theme of the 2015 Festival was also a nice touch. This year it was “ether and earth” or “éther et terre” (note the clever French play-on-words). Concerts had names like “Bach au ciel” (heavenly Bach) and “De la terre à l’Espace (from earth to space), and we even got to eat earth and the ether surrounding it at a reception following the final concert (aka, blueberries dipped in white chocolate).

One final thing I enjoyed about the Montreal Baroque Festival is that performers often crossed boundaries between different musical genres and between music and other art forms. The Festival started with Ensemble Caprice playing an invigorating mixture of Vivaldi and gypsy music (a concert based on this album). Ensemble Alkemia sang early a cappella choral works accompanied by modern dance, Infusion Baroque played instrumental chamber works by Telemann while artist Sylvia Chan created a painting inspired by the music, and Fuoco e Cenere performed music from the reign of Louis XIV in what might best be described as a seventeenth-century cooking show in the form of a comic opera (imagine vigorous chopping of vegetables in time to Lully’s famous “Marche pour la cérémonie des Turcs”). These concerts allowed the audience to experience early music in new, visually beautiful, and tasty ways (we got to eat the food Fuoco e Cenere made after the performance).

Video excerpts from Fuoco e Cenere’s gastronomic concert

The organization of the Festival could have been a bit stronger though. The program booklet read as if no one had proofread it—among many other typos, it was often incorrect in its listing of the times and places of concerts. Thankfully the tickets themselves listed the correct places and times; nonetheless such major errors in an official Festival document are inexcusable. The booklet also did not include texts or translations of the vocal works performed, nor did it include biographies of any of the soloists apart from Kuijken (I believe programs ought to include both to do justice to the music as well as the performers). And audience members were required to purchase program booklets—those who did not were not even given a simple list of the works in a concert, so many probably had little idea of what they were hearing.

All concerts were general admission, which meant that those hoping to get good seats had to spend a lot of time waiting in line (but on the other hand, it meant good seats were no more expensive than bad ones). The Festival’s advertising seemed to be quite minimal (I don’t recall seeing any posters for it at the McGill music faculty). Better advertising could have increased attendance (although perhaps at a cost that the Festival was not able to pay).

Overall, though, I had an excellent time this year at the Montreal Baroque Festival. I am excited to attend again next year.

If you would like more details about the events that occurred at the Festival, I suggest reading the following articles:

Boston Early Music Festival 2015

Last week I had a wonderful time attending the Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF). Since 1980, BEMF has put on a weeklong festival every other year that is jam packed with concerts, workshops, exhibitions, lectures, and masterclasses, most of which focus on medieval, Renaissance, and/or Baroque music. BEMF attracts top-notch early-music performers, scholars, and instrument builders, as well as thousands of attendees from around the world.

I went to six concerts, two pre-opera lectures, and one lecture-recital. The music of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) was the focus of this year’s Festival. All three of his extant operas—L’Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, and L’incoronazione di Poppea—were staged. In addition, Monteverdi’s popular liturgical work, the Vespers of 1610, was performed.

Poppea and the Vespers were highlights of the week. The opera featured a superb cast, including rising Australian star David Hansen as Nerone, who sang with his impressively high and versatile countertenor voice. Canadian soprano Shannon Mercer sang a lovely Ottavia, easily making the audience empathize with the character through her heart-wrenching laments. A pleasantly unsuspected high point was Nell Snaidas, the Uruguayan-American soprano playing Amore and Valetto. Snaidas’s light, bright, and twangy voice perfectly conveyed the childish innocence as well as the sexual curiosity of these “tween” boy characters.

Video preview of the Monteverdi operas staged at the 2015 Boston Early Music Festival. Taken from

The Vespers performance, led by conductor Stephen Stubbs, was spectacular, particularly the sections featuring the highly ornamented singing of tenor soloists. The “Gloria” from the concluding Magnificat was especially chilling as Zachary Wilder sang an agitated, virtuosic line with an unnerving sense of tranquility while Jason McStoots added an otherworldly echo from off stage—a calm in the eye of the storm before the triumphant conclusion of the work in the “Sicut erat” for full chorus and orchestra.

Other high points of the Festival were a concert given by Catalan viola da gamba player Jordi Savall and his ensemble Hespèrion XXI and a concert led by lutenist Paul O’Dette featuring him and twenty two (!) other lute and early guitar players. I cannot do justice to all that I experienced in a full week at BEMF in a single blog post—if you’d like to read more about other concerts, I suggest you check out the reviews on the Boston Musical Intelligencer website (most of the reviews and stories about BEMF were posted between June 2 and 14, 2015).


Lutes galore at BEMF! Photo taken by Jacob Sagrans, June 11, 2015 at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, Boston.

Attending BEMF was also especially meaningful for me as a musicologist who studies the early-music revival in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It was wonderful to get to go to many excellent concerts of music that I have grown to love over my years of study, and to do so at a festival that has played such an important role in the early-music revival (BEMF was one of the first festivals devoted to historically informed performance of early music and is one of the largest ones today).

It was inspiring to see how people at the festival reacted so positively to scholarship about early music. Scholarship is an integral part of the BEMF experience: in addition to detailed program notes about the historical and cultural contexts of the works featured in each concert, there were also lectures given by well-known musicologists, including seventeenth-century opera expert Ellen Rosand, Handel scholar Ellen Harris, and medievalist Thomas Forrest Kelly.

I attended two pre-opera lectures that Rosand gave, as well as a lecture-recital Kelly gave in collaboration with the Blue Heron vocal ensemble. I was impressed with both musicologists, as they enumerated the basics of complex repertoires in ways that were not only understandable but also exciting to all in the audience (not just other PhD musicologists).

What made Rosand and Kelly’s presentations especially great was that they focused on what made the music unique and why they personally loved it. Aspects of the music’s historical and cultural contexts were also discussed, but it was all for the purpose of helping the audience see how exciting the music we were about to hear was and to teach us to love the music just as Rosand and Kelly do. I would love to learn how to be just as engaging in my lectures.

Kelly’s lecture-recital with Blue Heron focused on what may have seemed, at first glance, to be a rather esoteric and dry topic: the development of Western musical notation in the Middle Ages (this topic is also the focus of Kelly’s most recent book, Capturing Music: The Story of Notation). Rather than just showing us what notation was like at various points in time, Kelly explained how developments in musical notation shaped the music that we had come to BEMF to hear, while Blue Heron, conducted by Scott Metcalfe, gave live demonstrations of the various pieces Kelly discussed. One particularly memorable part was when Kelly, wishing to give the audience a sense of what it would have been like for a thirteenth-century Parisian to hear a double-texted French motet, asked two of the performers to sing two songs from Sesame Street simultaneously! I hope Blue Heron puts a recording of that on its next album.


My copy of Dr. Kelly’s most recent book

Although it was not part of the Festival, I also made a point of going to the Boston Public Library to see an exhibit detailing the history of the Handel and Haydn Society. As the exhibit made apparent to me, the early-music revival has a very long and rich history in Boston dating back to the foundation of the Society in the early 1800s. It was fun to think that, by coming to Boston, I was participating in and helping support this long-seated tradition. I hope the early-music revival continues in Boston for at least another 200 years!

I am glad that I had the opportunity to go to the Boston Early Music Festival this year. I got a chance to take a break from working on my dissertation, relax, recharge, and experience a thrilling array of live performances and lectures that reminded me of why I love early music and why I am doing the research that I do. Lastly, it was lovely to spend much of my time in Boston with family, particularly my mother Jan, who came with me to all but one of the Festival events I attended—all while attempting to do her regular work (no easy feat—I hope she isn’t too worn out now). I also gather that she appreciated having me sitting next to her as her “personal musicologist” ready to answer (or attempt to answer) whatever questions she had about the music she was hearing. I look forward to going to many more concerts with her in the future.

Future Humanities conference reflections

I recently attended an incredibly thought-provoking conference hosted by McGill’s Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (IPLAI) as part of its Future Humanities project. This project is a response to the reality that only a small fraction of people with PhDs earn positions as tenured or tenure-track professors (as little as 10% in some estimations). Graduate students, professors, college/university administrators, and people from government, non-profits, and for-profit institutions attended the conference. Presentations and discussions centered on how graduate education in the humanities in Canada could be reformed to better prepare students to transition to non-academic jobs. We also considered how to increase the public profile of the humanities by making our work more relevant to people outside of academia.

Future humanities logo

Image taken from

I have been involved with the Future Humanities project for the past several months, participating in a video of grad students’ “visions” for the future of the humanities (see screenshot below) and helping to plan conference events targeted to grad students. I was eager to see my work come to fruition, but I also felt some trepidation before the conference started. At times, I have found it disheartening and stress provoking to think about the limited likelihood of getting a tenure-track position after spending six years (so far) working full time on my PhD, so I was worried that the conference might decrease my morale and motivation to finish my thesis.

visions video

Screenshot taken from (3’40’’ in)

Despite my initial worries, I very much enjoyed attending the conference and was surprised that it left me with a more positive attitude about my work. Much of this was the result of the opening workshop for graduate students on “Navigating the Non-Academic Job Market.” This workshop was led by Anne Krook, a consultant with a PhD in English who has spent much of her career working outside academia. Because of her experience shifting from academic to non-academic work, Dr. Krook was able to give us very practical advice on how to make that shift ourselves. I appreciated the attention she devoted to how to converse with non-academic employers about the skills one has gained in academia (in sum, you need to focus on how your skills will benefit the employer). Dr. Krook also affirmed the value of our degrees, telling us that we are gaining skills in critical thinking, researching, and writing that many institutions value, not just academic ones. It’s nice to know that my dissertation does not need to be “perfect” or lead to a tenure-track job in order for writing it to be a valuable experience.

There were many presentations and discussions at the conference, and I cannot do justice to all of them in a blog post (it is my understanding, though, that videos of the conference will soon be archived on this website if you would like to watch them to get a fuller sense of what we discussed). I’d like to spend the remainder of this post summarizing some key issues that were raised in the presentations and discussions.

One point of disagreement among attendees was how to best reform graduate education in the humanities. Some felt it was important to make education more interdisciplinary to give students more opportunities to connect with people outside of their disciplinary “silos”—others felt disciplinary depth is crucial in training critical-thinking skills applicable to many jobs. Some argued passionately that professional development and training for non-academic jobs should be integrated into program requirements—others felt they should be add-on certificates for students to pursue if they are interested. Some felt theses should be shorter and more directly oriented towards “real-world” applications—others felt the PhD thesis is still valuable in its current format. And so and so on.

With so many different views offered, it was next to impossible to decide what the “right” answers were. Given this mess of possible solutions, I increasingly felt that the best way to reform graduate education in the humanities would be to make it more flexible and individualized, so that students can pick the “right” solutions for themselves. If students want specific types of training that they think will be valuable for their future career(s), they should be able to integrate this into their degree. Students should be able to have mentors from both within and outside of academia who are able to help them get what they want out of their education, whether it be an academic job or something else. If graduate education in the humanities becomes more individualized and students have mentors both within and outside of the academy, they will be able to identify fulfilling non-academic careers and prepare themselves for these careers.

One frequently discussed topic was the idea that academic humanists should make their work more relevant to people outside of academia. An underlying assumption of this idea, it seemed, was that if non-academics feel the humanities are valuable, they will be more likely to hire people with graduate degrees in the humanities. I appreciate the logic behind this assumption, but I also feel that our discussions of how to make the humanities more publicly oriented were sometimes too narrow. It was often implied that the humanities are most relevant to society at large when they are focused on solving tangible, “real-world” problems. For example, one presenter talked about how her doctoral thesis in law is aimed at figuring out how to create laws to better respond to and prevent human rights abuses. Of course, studying a topic like this has tremendous value, but I think focusing only on solving problems is too limiting. Research in the visual and performing arts, for instance, is often not oriented towards solving such tangible problems, yet it nonetheless can have tremendous relevance and value for society at large given that many people are passionate about music, theatre, literature, film, etc. The arts can create unique connections between scholarship and people outside of academia. I was somewhat disappointed, then, that the arts were not discussed as much at the conference as other areas of the humanities. In the future, I think the project ought to engage more with the visual and performing arts.

I also felt our discussions of the so-called “public humanities” were narrow in that they tended to focus on research. Teaching and service to the university are significant components of the jobs of academic humanists, and it seems that they too offer avenues for engaging general audiences in the humanities. For example, many professors in my field, musicology, wind up teaching large music appreciation courses taken exclusively by non-music majors who are passionate about music and curious to learn more about it. There is clearly room to advocate for the humanities with non-humanists in courses such as these.

Finally, I wish that a more diverse group of people attended the conference. About 80% of the attendees were grad students, professors, or college/university administrators. Of the 20% who were not, nearly all had PhDs. I can only guess what innovative ideas we would have heard had more people from outside academia participated, or more people who do not have or are not currently working towards graduate degrees had come to the conference. I do now have a greater understanding of how non-academics view academia, but I bet my understanding would be even greater had more non-academics participated in the conference. In addition, I was surprised that staff from student career development centers did not give presentations, as I imagine they would have unique insights stemming from their experience helping students find non-academic jobs. I hope in the future that the Future Humanities project will reach out to a more diverse group of people, especially non-academics.

Despite these wishes, I am very glad that I attended the conference. I learned a tremendous amount and am excited to see how my career develops in the coming years, whether it be in academia or not.

Emma Kirkby masterclass at McGill

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a masterclass given by Dame Emma Kirkby at McGill’s Schulich School of Music. Kirkby was one of the first professional singers to specialize in Renaissance and Baroque music, beginning her career in the early 1970s as a member of the Consort of Musicke and the Taverner Choir. Equally at home as a choral singer and as a soloist, she has earned widespread praise for her bright, light, and relatively vibrato-free voice, a voice that has seemed especially appropriate for early music since the rise of historically informed performance practice.

For a sense of Kirkby’s singing voice, I highly recommend watching the following video of her performing “Dido’s lament” from Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas:

The five participants in the masterclass were all young singers aspiring to careers in opera—all but one of them were members of the Atelier Lyrique of the Opéra de Montréal. Pascale Spinney, Alexandra Beley, and Florie Valiquette sang arias from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, while Dylan Wright sang an excerpt from Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea and Cécile Muhire sang an aria from Handel’s Messiah.

Kirkby told the singers many things that one might have expected in light of her own approach to early music. She encouraged singing lightly, with a largely bright timbre (but not so bright as to restrict or strain the vocal passage), with very precise enunciation, and in head register (she didn’t use the terms “head voice” or “chest voice” but said things like “move the sound higher,” which is equivalent). She pointed out that singing lightly, with a largely bright timbre and in head register, helps with enunciation, particularly during fast passages. This was especially apparent for Pascale Spinney, who initially sang “Empio, dirò, tu sei,” an especially fast aria, with a dark and heavy timbre. Only when she adopted Kirkby’s suggestions and switched to a lighter and brighter timbre could I understand the words she was singing.

In addition, Kirkby suggested that singers practice coloratura passages slowly, with staccato notes, in order to sing the pitches more precisely in tune. She encouraged them to physically embody the characters they were portraying, particularly in their facial expressions and arm movements, but to avoid what she called “a general pained expression.”

One thing Kirkby did not mention was vibrato, which I found surprising given that her voice is especially notable for its relative lack of vibrato, and also since it is generally accepted that consistent and heavy vibrato is not appropriate for Renaissance and Baroque vocal music. However, her suggestions to sing more lightly and in head register did have the overall effect of lessening the singers’ vibrato.

After the masterclass I spoke briefly with Kirkby, mentioning my dissertation project on the early-music revival in Britain. She was incredibly nice and generous, sharing some anecdotes with me about her experiences listening to albums of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge in the 1960s and offering to follow up by email on questions related to my research. I am very glad I went, and am very much looking forward to the concert she is giving tonight in Montreal!