I’m thrilled to say that the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland awarded me funding to enable me to travel to Dunedin, to give a paper at the University of Otago’s Centre for the Book annual Research Symposium and then attend the UNESCO Creative Cities’ Southern Hui. As a guest speaker, I decided to talk about some of the historical music collections that I’ve been researching. My main point is that “book history” and “library history” should encompass scores as well as books – despite their differences – because of the sheer amount of cultural history that they represent.
I’ll share this weblink about the hui (a Maori word meaning get-together, or gathering):- https://www.cityofliterature.co.nz/creative-cities-southern-hui/
I spent most of Tuesday getting to know Dunedin, and checking the whereabouts of the venues. Two couldn’t have been nearer to my hotel, but the first was a good walk further. I visited two old Presbyterian churches and the Anglican Cathedral, where I felt highly privileged to be invited to try the organ. And I paid a most informative visit to Otago Settlers’ Museum, also stumbling across the Athenaeum Library, an old subscription library that used to be part of the Mechanics’ Institute. I coaxed some of its history out of the librarian on the desk – there was not a soul using the library!
The UNESCO Creative Cities’ Southern Hui began with a mayoral reception, in the City Library. Boys and girls from two local secondary schools, Queen’s and King’s High School s, performed traditional and newly composed Maori songs, culminating in a haka. The songs were beautiful – the haka, terrifying! (I’ve found a video of them performing earlier this year, which you might like to see: Maori Performing Arts Group 2017/ He Waka Kōtuia Dancers)
Finally came the guest speaker – an antiquarian book dealer, with interesting stories to tell, and an admirably ethical approach.
Some mingling, and then dinner with a Twitter connection, completed Day 1. All that remained was to go through my talk one more time …
The Centre for the Book Research Seminar. Shef Rogers began by explaining that the Centre exists to explore ‘how books work in the world.’ Actually, as a librarian working with books all the time, it’s easy to forget that while we’re concentrating on getting the right book to the right reader at the right time, that book might be transformational to the borrower.
So, what did the speakers cover? Quite a wide range of topics, from a hymnology-compiling vicar whose valuable collection ended up in Dunedin, to artist books, to the suggestion that our own personal collections betray much about us.
My own paper was well-received, and sat quite comfortably after American Smithsonian rare books librarian Alexandra Newman’s very engaging paper on marginalia – in much older books than the scores I’ve been focusing on. Co-organiser Shef Rogers gave a paper about title page verso information, to conclude our session, before question-time. Did music have marginalia too?, I was asked. Yes and no. Sometimes old books have annotations or corrections, but not often in legal deposit music in libraries. Shef explained that the late acknowledgement of copyright in music was due to the fact that music was engraved, a different process to printed books. (Here’s a quick You-Tube flick-through of my slides. It’s NOT the entire presentation!)
A paper about Maori, books and literacy during the missionary era, and the cultural context, provided food for thought, as did another about building a library for the Otago University Museum Library. And a talk about women authors in early 20th century New Zealand was enlightening, though a fleeting allusion to women composers wasn’t really expanded upon. The only one I identified on the PowerPoint was a lyricist, not a composer. It always pays to look closely!
Books for children, and bibliotherapy, rounded off the seminar. Great papers, but perhaps hard to relate directly to my own areas of interest. We socialised for an hour or so, before breaking up for the evening.
The next day would be the UNESCO Creative Cities’Southern Hui, with a different, less scholarly and more collaborative focus. I was hoping to get ideas for collaborations in a ‘public impact’ kind of way. The whole event is an interesting collaboration between town and gown, and even the research seminar was not a typical scholarly seminar on account of this. I was flattered to be told by one attendee that although she was “a non-academic” (her words), she still found my paper interesting and easy to follow. I must be doing something right!
Day 3. UNESCO Creative Cities’ Southern Hui
Tuesday evening’s opening event was for everyone, and ensured New Zealand’s Maori history and culture took centre stage. Wednesday’s research seminar was, indeed, research-focused, but not exclusively so. (Books for children, and bibliotherapy, for example, had a more practical focus.) Thursday, the third day, had a less academic focus. It encouraged delegates to contemplate creativity with the written word – fiction, poetry and film, rather than scholarly monographs. (I struggled slightly with the suggestion that computer game plots are literature. Creativity, undeniably, but not literature, which to me is something written.). There were readings from writers and poets, film trailers, and a great talk about Bologna’s various creativity strategies including a fabulous library development and a new orchestral amenity utilising a disused suburban commercial space. Also an interesting talk about reading groups and a writers’ centre in … my hometown of Norwich! I was amused by the coincidence of hearing about a place I knew so well, while at a conference on the other side of the world. I knew absolutely nothing about these projects incepted decades after my departure, so it was still new to me.
Friday was a full-day workshop, brainstorming essentially about potential future directions for Dunedin as a city of creative culture. I wondered what I could possibly contribute in the short time I was able to attend before leaving for my flight, but was nonetheless glad to have been able to sample the session. Additionally, I had heard about the Athenaeum building past, present and future from the comparatively new owner, who reassured everyone that in the event of an earthquake, the worst they had to fear was falling plaster from the ceiling … The basement epitomised ‘shabby chic’, but certainly had atmosphere! (And since the session began later than the initial two mornings, I first returned to the public library to have a chat with the special collections librarian about their historical music collections, so I got double-value into my morning!)
I started my journey back to Glasgow on Friday afternoon, with plenty to think about on the flight home. I’ll be giving an Exchange Talk at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland about the whole experience, in due course, so I’ll post details when it’s actually programmed.