Looking Back at VASE21

IAML UK & Irl’s annual study weekend was a bit different this year: it wasn’t held on a weekend, rather it was held mid-week from the 13th-15th April, and it all took place over Zoom, which meant it was easier for attendees to dip into the sessions they were interested in without having to commit to three solid days of events, on top of prohibitively long travel times.

The event, which was called VASE21 (short for Virtual Annual Study Event 2021), was held towards the end of the schools Easter holidays, so as a school librarian I was pleased to be able to attend most of the sessions.

Day 1 started with a talk from Nick Poole, the head of CILIP, followed by a presentation on Brass Bands by Kenneth Crookston from Brass Bands England. Unfortunately due to IT issues on my end (a downside of all the events taking place digitally) I was only able to catch the very end of Kenneth’s presentation, but Twitter was alive with commentary:

An awards ceremony followed, with the C. B. Oldman Prize being awarded to Colin Lawson and Robin Stowell for their Cambridge Encyclopedia of Historical Performance in Music, and the 2020 E. T. Bryant Memorial Prize awarded to Keith Munro, from the University of Strathclyde, for his PhD research into the information practices of DJs in choosing their music and communicating with their audience. I was also happy to formally receive the E. T. Bryant Prize 2019 (which had been postponed from last year due to the pandemic) for my Master’s dissertation on Linked Data in small music archives.

In case you’re ever asked in a fiendish quiz, this is what a flugelhorn looks like.

In the evening, Geoff Thomason from the RNCM hosted a fiendishly difficult quiz. It was super fun. There were a lot of questions on IAML itself, and even a call-back to the brass band talk from earlier, where we were asked to identify a flugelhorn. Congratulations to John Wagstaff for winning the quiz, and thanks to Geoff for running it. Even although I personally only scored 9/40, I had a great time and also learned a lot.

Day 2 opened with a talk from Almut Boehme about musical performances in the National Library of Scotland. Having visited and worked at the National Library of Scotland myself, it was particularly interesting to see how the normally very quiet atmosphere could be filled with music, including with a choir on the main stairwell.

This was followed by a roundtable discussion about inclusiveness in library resource descriptions, with discussion on Content Warnings, diversifying collections and listening to, rather than making assumptions about, marginalised demographics. The panel comprised of 3 speakers from Scottish libraries: Carissa Chew from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team at the National Library of Scotland, Karen McAulay, Performing Arts Librarian at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Bobbie Winter-Burke from the Glasgow School of Art. The discussion that resulted was really interesting and it continued into the breakout rooms after the main session was over.

In the afternoon, Leeds Central Library’s Lee Noon chaired a second roundtable discussion containing presentations from libraries and music venues in and around Leeds, with a wide variety of themes. Jamie Hutchison talked about the Studio12 creative space in Leeds Central Library, which offers young people the opportunity to perform and record their own music. Kirstie Wilson talked about Kirklees Library’s Sunday rock concerts, which I will definitely be looking into when it’s safe to travel again. And Rhiannon Lawrence-Francis from Leeds University Library talked about their gallery collection, mentioning that the Leeds University Library owns locks of Mozart and Beethoven’s hair. If I understand gene theory – which I don’t – I’m pretty sure this means Leeds University Library has everything it needs to grow its own composer!

Next Phil Croydon, from Oxford University Press, gave a presentation about the music publishing industry, which was really fascinating for a complete outsider like myself. I was shocked by the amount of research and debate involved in creating an accurate published edition from the messy manuscript in the example Beethoven case study – composers take note, if you want your staccato marks to read as staccato, make sure you mark them clearly! It was also interesting to see how even an Urtext, held up by some as the “definitive” score, actually has a good deal of research and decision making behind the scenes.

Day 3 began with PhD student Lizzie Buckle’s presentation about her research (with the Royal Holloway University of London and the Foundling Museum) into the musicians who performed in charity benefit concerts in mid-late 18th-century London. The research combines music history, genealogy and data organisation to create a really interesting picture of the social dynamic and politics of the events. I was particularly interested in the data map that Buckle is creating of the concerts, which really gives a clear visual representation of the connections between performers.

Next, music librarian Roy Stanley from Trinity College Dublin, talked about the process of bringing the music of composer and cellist Ina Boyle to performance. The complicated process of clearing copyright with all of Ina Boyle’s estate was really interesting to hear about, even though it sounds like a bit of a headache!

VASE21 ended with a presentation from Barbara Eifler (Making Music) about the challenges that Covid19 brought hobby music performers and what recovery and the future might hold. It was heartening that Making Music’s research indicated that most groups are keen to return when it is safe to do so, but it is unsurprising that the near future will probably be a bit rocky with some groups holding off longer than others.

Barbara’s talk was a good reminder that, although things are strange right now, the pandemic won’t last forever. VASE21 was necessarily quite different this year, but it was still a really fun, interesting and informative event. All of the presentations are available to logged in members from the IAML (UK & Irl) website. A huge congratulations and thank you to everyone involved. Hopefully we will be able to meet face-to-face in Oxford next year!