The 1st Anglo/Celtic Traditional Music Symposium, at NAFCo 2020

The North Atlantic Fiddle Convention (NAFCo) conference will be taking place in Limerick in June 2020, and I’m thrilled to announce that I will be collaborating with Simon McKerrell to curate a pre-conference symposium on the traditional music and dance of the Anglo/Celtic world and its peripheries. I’ve pasted below the respective Call for Participants of both events. Each have a deadline of 31st Jan 2020: get submitting!

North Atlantic Fiddle Convention 2020

Call for Participants

The Irish World Academy is delighted to announce that the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention 2020 will be held 24th to 28th June 2020 at the University of Limerick. NAFCo features traditions of fiddle music and dance from countries and communities around the North Atlantic, combining performances, workshops, and sessions, with an academic conference.  This event is a partnership between the University and Limerick City and County Council Arts Office.

As with all NAFCo Conferences, we invite contributions on current/new musical research into fiddle traditions across the world and welcome presentations on any aspect of current research into fiddle music, dance, and closely associated traditions.

The 2020 NAFCo theme is Fiddling and its Frontiers: Transforming Practices and Rethinking Questions

Fiddling, along with its concomitant practices and its scholarship, changes throughout the many different contexts of history, the arts, culture, environment, and social life within it appears. We hope to prompt new research into the processes at work in such transformations and suggest here several areas of investigation. (These are not meant to limit the possibilities)

Rural-Urban performance practicesIn the context of increasing urbanization around the North Atlantic, and the many historical migrations of fiddlers from the countryside to the town, what can we discover today about how these shifts changed fiddle performance and the social life of the fiddle? Is rural fiddling still in good health? How might it be supported in an era of increasing rural depopulation?

The Virtual and the Real: Fiddling has moved decisively into the digital sphere. New possibilities for performance, composition, publication, teaching, and learning contribute to a further breaking away from place-bound geographies and national traditions. How have fiddlers of all stripes been responding to new opportunities that cross this boundary?

Performance as Research: New modes of knowledge production variously named, Practice Research, Practice as Research, Practice Based Research and so on are increasingly being legitimized and pursued in academia. Crossing this boundary (in either direction) is not new in the context of fiddling and its folkloristic and ethnomusicological investigation. Naming this as a distinct approach in its own right is. What possibilities does this approach suggest? What challenges does it pose?

Symposium: Traditional Music and Dance of the Anglo/Celtic World and Its Peripheries

The Conference program will also incorporate a Symposium on the 23rd June 2020 focussing on the academic understanding of Anglo/Celtic traditions of music and dance. These have blossomed and diversified significantly in the last several decades, not least due to the successes of various cultural revivals and revitalizations around the world. Scholarship too has flourished, with recent work re-casting established positions on a host of issues, topics, and currents. Historiographically however, there has been both overt and subtle resistance to the study of Anglo/Celtic music and dance in a variety of scholarly circles and today, there are few spaces where ethnomusicologists and ethnochoreologists with shared interests in Anglo/Celtic music and dance can come together to debate the broad issues that now characterize this expanded field of study. Dr. Simon McKerrell (Newcastle University) and Dr Simon Keegan-Phipps (Sheffield University) will curate this special topic within the framework of the whole event, in collaboration with the academic program and event planning committees. We therefore welcome proposals for papers, roundtables, and workshops on the theme of “Traditional Music and Dance of the Anglo/Celtic World and Its Peripheries”. Lacking a satisfactory term (which we intend to address at this event), we use “Anglo/Celtic” in the broadest and most inclusive sense, including English, Scots, Gaelic, Celtic and related traditions worldwide. Moreover, we wish to encourage new research that explores how these traditions are positioned alongside other forms of music and dance wherever they might occur. More information about this symposium can be found on this page.


  • Papers
  • Panels
  • Round table discussions
  • ‘Diamond presentations’
  • Films
  • Posters

Presentations should be 20 minutes long with 5-10 minutes for questions.

Panels can involve three or four people presenting around a theme or can involve 6-12 people speaking for a shorter time around a set theme.

Round table discussions can involve shorter presentations of 10-15 minutes each followed by a chaired discussion.

‘Diamond Presentations’ – Individual ‘Diamond Presentations’ are seven minutes long and are organized around 21 slides that are set to advance automatically every 20 seconds. They are free from text and speakers should refrain from reading notes.

Films can either fit into a 20-minute presentation slot or be shown separately as part of the wider convention programming.

Deadline for submissions is 31st January 2020.

To submit to main NAFCo programme, please submit proposals of up to 300 words along with a 100-word biography and contact information by email to

If you wish to submit a proposal for the Symposium focused on the academic understanding and historiography of Anglo/Celtic music and its peripheries, please send an abstract of up to 300 words along with a 100 word biography to by the 31st January 2020.

All proposals will be anonymously peer reviewed.


Digital Folk: intro/findings quick video

As I continue to work on the book, here’s a video introducing the principles of the Digital Folk project, along with a few of the headline “findings”…

Check out the video for detail, but those headlines go like this:

a) digital media and technologies are used prolifically in the pursuit folk and traditional arts participation, and have been for a long time. But


b) there’s still a clear sense that ‘folk’ is something that happens offline. What happens online (or using digital technologies) is generally considered ‘behind-the-scenes’ support for facilitating live and relatively unmediated interactions.

c) digital media is understood as the trappings of everyday, vernacular life, rather than something fundamentally innovative. In this way, the modernity of digital media and the perceived antiquity of folk arts (as contents or processes) are reconciled.

d) there are more direct recommendations relating the nuts and bolts of developing/sustaining/targeting online digital resources for folk arts participants in our Digital Folk Report

There’ll be more to come as the work progresses, I’m sure!




Launch Event: International Journal of Traditional Arts

Here’s an open invitation to the Launch Event for the new International Journal of Traditional Arts:

Dr Simon Keegan-Phipps and Dr Simon McKerrell are delighted to invite you all to the official launch of the International Journal of Traditional Arts, which will take place at the Society for Ethnomusicology conference in Washington DC on the 12th November 2016.

Venue: Palladium Room, Omni-Shoream Hotel, Washington D.C.

Date & Time: 12th November 8-9pm
The International Journal of Traditional Arts is an international, peer-reviewed gold open access journal that promotes a broad-ranging understanding of the relevance of traditional arts in contemporary social life. The journal publishes leading and robust scholarship on traditional arts from around the world with a focus on the contemporary policy and practice of traditional music, dance, drama, oral narrative and crafts. We define ‘traditional arts’ as artistic and creative practices that function as a marker of identity for a particular cultural group and that have grown out of their oral tradition or that have been newly created using characteristics derived from oral tradition (although we would also welcome submissions that look to expand such definitions). We are interested in publishing high quality scholarship from ethnomusicology, cultural sociology, anthropology, ethnology, ethnochoreology, cultural policy, folklore, musicology, cultural studies, cultural economics, heritage and tourism studies that focuses upon contemporary policy and practice in the traditional arts.

Any of you who are in Washington DC for the SEM conference, please come along and help us celebrate the launch of this new journal and support this new open access venture!

More information about the Journal (including the inaugural Call for Papers), can be found at:

yours sincerely,

Drs. Simon McKerrell (Newcastle University) and Simon Keegan-Phipps (University of Sheffield),
(founding co-editors).

Ethnomusicology Postgraduate Drop-In Afternoon, 20th May 2015

EthnoMA banner

Sheffield University – Department of Music 

Ethnomusicology Postgraduate Drop-In Afternoon

Wednesday 20th May 2015, 2.00-5.00pm

Department of Music
Jessop Building
34 Leavygreave Road
S3 7RD

An opportunity to meet informally with Dr Andrew Killick (Director of the MAs in Ethnomusicology and Traditional Music of the British Isles), have a tour of the Department’s facilities, and discuss our postgraduate taught programmes:

* MA Ethnomusicology
And our Distance Learning programmes, recruiting for Autumn 2016:
* MA World Music Studies
* MA Traditional Music of the British Isles.

This will also be an opportunity to find out more about the postgraduate research programmes available in the Department (MMus; MPhil; PhD).

Feel free to drop in to the Department office anytime during the afternoon or, alternatively, contact Andrew Killick at (tel: 0114 2220460).

Meanwhile, further information on our postgraduate courses can be found here:

The study of digital media and creative culture: why the folk arts are a special case (3) Innovation and tradition

In this series of posts, I’m trying to work through some of the key differences between the folk arts and other types of creative activities when their participants are studied in terms of online/digital communities. Having written about the issues surrounding transmission and community in my two previous posts, in this post I’m going to grapple (very briefly!) with the strange antagonistic (or complementary) forces of innovation and tradition.DigiFolk_1_edit1

My contention here is that folk/traditional activities might differ significantly from some of the creative practices that are often discussed by scholarship on digital culture, for the following reason: much of that scholarship concentrates on exploring — and celebrating — the potential for collaborative innovations to occur via (specifically online) digital media. The interesting “problem” for the Digital Folk project is that, in the world of the folk arts, every impulse to innovate disrupts or clashes with an opposing (often stronger) impulse to do something precisely because it has been done for a long time (for some people, the older the tradition, the better!). Conservation may not be a primary or explicit motivation for all participants in the folk arts (in fact it certainly isn’t), but there is a very common desire to enact a respect for — and celebration of — cultural expressions rooted in the past. When I have interviewed people about why they take part in their particular folk activity, they often start by explaining their enjoyment in terms of artistic aesthetics, social relationships, and so on; but it doesn’t take long before they express their satisfaction at playing their part in the upkeep of a tradition.  And the concept of “heritage” — particularly zeitgeisty at present — is never far away.

The “tradition” aspect may be located in a particular unit of traditional material (e.g. a song, a tune, a dance, a story, etc.), but it may also be a way of engaging with material (e.g. a style of singing, playing a tune on a particular instrument, wearing a traditional costume, etc.). At least one of these categories is evoked in any folk arts activity, and very often both. OK, there are plenty of (e.g.) grass-roots folk musicians who write their own tunes, but for every self-penned melody they write, they are expected to know many more that are of anonymous authorship and unknown date. Meanwhile, there are many more grass-roots participants who don’t actively generate new material, and who have no desire to do so. A large proportion of folkies just want to play… that is, to play the old “traditional” tunes that they learn from books, archives, CDs, videos and (still, crucially) each-other in face-to-face contexts.

That said, of course, I have no desire to suggest that the folk arts are somehow “stagnant” in comparison to other vernacular, creative activities. Innovation certainly does take place in the folk arts, but it usually resides in the particular interpretation of traditional material by an individual or group. In fact, it is a conscious concern among folk musicians, dancers, etc., that their renditions of old material be in some way different from previous versions. Participants are encouraged to develop a new or unusual “take” on the old content, recontextualising the work in a way that acknowledges its relevance to contemporary society – that is to say, innovating in a way that celebrates folk’s “timelessness”. In many ways, what we have here is an articulation of the strange, blurry lines that exist between “performing” and “creating” in other senses, and this is something I will explore further down the line. Anyway, ubiquitous among folk artists is the discourse of a living tradition (with the ostensibly organic evolution of material being considered a once “natural” result of oral transmission). Recently, that discourse has been given a very personal (or individualist) flavour, with many a folk music workshop communicating the need to “make the tune/song your own”. The opening paragraphs of the English Acoustic Collective Summer School‘s website gives a clear sense of this. And so we find another interesting contradiction: while community is foregrounded as a rationale and driving force of folk activities, the “rise of the individual” would appear to be at hand — particularly in folk music — and there seems to be an artistic imperative that material be (at least to some extent) refashioned by the lone craftsman. The collaborative innovation and creativity tropes common in much recent digital sociology literature therefore seems a problematic place from which to start making sense of some elements of the folk case (although I suspect that dance and other fundamentally group-oriented practices may sit more neatly within that narrative).

So generating the “stuff” of material culture is a secondary activity among many folk participants; developing innovative style in the performance of pre-existing repertory is becoming seen as more important, but rather individualistic. However, other types of innovation are clearly going to be very important in the study of folk arts as digital culture. The workshops that took place at the Digital Folk Launch Event illustrated to us that those involved in developing digital and online systems and opportunities for facilitating participation in folk arts activities are as inclined towards collaborative innovation as any other creator. The history and ongoing development of abc notation as a method for the easy, efficient distribution of folk tunes online illustrates that there has been (and will certainly continue to be) considerable collaborative innovation when it comes to exploring transmissive methods and technological opportunities.

These very particular tensions between the simultaneous impulses towards innovation and explicit conservativism, creation and performance, collaboration and individuality, etc., are precisely why (I believe) this research will throw up some quite different results to the digital ethnographies that have come before, and it’s why I wanted (a) to do the study, and (b) to be part of an multidisciplinary team, with David Gauntlett and Cinzia Yates.

Research Ethics in the Arts & Humanities: Challenging the Hegemony of Scientific Models

It’s extraordinary to think that only a decade or so ago, rigorous ethical regulation in arts research was practically non-existent.  At no point during my PhD studies (2004-8) was I required to submit ethics application forms, or in some other way specify the precise nature of my methods in terms of ethical implications, for the purposes of institutional scrutiny and approval. Furthermore, offering a verbal explanation of the project’s aims, and obtaining recorded verbal consent from interviewees to allow quotation of their responses was deemed perfectly appropriate and sufficient.

Times have changed, and they have changed for the better: at my institution – and, I would imagine, every other UK HEI – any research involving “human participants” must undergo a rigorous peer-review screening process, during which potential problems and concerns can be highlighted, and examples of good practice can be shared among staff and students. As well as a detailed application, for the purposes of the ethics review procedure, staff and students are required to present “participant information sheets” and “participant consent forms” to demonstrate how the aims and data-handling methods of the researcher will be communicated to the participants, and how the latter’s agreement will be established. Great. I wish that such a scenario had been a requirement during my PhD days.  The procedure is valuable in more ways than one: all staff are involved in the review process, meaning that our awareness of each other’s research activities is improved considerably. We are routinely called upon to think about the methodologies of our colleagues in our own and other sub-disciplines: my department is very varied in its approaches to the study of music, and I am regularly involved in peer-reviewing ethics applications for research methods ranging from quantitative demographic analysis to psychological experimentation. The result is a greater understanding of different research approaches at a practical level, as well as a regular reminder of the possibilities for arts research in general.

But the process sometimes highlights (often considerable) differences in approach and expectation in ways that are potentially less constructive – particularly when one set of expectations is presented as “the norm”.  A key example of this is embodied by the presence of anonymity as a fundamental concept. The procedures from which institutions commonly derive their ethical review policy are drawn from a pan-scientific model, clearly developed to cope most usefully with research ethics considerations relating to the collection of (e.g.) bio-medical data. It’s a no-brainer that this sort of research would have participant anonymity built in to methodology. The trappings of the procedure – the application forms, the template information sheets and consent forms, and the accompanying guidelines – are, of course, necessarily available for use in relation to other kinds of human research, but the underlying discourses of quantitative (or semi-quantitative) research are obvious throughout.  For many research fields in the Arts and Humanities, this works just fine – quantitative research is to be found in every corner of the A&H academy, particularly where that work is adjacent to the “social sciences” or psychology. It is not, however, a panacea for ethical considerations across all disciplines…4.0.4

The area of ethnomusicology is a classic example of a field of study which cannot reasonably be expected to operate with a “default setting” of anonymity for all participants. There are a number of reasons why anonymity might be an inappropriate expectation of ethnomusicological research. Firstly, enforcing the anonymity of the participant can be detrimental to them.  Ethnomusicologists regularly work with musicians who would wish to be identified as carriers of a musical tradition, authorities on that tradition, and performers to be sought out by new audiences. Particularly where an individual informant performs within a bounded local context, named exposure to the ethnomusicological fraternity of Western academia can sometimes open the way to new listeners, new performance and travel opportunities, and ultimately increased personal, social and economic prosperity. Elsewhere, it may simply be the case that the individual wishes to exercise their right to have their views attributed. It is interesting that, in the context of a well-established academic culture which sees the attribution of published research (via citation) as the very bare minimum of acceptable practice, ethnomusicologists’ research ethics applications should have to “make a case” for naming our participants in our research – participants who are often significant authorities in their field, and without whose interpretative input our research would simply not be possible. It is for very good reasons that, in ethnomusicology, we commonly refer to “informants” rather than “subjects”.

The second reason why anonymity is often inappropriate in ethnomusicological research is that obscuring the identity of the participant can be detrimental to the research project. Now, this is likely to be a more contentious argument, because a basic tenet of ethical research practice is that the ends do not justify the means, and that no research (particularly in the arts and humanities, where we’re not, e.g., developing a cure for cancer) can ever be acceptable where it puts participants at physical or emotional risk. And that’s fair enough. I’m not suggesting that we put the needs of the research before those of participants. If, however, “the needs of the participant” are assumed (via a bio-medically based hegemonic discourse) to be best served by anonymity, then ethnographic research runs into big problems. The vast majority of the people I have interviewed and quoted in my research on English folk music, for instance, are only significant informants and respondents because of who they are.  In many cases any attempt to render them “anonymous” in my writing would require stripping back so much contextual information about that person that their relevance – and the relevance of their views and musical activities – would also be erased, making the research nonsensical.

The assumption that anonymity should be the benchmark procedure is largely based on an assumption that there will always be an uncomplicated power imbalance between the researcher and the researched: this narrative portrays the researcher as the all-powerful authority figure, while the researched are relatively powerless and largely reliant on others (i.e. the researcher) to manage their public representation in a fair (and preferably  “beneficial”) way. But that traditional relationship, whilst present in many cases, has been disrupted in modern times by, among other things, the democratisation of publication and recourse (particularly via the internet).  This is especially the case for any professional artist in the West, whose online profile is likely to far-outweigh that of any new academic literature published about them. And within larger professionalised music scenes, the spoken and written views of many high-level artists are (a) already being published by themselves in other forms such as blogs and media releases, and (b) are likely to be of far greater interest to their audience than the interpretations of an academic researcher. In many such occasions, ethnographic and arts-based research is about responding to, questioning and critiquing existing published discourse, rather than the slightly two-dimensional narrative of thrusting the unwitting and defenceless “little person” into the limelight.800px-thumbnail

Once again, I am not suggesting that the needs of the research should ever overrule the needs of the participant. But I might suggest that the risk assessment needs to be a realistic one, and that there are questions to be asked about the responsibility of the individuals on both sides of the research fence.  It is the responsibility of any researcher to fully inform his/her participants of the methods by which research is being conducted, the way the information gathered will be used, and of any significant likely consequences. But to suggest that, having done those things, our default response as researchers in the arts and humanities should be the provision of anonymity is to assume that participants must be (effectively) protected from (a) their own inability to self-regulate or (b) valid interpretations of their input which differ from their own. In some cases this is perfectly appropriate. In others, this has the potential to project a patronising, dehumanising, disenfranchising image of participants as faceless vessels of knowledge. And such a projection would be, well, unethical.

I may seem to be overstating the case, given that the provision of anonymity is not a requirement of research in the Arts/Humanities at present. One can reasonably expect to name participants in research, so long as those participants agree with it, and so long as various safe-guards are put in place (and explained in an ethics approval application) to ensure the security of that agreement.  ‘So what’s the problem, Simon?!’

The problem is that, as long as the scientific anonymity model remains the dominant discourse within research ethics literature, engagement, bureaucracy, etc., it’s status as “normality” will be reinforced.  In turn, research that relies on the naming of participants is likely to become seen as in some way transgressive… I have recently fielded a number of questions from students, all concerned that the templates for participant information/consent form sheets that they are being asked to use seem to be “instructing” them to offer anonymity to their participants, something that in some cases could be highly problematic to their research. The natural human response, of course, is to take the path of least resistance, and so students often instinctively try to rework their methodologies to fit with this dominant expectation. Given time, and a few generations of brow-beaten A&H researchers, there seems to me to be a genuine risk that ethnographic research which dares – needs – to “name names” will be relegated to the status of dodgy journalism. This is something that I don’t think should be allowed to happen. Instead, a variety of approaches to research ethics should receive equal acknowledgement, celebration, representation and support from research institutions.

Research Associate post: Digital Folk (University of Sheffield)

I’m pleased to announce that the University of Sheffield’s Department of Music is now seeking to appoint a post-doctoral Research Associate to work on a new research project, entitled Digital Folk: Digital Media in Folk Arts Participation. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and will consider the ways in which folk arts participants make use of digital resources, tools and networks in order to learn, collaborate, reinterpret traditional material and create new work.

The Digital Folk project and will run for two years from September 2014, and is a collaborative venture between Dr Simon Keegan-Phipps (University of Sheffield, Dept of Music), and Professor David Gauntlett (University of Westminster, Faculty of Media, Art and Design). Research questions will include: How do traditional musicians and dancers in England use such digital resources? How do they consider the use of modern digital tools and media in relation to the “traditional” nature of the material they perform? And what are the impacts of these tools on the performances and experiences of participants? The project team will address these questions by observing, talking to, and participating alongside musicians and dancers as they explore and experience folk in the digital world.

More information about the job, and how to apply, can be found here:

The post is full time, and fixed term for 2 years, running from 15th Sept 2014 (or as soon as possible thereafter).

The closing date for applications is 11th August 2014.

Informal queries can be directed to Simon Keegan-Phipps: