RCS, Celtic Connections and Glasgow UNESCO City of Music join forces for new international conference exploring the future of traditional music education

Published: January 8, 2018


The future of teaching and learning traditional music in higher education will be explored in a new international conference in Glasgow this month, part of the world-renowned Celtic Connections festival.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Celtic Connections and Glasgow UNESCO City of Music have joined forces to host the three-day conference during the 25th anniversary of the annual winter festival of folk, roots and world music which runs from Thursday 18 January to Sunday 4 February.

The Pedagogies, Practices and the Future of Folk Music in Higher Education conference, which takes place at the Royal Conservatoire between January 18 and 20, will examine developments in folk and traditional music in higher education across the UK, Europe and beyond, in the 21st century. The conference, which has attracted experts from Louisiana and Limerick to Toronto and Tennessee, will deliver a dynamic and diverse programme that spans everything from Gaelic song and Gamelan to Bluegrass and blended learning.

Professor Jeffrey Sharkey, Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: “Scotland’s national conservatoire is proud to deliver the UK’s only conservatoire-based Bachelor of Music programme in traditional and folk music. It is a perfect match to partner with the world-renowned Celtic Connections festival to stage our first international conference on the future of traditional music education. This new collaboration is a celebration of our shared goals and values – to embrace and nurture the next generation of traditional and folk music artists and to showcase their talents on a global scale.”

Pedagogies, Practices and the Future of Folk Music in Higher Education will include an agenda-setting Creative Conversation which will bring together musicians, industry leaders and academics from across the globe to discuss some of the key conference themes through conversation, debate and performance. The session will be opened by Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, The Scottish Government. The Creative Conversation will be facilitated by Professor Gary West, presenter of BBC Radio Scotland’s Pipeline programme, and the panel will feature live music and discussion by Ros Rigby OBE, former Performance Programme Director of the Sage Gateshead and co-founder of Folkworks; Sven Ahlbäck, Professor of Folk Music, Royal College of Music, Stockholm and Head of Research & Development, DoReMIR Music; Mary Ann Kennedy, musician and broadcaster, presenter and co-owner, Watercolour Music; and Dr Niall Keegan, musician and Associate Director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick.

Presentations will be delivered by delegates from institutions including the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki; Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto; University of Limerick; East Tennessee State University; University of Arizona; University of Louisiana at Lafayette; Berklee College of Music, Boston; Newcastle University; University of the Highlands and Islands; the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick and the Royal College of Music, Stockholm.

There will also be performances from Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students, staff and international artists. A delegate ceilidh at the National Piping Centre on January 19 is an opportunity for guests to perform and learn from each other’s disciplines and musical traditions.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Celtic Connections share a passion for excellence and distinctiveness as national and international ambassadors for traditional music in Scotland. Celtic Connections celebrates Celtic music and its connections to cultures across the globe. The 2017 festival brought together more than 2,300 musicians from 50 countries to perform across 26 stages throughout Glasgow for 18 days of concerts, ceilidhs, talks, workshops and free events. It is programmed by its Artistic Director (and founding member of Celtic supergroup Capercaillie) Donald Shaw, supported by Glasgow City Council and Creative Scotland and delivered by Glasgow Life.

Donald Shaw, Artistic Director of Celtic Connections, said: “At the heart of Celtic Connections is finding new and innovative ways to work with artists and organisations to keep the music we celebrate vibrant and relevant today and for future generations. We are delighted to be working in partnership with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on this conference which will build on the achievements of our award-winning education programme for schools, which has shared the inspiration of traditional Celtic music with thousands of young people across Scotland. I welcome the delegates attending the conference to Glasgow and hope they will enjoy the exciting and eclectic Celtic Connections 25th-anniversary programme.”

Councillor David McDonald, Depute Leader Glasgow City Council and Board Member Glasgow Life, said: “As a UNESCO City of Music, Glasgow continues to lead the way in the international music sector. We welcome this new cultural opportunity to explore and drive learning and best practice in traditional music in higher education and it is fitting this springs from a partnership between two organisations which are at the heart of the city’s success.

“Celtic Connections and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland have a wealth of expertise and experience that is unmatched elsewhere, and bring a shared, passionate belief in the importance of learning, to ensure that traditional music continues to play a vital part in the cultural landscape of Scotland and internationally. I hope the delegates joining us in Glasgow for this conference embrace the opportunity to learn from each other’s practice and traditions, and take the chance to fully enjoy all that Celtic Connections and the City of Glasgow has to offer.”

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is one of the world’s top three institutions for performing arts education. In 2016, Scotland’s national conservatoire celebrated the 20th anniversary of its groundbreaking BA Scottish Music degree, now the BMus Traditional Music – the only Bachelor of Music programme dedicated to traditional and folk music in the UK. The programme, which has a highly regarded international reputation, is led by Head of Traditional Music, Professor Joshua Dickson. Professor Dickson’s recent professorial appointment recognises his contribution to traditional music and research in the field of Scottish Highland piping. The programme’s Artistic Director is Professor Phil Cunningham.

Professor Joshua Dickson, Head of Traditional Music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: “In 2016 we marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of the BA (Scottish Music) and the dawn of traditional and folk music’s entry to the performance-based higher education sector in the UK. We celebrated this milestone by taking stock of the significant educational, professional and artistic developments to have taken place since the degree’s first days, reimagining our degree for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, and re-launching it as the BMus Traditional Music.

“This recent anniversary comes at a critical juncture in the development of traditional and folk music in higher education, both in the UK and elsewhere: funding models across much of the UK present challenges to inclusion and participation, but it could be argued that the expectations and aesthetics of today’s emerging traditional musicians present challenges of an even more profound character.

“Issues of digitisation, commodification, transitions to and from higher education, increasingly porous boundaries between genres (alongside increasingly fortified national boundaries in Europe and the West), evolving concepts of performance practice and the role of the individual in tradition are all providing fresh contexts, within which new approaches to pedagogy and curriculum are needed if folk and traditional music education at the tertiary level, particularly in the performance-based conservatoire context, is to continue to flourish.”