Keynote Speakers

We are delighted to announce our keynote panel with Prof. Rachel Beckles Willson, Dr. Felicity Laurence and Prof. John O’Connell.

Prof. Rachel Beckles Willson (Royal Holloway, University of London)


Rachel Beckles Willson is Professor of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research has centered on 19th to 21st-century Hungary, Palestine and, most recently, Sicily; she has published three monographs as well as specialist articles in the sub-disciplines of analysis, historical musicology and ethnomusicology.

Rachel’s interest in music in conflict situations developed initially during her work on Soviet Hungary (see Ligeti, Kurtág and Hungarian Music in the Cold War(Cambridge 2009)), but more fully with the history and contemporary situation of Palestine. This work led to her monograph Orientalism and Musical Mission (Cambridge 2013), which explores three types of musical imperialism—religious, state, and neoliberal from 1840to the present. Since 2015 Rachel has expanded her research in music and migration, and is currently working in Eastern Sicily with recently-arrived under-age asylum-seekers, engaging participatory methods by running music workshops on song-writing, recording and performance.

Keynote abstract: Post-conflict and accountability in a post-peace era

Although not ‘post-conflict’ in an obvious sense, the southern edges of Europe are territories of arrival for asylum seekers who have variously been trafficked across Africa, imprisoned, sold as slaves, and tortured in Libya. Such European spaces are thus tapestries of fraught histories and journeys, interlocking with spaces of conflict elsewhere, and in constant flux (Massey 2005). Any work here on the trauma of the past must incorporate awareness of intercontinental, even global relations.

In my talk I reflect on this challenge, drawing on my current fieldwork in eastern Sicily, where I have been running a song-writing and recording project with under-age arrivals from Bangladesh, Egypt and West African countries. This is a laboratory for resisting what Rosi Braidotti has termed a ‘post-peace era’ (2011), in which wall-building and deportation of unwanted people are now normal practices for democracies, and in which we are in perpetual warfare against alleged terrorists. It is also an opportunity for developing accountability for Europe’s past errors (Danewid 2017) and networks for shared futures.

Dr Felicity Laurence (Newcastle University)

Felicity Laurence

Felicity Laurence has worked over five decades as children’s singing specialist, composer, and teacher at primary, secondary and tertiary levels (most recently as Director of the MA in Music Education at Newcastle University). Her research includes a particular focus upon the problematic question of empathy and its potential connections with musical expression and activity. In her work with children’s musicking throughout the world, including areas of current and earlier conflict including Israel, Palestine and South Africa, she has explored how, whether and in what circumstances music might, or might not, facilitate empathic relationships between children from differing cultural backgrounds, both during political conflict, and when they have escaped or are removed from conflict. Her publications include an edited collection of essays addressing related issues in Music and Solidarity: Questions of Universality, Consciousness and Connection (2011), and most recently, the inaugural Prologue ‘Revisiting the Problem of Empathy’, in Music and Empathy (2017,eds King and Waddington).

Keynote abstract: Summoning lost voices: musicking and memorialisation in a small town in Germany

Post-1989 Germany saw a disruptive and painful eruption of memory during the subsequent decade, seemingly daily revelations forcing a newly raw confrontation with an unutterably dark recent history. The German concept of ‘Vergangenheitsbewältigung’ – coping with the past – became acutely salient, and questions of how to remember (even whether to remember) proliferated. One response was the proclamation in 1996 of the 27th January as the annual Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Nazism, eventually taken up internationally as Holocaust Memorial Day. In the music institution where I was then working with children’s singing, the duty was clear – there must be an event to mark this day. But there was far less clarity, and not a little ambiguity, about how to go about this musical memorialisation.

My story revisits a concert made by those of us who stepped up, and our attempt through our musicking to frame this cultural memory in a way that was bearable for all involved – those listening, and those performing, not least the children among us. We sought thereby to bring into being ‘ideal relationships’ (as conceived by Christopher Small) that eschewed guilt but allowed sorrow, and that created for us all an albeit ephemeral territory where we could feel safe to look again. In that risky, tender space, the children sang across time their own expressions of remembrance for those other, vanished Terezin children whose poetic and musical utterances were now recalled on that January day.

Prof. John O’Connell (Cardiff University)

John O'Connell

John Morgan O’Connell is an Irish ethnomusicologist with a specialist interest in cultural history. Currently Professor of Ethnomusicology at Cardiff University, he has also taught music and ethnomusicology at Otago University and the University of Limerick; that is, in addition to holding visiting positions at Brown University and Haverford College, amongst others. His research concerns in principle the musical traditions of the Middle East. Recently, he has published two monographs that concern music in the late-Ottoman Empire (1908-1918) entitled ‘Commemorating Gallipoli’ (Rowman and Littlefield, 2017) and the early-Turkish Republic (1923-1938) entitled ‘Alaturka’ (Routledge, [2013] 2016). In addition, he has conducted applied research in Central Asia in association with the Aga Khan Humanities Project, work that informs a number of outputs including the edited collection entitled ‘Music and Conflict’ (Illinois, 2010). He is currently working on a project that concerns Irish music during WW1.

Keynote abstract: ‘Çanakkale Türküsü’: Reconciliation and Retribution at a Centennial Commemoration

This paper concerns the centennial commemoration of the Gallipoli Campaign. In particular, it focuses on a musical performance of the iconic number entitled: ‘Çanakkale Türküsü’ which was broadcast on Turkish television to mark the centennial celebration of the Gallipoli landings. Sponsored by the Turkish Navy, the performance featured different members of the armed forces singing alternate lines of the song, officers and seamen are depicted, men and women are represented. Pictures of Turkish warships on a glimmering sea are portrayed and of Turkish warplanes in a dazzling sky are depicted. The message is one of power, a resurgent Turkey on the high seas of world diplomacy. The message is also one of normality, a tacit recognition that war is every day. Significantly, the musical arrangement of the famous folksong is socially organised to emphasise consensus (in terms of texture) and inclusiveness (in terms of style). Further, the musical performance reinforces the theme of reconciliation between old enemies from abroad and new enemies at home. Of course, the president of the Turkish Republic (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) occupies a pivotal position in commemorative rituals, a leader who repackages conflict as reconciliation using music to disguise ideological dissent and social inequality.