Autumn 2006

NEWSLETTER Vol. 2, No. 2


Mad Songs, Morris Dances, and Moo Cows: a Report from the
by Eric Saylor

NABMSA’s second biennial conference, held August 3-5 at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, was a resounding success for all involved. Despite some rather late flights (thanks to delays at airports in New York, Detroit, Newark, and Chicago, among others), almost everyone arrived on time and looking forward to an engaging weekend.

Thirty-eight papers were delivered at the conference, on topics ranging from the nature of British modernism to engagements with the exotic to the legacy of the Renaissance. Christina Bashford delivered this year’s keynote address, suggestively titled “‘In the Pantry, or the Library…Upstairs in the Bed-Rooms’: Britain’s Hidden Chamber Music.” Making judicious use of both PowerPoint and clips from Ealing Studios’ 1955 classic The Ladykillers, Professor Bashford addressed the conventional wisdom that suggests Braitain had no domestic chamber music culture in the nineteenth century to speak of, having been largely overshadowed by the presence of parlor pianos, sentimental songs, or public concerts. In so doing, she compellingly demonstrated that chamber music in general (and the string quartet in particular) actually enjoyed active participation among amateur performers throughout Britain at the time. Notable too was the Saturday afternoon panel entitled “The Long Century: Valid Conception or Easy Option?” chaired by Jenny Doctor and Charles McGuire. The general consensus of participants seemed to be that “easy option” was the answer to the question posed at the outset, but few viable options to it were readily available. Much of the discussion centered on pedagogical issues (in particular, the feasibility of examining so many of the complex issues involved given time restraints and often limited student knowledge of the actual music), and presented many thoughtful ideas for those scholars looking for new ways of thinking and talking about this fascinating period.

There was also no shortage of music. Early arrivals on Thursday had the chance to attend an English country dance, led by Burlington resident and country dance instructor Val Medve (music provided by Allan Atlas on concertina and Joyce Crouch on piano). Balancing this kickoff event was the final paper session on Saturday night, “From Beds of Raging Fire: Performing Baroque Madness.” This all-student lecture-recital, presented by members of the New York-based ensemble Prometheus, was a fascinating study of how gesture, text, and voice interact in the Baroque mad song. Brooke Bryant’s overview of the conventions and practices of performing gestures was an excellent capstone to the session, while Amber Youell-Fingleton won this year’s Temperley Prize for outstanding student paper with her presentation of “Anne Bracegirdle on Fire.” In between was a lecture-recital on the Saturday afternoon session “Foreign Entanglements” featuring the music of Adela Maddison as performed by Sylvia Kahan (piano) and Lisa Lutter (soprano). And finally, if more informally, attendees at Julian Onderdonk’s paper on “Folksong, Hymnody, and Bach’s Chorales” had the chance to sing along (in the best congregational manner) with the many examples of hymn tunes and folk songs provided in his handout.

The intellectual and musical activities were well balanced by the social events. Following Ashgate’s wine and cheese reception Friday afternoon, conference attendees and other hangers-on enjoyed a dinner cruise on the Ethan Allan III. Participants enjoyed an excellent lobster dinner while being treated to exquisite views of Lake Champlain, the Adirondack Mountains, and Vermont’s Grand Isle. Early risers on Sunday got to tour the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury, receiving free samples and a chance to visit the Flavor Graveyard. And thanks to the foresight of Deborah Heckert, wine flowed freely on Saturday night with the informal end-of-conference party held in the main common room of the Cashman Residence Hall.

Thanks to the members of the Program Committee (Brooke Bryant, Christina Fuhrmann, Nat Lew, Eric Saylor, Amanda Eubanks Winkler and Charles McGuire, chair) and the Selection Committee (Dorothy de Val, Deborah Heckert, Anne Dhu McLucas, Jessie Ann Owens, Julian Rushton, and Nicholas Temperley, chair) for all their time spent planning this year’s conference, and to Ashgate Publishing for providing not only books and inter-session snacks, but for their generosity in sponsoring Friday night’s wine and cheese reception. Thanks to St. Michael’s College for providing the space and facilities for this year’s conference, and extra-special thanks are due to our man in St. Michael’s, Nat Lew, for the immense time and effort he put into hosting this year’s event and taking the lead at every opportunity on the Program Committee. No doubt inspired by Professor Lew’s shining example, several NABMSA members have indicated their interest in hosting future conventions. If you are among them, you can contact Christina Fuhrmann ( for more information on how to formally apply.