Programme 2018-19

About the Song Seminar

The Song Seminar is run by the Cambridge Interdisciplinary Song Group, a network of researchers from a range of disciplines, including English, Music, Modern and Medieval Languages, Philosophy, Theology, History, and Classics. We are all of us, in our different ways, interested in songs – what they are, how they work, how they are used. Our regular lunchtime seminar fosters cross-disciplinary conversations about songs – their forms, functions, relations, histories – and about the poets, composers, songwriters, and performers who make them. We consider songs of all periods and traditions, and try to feature live performances when we can. See below for a list of past events, and watch this space for upcoming sessions. If you’d like to hear about the seminar programme and to receive materials (texts, scores, links to recordings), please join our email list by clicking here and following the instructions.


Upcoming sessions

All meetings of the seminar are on Wednesdays, 12.30-2 pm in Emmanuel College (Harrods Room, unless otherwise indicated)


21 November 2018
Naomi Weiss (Harvard) – ‘Performance, Memory, and Affect: Animal Choruses in Archaic and Classical Greek Vase Painting’
In this presentation I explore how ancient Greek images of choral song and dance—activities unified in the term choreia—engage a viewer’s experience of musical performance. I focus in particular on a series of Attic pots, mostly from the mid- to late sixth century BCE, that show choruses of animals and animal-riders singing and dancing, usually to the accompaniment of a double pipe (the aulos). These pots are often assumed to be “proto-comic,” appearing at the same time as dramatic festivals were developing at Athens. Rather than seeing them as records of particular theatrical scenes, I suggest that we should understand them as expansive and flexible in terms of the songs they convey: they can reproduce the phenomenology of an entire production as well as that of one moment within it; they can also suggest affinities to other performances of choreia, thus drawing on a broader choral repertoire. By evoking the multisensory, multilayered experience of theater, these vessels position their users as audience members once more. At the same time, by cueing a viewer’s embodied memory of being a choral performer himself, they can draw him into participating in their own musical productions.

28 November 2018 (Timmy Hele Room)
Paul Hamilton (QMUL) – ‘Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies
Lyric and the musicality it makes its own was in the Romantic period a particularly conspicuous way of imagining a nation, at a time when there was an obvious need for many subject European peoples to do just that. The justification for a nation’s claim to be considered a nation now was usually the precedent of its past existence in some form. Imagining, therefore, was almost always re-imagining. What remained constant in both was the music, what varied was its performance then and now. The fact that traditional melodies and airs could drive new lyrical expression encouraged those re-conceiving their nation. Moore’s lyrical politics gain visibility and definition from comparison with European lyric and music put to the same purpose. The unified expression of the individual in a personal music, and then the representativeness that lyrical success can have for other nationalities, was rudimentary but crucial for Romantic nationalism.

6 February 2019
Helen Abbott (Birmingham) on the Baudelaire Song Project

20 February 2019
Miranda Stanyon (KCL) – ‘This is not a love song: Bodmer contra Minnesinger’

13 March 2019
Chloë Alaghband-Zadeh (Loughborough) – tba

8 May 2019 (Old Library)
Kirsteen McCue (Glasgow) – tba

22 May 2019 (Old Library)
Polly Paulusma (Cambridge) – tba

seminar conveners: Corinna Russell and Gavin Alexander


Past sessions

24 October 2018Emma Dillon (KCL): ‘The Châtelain de Coucy and his song: A vous, amant, plus qu’a nulle autre gent‘ (with a performance by Gopal Kambo)

9 May 2018 – Micha Lazarus: ‘The English PetRAAWRK! Birdsong in an Elizabethan Madrigal’

25 April 2018 – Ewan Jones: ‘What entrainment can teach aesthetics’

21 February 2018 – Caroline Egan: ‘Aztec Baroque: the uses of Nahuatl in Sor Juana’s carols’

7 February 2018 – Heather Glen: ‘What happens to words in songs?’

23 November 2017 – Lucy Taylor (mezzo-soprano) and Jeremy Thurlow (piano) performing and discussing Baudelaire settings with Miranda Gill

8 November 2017 – Sean Curran: ‘Music writing and music history in a thirteenth-century song’

25 October 2017 – Discussion session: Katherine Bergeron, ‘A Bugle, A Bell, A Stroke of the Tongue: Rethinking Music in Modern French Verse’, Representations 86 (2004): 53–72

17 May 2017 – Rachel Adelstein on what we talk about when we talk about ‘a song’

3 May 2017 – Ross Cole: ‘Cannibal Song? Poetics and Personae in “Visions of Johanna” and “Diamonds & Rust”‘

8 March 2017 – Phyllis Weliver (Saint Louis): ‘Triangulated Criticism, Song, and Daniel Deronda

22 February 2017 – Simon Jackson and Simone Kotva: ‘Writing animal song: the case of Charles Butler’s “Melissomelos, or Bees’ Madrigall” (1624)

8 February 2017 – Ceri Owen and Corinna Russell on Vaughan Williams’s ‘Linden Lea: A Dorset Song’

23 November 2016 – Composers Jeremy Thurlow and Tim Watts in performance and conversation

9 November 2016 – Katharine Dell and Danielle Padley on the Psalms

26 October 2016 – Gavin Alexander and Edward Wickham on Dowland’s ‘In darkness let me dwell’