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Traditional Tunes and Popular Airs

Traditional Tunes and Popular Airs : History and Transmission

Announcement and Call for Papers - deadline 31 May 2017

A conference to be held at Cecil Sharp House, London, on 6 - 7 October 2017

Organised by the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, EFDSS, and the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen

Researchers have long been fascinated by the recurrence of tunes in all manner of musical styles and genres, performance contexts, levels of society, historical periods, and geographical locations. But how are we to understand this phenomenon?

The topic raises intriguing questions about the ways in which music is transmitted, experienced and conceptualised. In what sense do tunes ‘recur’? Why are some termed ‘super-tunes’ (Marsh 2016)? Do some tunes possess ‘vitality of melody’ (Kidson 1907)? Where do human agency, social structure and cultural values come in?

The 21st century has seen a renewal of interest in the history and comparative study of melody, no doubt partly due to the increased availability of digitised primary sources and digital tools by which to explore them. We have also seen the growth of interest in the study of musical perception and memory. This conference has been jointly organised by the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen, in order to build on this momentum. It aims to bring together those working on ‘traditional’ and ‘popular’ tunes within and across the many contexts in which they have been found. These include dance, instrumental music, ballad operas and theatrical works, religious music, broadside balladry, blackface minstrelsy, music hall, the pleasure gardens, domestic music-making, national and folk song, and children’s songs.

We invite contributions on any aspect of the topic and welcome a broad range of perspectives and approaches, including those drawing on ethnographic research to illuminate melodic interrelationships. Presentations may be in the form of 30-minute talks (including discussion time), panel discussions or workshops on a specific topic, Pecha Kucha sessions (7-minute presentations organised around 21 slides set to advance every 20 seconds), or posters. Contributions from newer researchers and independent researchers are welcomed.

Possible topics as they relate to the central theme of tune recurrence and melodic resemblance are:

  • Melodic identity and musical perception
  • Continuity and change
  • Learning and memory
  • Musical composition
  • Musical institutions, practitioners and audiences - social divisions, musical genres, performance practice, experiences of music
  • Copyright, ownership, re-purposing of tunes
  • Sources (tune notebooks, sheet music, recordings, transcriptions, archival collections)
  • Modes of dissemination (e.g. print, oral transmission, notations, the history of music publishing)
  • Tune titles
  • Tune indexing and melodic retrieval
  • Melodic analysis, monophony, harmony, tonality, metre and rhythm
  • Scholarship and theory, e.g. the ‘tune family’ concept, melodic typology, the concept of musical ‘borrowing’, ethnographic, ‘immersive’ and multimodal approaches
  • Tune and song histories
  • Text-tune relations in song
  • Popularity, aesthetics and meaning


Please send a 300-word abstract of your proposal to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The deadline for submission of proposals is 31 May 2017.

The programme will be announced in mid-June when booking will be go live.

Conference organisers: Julia Bishop, Laura Smyth, Elaine Bradtke and Tom McKean

Programme advisory panel: Vic Gammon, Ian Russell, Steve Roud