Owen Burton talks about his REP experience with the National Trust, exploring gendered historical roles of upper-class amateur musicians at Lyme Park in Cheshire.
Department of Music
University of York
It’s inevitable that the WRoCAH Researcher Employability Project scheme will face some obstacles. The placement will usually fall smack-bang in the middle of your PhD, when things are heating up, and it seems like a distraction to embark on something different. In truth, though, I have thoroughly enjoyed the project and found it an important experience. I decided to do this placement as one block month.
My REP took me to work with the National Trust, at Lyme Park in Cheshire. I’ve been researching the musical history of the house, home to the Legh family for centuries. This is quite a departure from my usual bag of contemporary Finnish music, but I’ll get to that. My reason for going wasn’t just that this is where they filmed the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and that lake scene. With enthusiastic National Trust staff, I thrashed out an angle that focused on a character called Maud Legh (1813-1882). As an upper-class amateur musician, Maud falls within a series of stories to tell about how men and women were expected to approach music at certain times in history.
Although still requiring musical and historical research, the purpose of the project is fundamentally different to a PhD. Collaborating with the National Trust, the goal has been to find issues that are easily understood and interesting to the public. From a musician’s point of view, I’ve been able to provide some more information about musical art-work in the house, and approached evidence of Maud Legh’s musicianship as part of a narrative of female power. As the National Trust wouldn’t normally have a musician, and music analyst, at their disposal, they were keen to have this reasonably objective perspective. But I also had to engage with broader contexts, especially the close-knit relationship between music and society as a lens onto gender distinctions.
Working with people outside academia has also been a useful reminder of the constraints of the so-called “real world”. This is the world, by the way, where a senior member of staff has to rush off, to the accompaniment of a crackling radio, to deal with any number of “real world” issues.
I honestly believe that you become a better music PhD researcher by recalling your enthusiasm for different kinds of music. We all start off as practicing musicians, after all, and it’s usually beneficial to take in the whole of music history for a bit. Yes, all of it. WRoCAH make it clear that one purpose of the REP is to provide students with skills and experience for employment outside of academia. But, these projects can also indirectly equip students for academic roles, which are not exempt from talking confidently on topics beyond a specialist interest and liaising with diverse groups of people. Ironically, it’s in the interests of any PhD student to be something of an all-rounder in their subject.