‘Important conversations... are happening’: Upcoming Conference to Focus on Women in Traditional and Folk Music

Harper and composer Úna Monaghan, one of the speakers at the upcoming conference.

‘Important conversations... are happening’: Upcoming Conference to Focus on Women in Traditional and Folk Music

The Journal of Music speaks to Dr Méabh Ní Fhuartháin, one of the organisers of a conference on women in traditional and folk music taking place in Galway next month.

A conference on women in Irish traditional and folk music will take place at NUI Galway on Saturday 9 February. Organised by the Centre for Irish Studies in partnership with the advocacy group Fair Plé, the day will feature over 20 speakers.

This is the second such conference on women in Irish music to take place in the last few months, following a separate event focussed on women in Irish popular music last November in Dundalk IT. That event was organised in partnership with Sounding the Feminists.

‘We’re in the middle of a particular time where questions of inequality are being addressed,’ says one of the organisers of the Galway event, Dr Méabh Ní Fhuartháin. The aim of the conference is to contribute to these discussions from an academic standpoint, to ‘parallel the really important conversations that are happening’.

Submissions and themes
The issue of gender equality in Irish traditional music was highlighted by the group Fair Plé when they held their first public meeting less than a year ago. Since then there have been several more events.

The interest in the subject is reflected in the response to the Galway conference’s call for papers. ‘I was surprised at the [large] number of submissions that we got,’ says Ní Fhuartháin. ‘I did not expect to have to run parallel panels – I thought we would have a day long event where everybody would get to go to everything.’

The Women and Traditional/Folk Music conference will focus on themes such as ‘Gender, Agency and Traditional and Folk Music’, ‘Mothers, Children and Song’, ‘Lives of Song’, ‘Women and Music Making’ and ‘Representation and Action’. Speakers include Úna Monaghan, Karen Casey, Liz Coleman, Aoife Granville, Lynnsey Weissenberger, Verena Commins and Massimo Catteneo. The keynote speaker will be Dr Tes Slominski of Beloit College in Wisconsin, with a talk titled ‘ “Shut Up and Play” ’: Aesthetics and the Silencing of Social Critique in Irish Traditional Music’. The conference will open with a piece created by composer and harper Monaghan titled One Hundred Stories.

Despite the number of papers at the conference, it is still an area that is under-researched. ‘What is apparent is that there is very little scholarly literature on traditional music and gender’, says Ní Fhuartháin. ‘It’s really very scant.’

She recently began teaching a module in NUI Galway titled ‘Music, Gender and Ireland’ that covers a range of different genres of music, but when it comes to Irish traditional and folk music, the reading list for students is still very thin. The reasons why are not so straightforward.

I do think we’re a little bit late to the party. This kind of work was done in literature studies decades ago…. Are their limitations [in traditional Irish music] because of gender in relation to opportunities? … I believe there is evidence to be mined on that, but it needs to be gathered together, presented and published.

Ní Fhuartháin continues:

These are difficult things to talk about, and they’re complicated…. Gender intersects with class and age and more… What might be the consequences of putting a data set together and saying: here’s the evidence, that due to gender these things are happening, these exclusions, inclusions, limitations, liberations.

As an academic, it’s important for me that these things are evidence based…. And if those claims can’t be substantiated, what are the ways in which we might think about that? Are there quantitative and qualitative ways in which people’s stories can be told in a way that has integrity?

Ní Fhuartháin and co-organiser Dr Verena Commins of the Centre for Irish Studies hope that they would be able to publish a collection based on the proceedings, in order to keep the research momentum going and open the subject up to further scholarship in the future. 

The conference will take place at the Hardiman Building in NUI Galway, beginning at 9.30am.

For full programme details see below. For further information, visit www.facebook.com/events/455255418243576/ or email irishstudies [at] nuigalway.ie. Fees for the symposium are €20 (waged) and €10 (student/unwaged).

Published on 30 January 2019

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