Source: The Western Morning News
Musical traditions linking parts of Africa, America and Australia to Cornwall is to be the subject of a comprehensive research project by a Cornish musician and academic.
Kate Neale, from Porthcothan in North Cornwall, has been awarded a three-year scholarship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to complete a PhD examining Cornish music in overseas communities.
Her work will take her to Grass Valley, California, and Australia’s Copper Triangle centred on Kadina, Moonta and Wallaroo, as well as into the towns and villages of her native Cornwall. Although Cornish musical traditions and the Cornish Diaspora have attracted scholarly attention over the years, Kate believes she is one of the first people to look specifically into the musical legacy of early emigrants.
“Growing up at Porthcothan Bay, I feel very lucky as an ethnomusicologist to have vibrant and intriguing musical traditions almost on my doorstep,” she said. “During my bachelors and masters degrees at Cardiff University, my work focused on Padstow’s May Day and Christmas carolling traditions. The research into Cornish Christmas carols led me back 150 years and all over the world.”
She explained that during the 19th and early 20th centuries, countless Cornish families left these shores to work in British colonies, taking with them their distinctive food, sport, religion, dialect and music.
“I became fascinated with the idea that Cornish people thousands of miles away from their birthplaces were performing the music they had brought with them from home, and even more so when I found that some of these communities have maintained Cornish musical traditions to the present day,” she said.
A former pupil of Penrice School, Kate’s musical education began early, learning piano from the age of four and progressing to become an accomplished viola player with Cornwall Youth Orchestra and the Cardiff University Orchestra.
“Mum had us playing music when were little, and my grandfather was an amazing boogie-woogie pianist, so it was always a very important part of home life,” she said.
It was while studying for a combined English, Music and Philosophy degree at Cardiff that she first became interested in ethnomusicology.
“I did a module in my first year and it blew me away,” she said. “I became fascinated at looking at cultures and why they do the things they do – it’s a kind of music anthropology.”
Concentrating on the unique traditions of Obby Oss for her final degree project, Kate followed this with a masters degree in ethnomusicology. A developing fascination with the music of the Cornish Diaspora led to her being awarded the scholarship which begins next month.
“I am very interested in the music that went out with Cornish people during the 19th century,” she said. “You can’t tell where the research will take you and what you will uncover on the way, but I am already in touch with Cornish societies abroad and have come across a number of carol composers who originated in Cornwall.”
Kate is now hoping that Western Morning News readers will be able to assist her research by getting in touch with information about lesser-known carols, composers, and traditions that may have been taken to other parts of the world.
“When we talk about Cornish music, I’m not entirely sure what most people think of,” she said. “Certainly there’s the current folk scene, which has its different strands, old and new, the choirs, brass bands, carols and pub singing. But that isn’t the whole picture.
“What is most interesting is that this music was so culturally important to those families emigrating from Cornwall that they needed to take it with them and thereby establish a new Cornish heritage in places like Grass Valley and Moonta. It is that which I am hoping to uncover – and fortunately the period I am looking at is in the age of paper documentation, so I’m very hopeful of discovering some long-lost gems of Cornish music.”
Anyone with information they think might be relevant to the research, including documents, music, recordings, letters and images, can contact Kate by writing to Penlan, Porthcothan Bay, Padstow, PL28 8LP, calling 07814885038 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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