New Research Partnership

Sydney Living Museums has announced a new partnership with the University of Southampton and the Royal College of Music as part of a three-year research project exploring domestic music and heritage in the Georgian home. 

Sydney Living Museums will join the University of Southampton and the Royal College of Music as a partner organisation in the project 'Music, Home, and Heritage:  Sounding the Domestic in Georgian Britain' led by Principal Investigator Professor Jeanice Brooks (University of Southampton) and Co-Investigator Dr Wiebke Thormählen (Royal College of Music).  Dr Matthew Stephens, Research Librarian, Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, will be SLM’s representative on the project. Other partner organisations include the British Library, the National Trust and the Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust.

The Role of Sydney Living Museums

SLM’s main contribution will be to assist in the synthesis of existing research on the use of music in historic house interpretation, and to devise methodological frameworks for future work in the field. Dr Stephens will co-edit, with Professor Brooks and Dr Thormählen, a book of essays exploring approaches to sound heritage and music making in historic houses. A conference examining the themes of the book will be held in London in 2019, and the book’s release is planned for 2020. Dr Stephens will also provide a more general advisory role for some of the interpretation projects which form the research study.

The project asks how listening to and performing music figured in understandings of home, family and domestic space in Georgian Britain. It seeks both to expand knowledge of the sounding history of Georgian domestic interiors and to explore how to integrate this understanding more fully into heritage interpretations of historic houses today. It considers the meanings that performers and listeners attributed to music in domestic settings, and explores how emotional or spiritual aspects of musical practice figured in the transformation of houses into homes. It will track the increasing delineation of domesticity from public life, and investigate how this intersects with historical narratives on the professionalisation of music, on class structures and on the formulation of family and gender roles.  

Dr Katrina Faulds (piano) from Sound Heritage network, University of Southampton, and Nyssa Milligan (singer), postgraduate student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Dr Katrina Faulds, University of Southampton, accompanies singer Nyssa Milligan at the Sound Heritage Symposium, Sydney, 28 March 2017.  Photo (c) James Horan for Sydney Living Museums.

The project will probe how music traversed geographical and social space, particularly through dance music, oratorio and opera, which linked familial leisure with forms of public entertainment. This enhanced understanding of domestic musical practice will be integrated into our exploration of new models for making domestic music visible and audible for heritage visitors today. Better knowledge of the role of music in domestic architecture, decoration and social life, and of musical links to artefacts and objects, can provide powerful new interpretive tools and highlight connections between tangible and intangible heritage.

While much of the project is focused on the story of music within the domestic sphere of Georgian Britain, this partnership provides an opportunity for SLM to use this new research to rethink interpretative approaches to music, which was primarily sourced from Britain, in the late Georgian home in Australia. The project also enables SLM to share more broadly its interpretative and pedagogical expertise in the interpretation of historic houses through music.

The project in more detail

The project includes an ambitious plan of primary research in Britain, including consideration of family papers (diaries, correspondence, accounts, inventories); extant music collections identified with specific houses and owners; music produced for domestic consumption, including arrangements of dance, opera and oratorio; historic guidebooks and furniture catalogues; and extant material settings. The historical research will lead to scholarly outputs in musicology and dance history, while also providing the musical materials underpinning practice-led work in heritage studies. In collaboration with the British Library, the research team will conduct a census of musical materials in UK historic houses, substantially enhancing existing research tools while providing the first overview of the material traces of domestic music available for use in heritage interpretation today. 

Litchfield Binckes square piano in the morning room, Elizabeth Bay House

Litchfield Binckes square piano in the morning room, Elizabeth Bay House.  Photo (c) James Horan for Sydney Living Museums. 

With the support of project partner Sydney Living Museums, the project will synthesise existing research on the use of music in historic house interpretation, and devise methodological frameworks for future work in the field. A case study on dance, carried out with professional and student musicians and dancers at the Royal College of Music, will generate new understandings of how this key social activity was deployed in the home, and result in new recordings of dance music for use by historic dance companies and within the heritage sector. With project partners The National Trust, we will construct a case study at Erddig, Wrexham, Wales, providing a detailed history of music making in the house and devising a method for telling the larger story of the property and its occupants through and with music. At Boughton House, Northamptonshire, a case study mounted in collaboration with the Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust will explore how domestic consumption of stage music worked to construct understandings of private and public space and social identities.

Sydney Living Museums looks forward to contributing to this important international study and sharing with our audiences the benefits of its research.

About the Author

Sydney Living Museums Image
Dr Matthew Stephens
Research Librarian
Collections and Access
Dr Matthew Stephens is research librarian at the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection with a strong interest in the history of books and libraries in New South Wales. His recently completed PhD explored the early history of the Australian Museum Library.

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