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Research events

Showcasing our specialist work and welcoming visiting academics

Our events reflect the Conservatorium's commitment to creative, academic and experimental research. Everyone is welcome to attend, and most of our events are free of charge.

Special research events

Alfred Samuel Hook (1886-1963) was a practising architect who believed architecture, like music, was "an art vital to people's prosperity". He helped found the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Architecture in 1918, from which he retired as dean in 1949. Hook's other great love was music. Hook gave lunch-hour talks on the history of music, illustrated by the University’s collection of gramophone records. He was a member of the University's choral group and, as a keen organist, was associated with installing the University’s War Memorial Carillon in 1928 and founding the Department of Music in 1948.

The Alfred Hook lecture is held once a semester and the series is made possible through a generous bequest from Doreen Robson. For more information, please email series coordinator and Research Services Manager Dr Joseph Toltz.

Archival recordings of music in Bali

Tuesday 3 April, 5pm

Recital Hall East

Free; it is not necessary to book.

American researcher Dr Edward Herbst explores rare German recordings of Balinese music made in 1928. This lecture will illustrate aesthetic and ethical approaches to dissemination through digital media; challenges of accessing archives worldwide; collaborative research methodologies; and strategies for repatriation.

Claire Chase, Density 2036

Monday 21 May, 6pm 

Recital Hall West

Free; it is not necessary to book.
Please join us for refreshments at the conclusion.

Flautist Claire Chase offers an interactive performance-lecture and discussion of her 22-year project, Density 2036, begun in 2014. Chase's ambitious initiative is to create, archive and advance a new body of repertory for solo flute leading up to the 100th anniversary of Density 21.5, Edgard Varese’s seminal and groundbreaking 1936 work. Chase will perform and discuss excerpts from the first five years of the project.

Previous events

Please see our past events page.


This free public lecture series is hosted by our Music Education staff. The series is designed to spark collegial debate among the music education community, including primary, high school and tertiary music educators, pre-service (undergraduate or postgraduate) music teachers, conductors of school and community ensembles, and practitioners in preschool education, special needs education and music therapy.

Each semester we invite leading practitioners and researchers to open discussion with a 20-minute TED-style presentation on a topic of their choice followed by a facilitated Q&A. The series is as much about participation as learning so we invite attendees to contribute and stay for refreshments and a chance to explore ideas informally.

The Australian Music Centre - Echo

Wednesday 24 October 2018
Seminar Room 4026, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Echo is a new online learning platform, developed by the Australian Music Centre (AMC), offering new perspectives through the AMC's living collection of scores, recordings, education resources and aggregated media. When fully launched, Echo will invite secondary school music teachers and students to access dynamic and interactive education resources relating to Australian music. Bring your own laptop or tablet and explore Australia’s evolving music ecosystem and discover the connections that shape music in Australia today with the guidance of one of its instigators, Elizabeth Jigalin and John Davis, CEO of the AMC. This isn’t just a session to learn how Echo works and how you can use it in your teaching - the AMC are really keen to get teachers’ feedback while they are in the Beta/testing stage. Come and contribute to the project's future development!

Afterwards there will be refreshments and a chance to talk to the presenters about their ideas.

Registration essential


Professional Issues in Music Education

Friday 2 November 2018
Music Cafe Sydney Conservatorium of Music

This this the expo for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s graduating BMus (Music Education) cohort. Each 4th year student has recently completed their final practicum placing, and during this time they undertook an Action Research project to bring together their studies and practice as emerging professional music teachers. A broad range of topics will be presented as poster sessions, from improvising in the classroom to working with recent refugee and migrant populations.

Afterwards there will be refreshments and a chance to talk to the presenters about their ideas.

Registration essential

Adaption of the Kodály Philosophy in an Australian Secondary Context: A Taster of the Rejuvinated Music Program in the Conservatorium High School

Tuesday 6 November 2018, 5pm
Seminar Room 2174, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Presenter: Réka Csernyik

In an interview, Zoltán Kodály was asked what the appropriate age is to begin music learning. His semi-serious reply was that “Music education should start 9 months before the birth of the mother.” While Kodály talks about the ideal world one should aim for, it is still proper to introduce anyone to music education at any age.

Réka’s workshop session will explore how the Kodály philosphy has been succesfully implemented in various music education programs across Australia from primary through secondary and tertiary levels with a particular focus on the Conservatorium High School, Sydney. In the centre of the presentation, there will be a couple of class demonstrations where participants will be included in a Year 7 introductiory level and a more advanced level, a Year 10 class. These class demosntrations will be accompanied by detailed lesson plan handouts and will be followed by a discussion.

Afterwards there will be refreshments and a chance to talk to the presenter about her ideas.

Registration essential


Technology in Music Education: Presentation of Learning

Friday 23 November 2017
Music Café, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Sydney Conservatorium third year Music Education students have spent the semester in the Technology in Music Education course discussing philosophy and pedagogy, learning gun technology skills and putting it all together in practice. They have learned how to create interactive media to aid musical learning for children of all ages, including activities in performing, listening and composing.

In their final assignment, students negotiated a project that they wanted to work on that involved learning or extending a technology-related skill, or grappling with the philosophies and pedagogies discussed.

As a result, students have developed dozens of best-practice, media rich resources for 21st Century learning. And they’d love to share them with you along with some drinks and nibbles. We will also welcome guest speakers from the profession and industry.

Registration essential  

Previous events

Please see our past events page.

Everything’s Heavy Underground!
The role of enforced creative boundaries in the songs of Ben Folds Five

Presented by Dr Jade O'Regan

Wednesday 31 October 2018

The nature of musical creativity is at times difficult to define. In popular music, many song writing books and tutorials encourage musicians to write “without boundaries” and to “break through” the blocks or rules they unconsciously have when creating new music. On the other hand, having no rules at all for creativity can lead to an overwhelming array of musical choices, resulting in a creative paralysis. This paper aims to look at how enforced creative rules can impact the way new songs are written, recorded and performed live. These concepts will be analysed through the music of 1990s indie pop band Ben Folds Five, and Ben Folds’ subsequent solo work after the break-up of the group.

Ben Folds Five were a three-piece band that began North Carolina in the early 1990s and are best known for their alternative hit “Underground” (1995) and their breakthrough ballad “Brick” (1997). Unlike the many guitar bands of the alternative rock scene at the time, their instrumental line up consisted only of piano, bass and drums. In fact, the group had one main musical rule: no guitars. So important was the piano to their sound, the group refused to perform if Folds was unable to play an acoustic piano. This meant that the group, with the help of friends, would personally haul Folds’ baby grand to every show they played; assembling and tuning it each time. In a 1996 interview, Folds commented: “We just don't play if there's no piano…Once you compromise then you're f***ed” (Jones, 1996).

This paper takes an analytical look at the way this “no guitar” rule shaped the course of their career. In their earliest days, this boundary encouraged the group to be creative and ambitious in their arrangements, often using instruments in unconventional ways to fill the textural space in the mix. However, after several years, this self-imposed rule began to fracture the group, as each member, particularly Folds, became increasingly eager to experiment with other sounds and textures.

By looking at the group’s instrumentation, melodies and chords progressions, and the recording techniques used to capture their performances, this study charts how the “no guitars” rule both encouraged creativity and then eventually stifled it, and how the course of the groups’ career was shaped by an instrument they refused to play.

“…or not to be” : Hamlet as opera

Presented by Michael Halliwell (Vocal and Opera Studies)

Wednesday 3 October, 4:15pm, Room 2174

Shakespeare’s Hamlet has intrigued, exasperated, and mostly defied opera composers for over 400 years. Only one operatic version of the play, by Ambroise Thomas (1868), has until now enjoyed a tenuous place in the repertoire. Yet there have been over forty documented versions. Franco Faccio’s Hamlet (1865), with libretto by Arigo Boito, was successful when premiered, then dropped completely out of the repertoire. A Bregenz Festival revival in 2016 revealed a taut, and engrossing adaptation and a masterful condensation of the play. Also in the Shakespeare year of 2016, an innovative interpretation by German composer, Anno Schreier, who reimagined the play as a claustrophobic family drama, was premiered at the Theater an der Wien. A year later Brett Dean’s Hamlet appeared at Glyndebourne to universal acclaim, and was repeated in Adelaide in March 2018, and seems destined to be added to the current repertoire with performances at the New York Metropolitan Opera and in Europe lined up. The focus of this presentation is on Dean’s opera, but contrasts it with the Faccio and Schreier operas, investigating what elements in the play are amenable to operatic adaptation.

A portrait of a Roman singer

Presented by Jessica Sun, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Wednesday 19 September, 4.15pm, Room 2174

In 1641, the painter Andrea Sacchi immortalized the Roman castrato Marc'Antonio Pasqualini in an allegorical portrait, in which the singer appears alongside the mythological musicians Apollo and Marsyas. While the painting celebrates the sitter's musical triumph, the inclusion of the satyr Marsyas, bound and awaiting punishment, is a sinister and enigmatic detail. Is it an allusion to Pasqualini's own status as a mutilated singer? Does it offer a warning against Dionysian passions, in favour of Apollonian control? This paper takes Marc'Antonio Pasqualini Crowned by Apollo as a starting point and case-study for how the multifaceted myth of Apollo and Marsyas functions in seventeenth-century painting and allegory. It will compare Pasqualini's portrait with works by Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian and Caravaggio, and examine the symbolically versatile figure of Marsyas as he appears in Italian Humanist discourse, treatises on the visual arts, and anatomical textbooks. Ultimately, I hope to offer a few suggestions as to why the flayed satyr makes an appearance in the allegorical representation of a castrated singer with ties to both the sacred and secular worlds.

Attempting the impossible: worldview change in music teachers

Presented by James Humberstone (Music Education)

Wednesday 5 September, 4:15pm, Room 2174

The University of Sydney launched its first Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) in April 2016. Titled “The Place of Music in 21st Century Education”, it presented seemingly contradictory contemporary research and practice from the field as a series of provocations for critical thinking. It did not advocate for any one position, instead hoping to prompt worldview change toward a more pluralist, inclusive music education. Participants were prompted to think carefully not just to gain marks, but because their thoughts had to be blogged publicly. Two years later, over 3,000 musicians, teachers, artists, academics, and interested public internationally have been active learners in the course. They have also agreed for any data they generate to be used for research purposes. In this paper, having formed a research team with Dr Danny Liu and Catherine Zhao, I consider what our first analyses of hundreds of thousands of clicks, polls, blog posts, marks, and written feedback might be telling us about our participants, whether we see evidence of changing worldviews, and think about what this might mean for music education.

Siamese songs in old Bangkok: The birth of the Thai recording industry 1903-1911

Presented by James Mitchell

Wednesday 22 August, 4:15pm, Room 2175

Today the Thai popular music industry dominates mainland Southeast Asia through two of Asia’s largest entertainment companies GMM Grammy and RSiam. The roots of this profitable recording industry lie in a brief period, from 1903 to 1911, when the Gramophone Company, Odeon, Pathé, Beka and a host of smaller companies engaged in a race to record the world’s music so asto gain market share (Gronow 1981: 56-65). During the final ‘golden’ decade of King Chulalongkorn’s long reign, the new gramophone technology functioned as an influential site of interaction between Siamese royalty and court musicians, Chinese and Malay compradors and European recording experts. The story of this interaction demonstrates the effects of Siam’s semi-colonisation by the British and Chinese on the development of Thai music and the broader issue of how discography and discology can be usefully incorporated into the field of ethnomusicology. Merriam’s criticism of “armchair analysis” (1964: 39) is contrasted with a discussion of National Taiwan University’s Recording in East and Southeast Asia (RIESA) Project.

The artist vs the audience: musical politics in mid-nineteenth century Germany

David Larkin (Musicology division)

Wednesday 8 August, 4:15pm, Room 2175

Music history is littered with examples of works now considered masterpieces which initially were rejected by audiences and critics. In the politically fraught world of mid-nineteenth-century Germany, such bruising encounters were common for those of progressive inclinations. Painted as Zukunftsmusiker (musicians of the future, i.e. not acceptable at the time), composers such as Liszt and Wagner took the fight to their opponents by writing pamphlets justifying their art. They refused to be trammelled by existing norms and appealed to the concept of progress as justification for their departures from orthodoxy in matters of form and harmony. This colloquium explores this contested terrain in the aftermath of the 1848-9 revolutions, situating artistic innovation within broader philosophical discourse about progress, and interrogating how both sides understood the relationship between composers and the audiences of the day.

Previous events

Please see our past events page.