Mt. A student is no fool: music student’s interdisciplinary ISRG

On Friday September 17, fourth-year music student Emma Cameron took to the Brunton stage to present her ISRG research project. Her project explored the relationship between the broadside ballad in England and the stock character of the Fool in Shakespeare’s comedies As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and Twelfth Night. The powerful presentation was met with much interest as Cameron gave a beautifully informed and thoughtfully worded speech on her findings.

On choosing her topic, Cameron noted her interest in both music and literature and detailed Mt. A English professor Dr. Karen Bamford’s Introduction to Shakespeare class as inspiration. Cameron spoke about the way that Dr. Bamford presented filmed productions from the Globe Theatre and how “this environment was very different from any theatrical experience [she] had ever seen.” The Globe has uncommon features; “the stage protrudes into the yard, and audience members can stand with their elbows on the stage, literally inches from the actors.” This piqued Cameron’s interest and “made [her] question the purpose of [the music]’s presence” in these plays. The ISRG project allowed her to further explore this.

During the research project, Cameron found that her main challenge was the vast number of unknowns working with oral history. Cameron remarked that “much of oral history wasn’t written down, and what did get written down often wasn’t recorded until years after the fact.” For example, “some of the broadside ballad tunes [she] was working with had survived four hundred years only because they’d been written down as country-dance music.” In dealing with this challenge, Cameron commented that “there’s a lot of guesswork, which is intriguing, but can also be frustrating when trying to formulate a justifiable thesis.”

Cameron’s project is passionate and inquisitive; she concluded that “the ballads sung by the Fool allowed this character to become an intermediary between the world of the play and the world of the audience.” She believes that “music deserves more notice in analysis of Shakespeare’s plays, especially considering the auditory culture of early modern England.” Cameron said she also learned that “research is a constantly-evolving process,” and that “the original path for a project can swerve and warp as a researcher learns new information and discovers new sources.”

The musical potential and implications in her research were also realized, and Cameron pointed out that “Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, Verdi’s Falstaff, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, even Disney’s The Lion King … speak to the appeal and efficacy of musical storytelling.” Cameron put her research into modern context by mentioning that while “it is impossible to replicate the connections to this music that the Shakespearean playgoers would have enjoyed, the original compositions and pop music frequently employed in present-day theatrical productions (such as those by the Royal Shakespeare Company) offer a more ‘authentic’ musical experience for a modern audience.”

This project was funded by the J.E.A. Crake Foundation, and supervised by Dr. Linda Pearse and Dr. Karen Bamford. Cameron’s presentation and project is profoundly interesting for any lover of literature or the performing arts, tying the worlds as they were always meant to be.

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