To the Editor:
I was surprised to read Christopher Wintle's remarks on Musical Objects, the precursor to British Postgraduate Musicology, in his Guest Editorial for your Volume 4. Christopher makes some excellent observations concerning the timing of a postgraduate student's first venture into print, but his comments on Musical Objects require some adjustment. As one of the original editorial team, I am writing to address his four main points.
Firstly, Christopher claims that Musical Objects 'aimed a bit too high by presenting itself as a fully fledged professional journal, rather than as a fledgling postgraduate one'. It is hard to imagine how he has arrived at this conclusion: as he himself notes in his opening sentence, the subtitle for Musical Objects was 'a postgraduate review', and the excellent editorial for Volume I made clear that the aim of the journal was:
to provide students at the outset of their postgraduate studies with a printed forum hopefully challenging, possibly friendly for their first 'public' effort.
It is difficult to detect any kind of pretensions here towards 'professional' status. Perhaps the problem he refers to is the fact that the journal had its own ISSN no.; but it should be noted that this was applied for at the suggestion of the Music Department at King's, rather than on the initiative of the editors.
Secondly, Christopher observes that the journal 'required too much work' from the editorial team. Again, this is puzzling. As one of the three members of the editorial team, I was responsible for laying out the text and preparing it for publication an experience which I thoroughly enjoyed and learnt a great deal from. The amount of time I put into the project was no more than I was willing to commit, and the results were extremely satisfying. For me, the fact that this was a 'postgraduate review' was no cause to accept anything less than the highest standards in terms of layout and 'general readability'. The fact that only one issue of Musical Objects was published was not, as Christopher suggests, because too much effort was required on the part of the editors. The editorial team undertook the project for one year only (as the editorial to Volume I makes clear), the idea being that each issue would be edited by a new team of postgraduates, nearing the end of their studies. Since most of the team entered full-time employment in 1996 within a year of the publication of Volume I it is not surprising that we weren't tempted to hang onto the reins any longer!
Christopher's third point is that 'in order to turn some contributions into 'proper' articles, too much assistance was given by staff of the Department of Music at King's College London'. Those staff-members were the supervisors of the students whose work was to appear in the journal, and their advice and suggestions were sought out as a matter of course, before the final version of the text was agreed. Would he have advised the contributors not to ask for some input from their supervisors in these circumstances?
Finally, Christopher cites as fact that 'other pieces prompted such unexpected and negative 'professional' response that, far from enhancing a contributor's research, they sounded its death-knell'. In reality, only one of the ten articles that made up Volume I elicited such a response something the supervisor would have been better placed to predict than the postgraduate author. Moreover, as the journal presented itself as a 'postgraduate review' and its intentions were clearly stated, as quoted above, the editorial team should not be blamed for readers being unwilling to take the journal in the spirit in which it was conceived.
To close, I would like to congratulate the editors of BPM on four highly successful and enjoyable volumes. I am delighted to see that BPM has picked up the baton from Musical Objects it serves as an excellent and vital training ground for postgraduate music students, as the original editors intended it would back in 1995.
Dr Rachel Cowgill
University of Leeds
Christopher Wintle replies:
I can understand and indeed sympathize with Rachel Cowgill's feelings about my comments on Musical Objects, especially since her own editorial contribution was (typically) outstanding and the initiative wholly admirable. My point was that it was always our intention at King's College London to see a permanent forum for postgraduate musical debate in higher education. British Postgraduate Musicology has proved evidently more durable than its predecessor(s) and my editorial attempted to explain why: although Musical Objects described itself as 'Volume 1, 1995', and equipped itself with an Editorial Board and an ISSN number, it never went, and in the form it took perhaps could not have gone, beyond the first issue.
King's College London
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