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Dr Helen English

Senior Lecturer - Music

School of Creative Industries (Music)

Considering cultural capacity

An insult attributed to Mark Twain following his fleeting visit to Newcastle in 1895 became the spark that led Helen English to investigate the cultural life of our emerging coal mining townships.

Dr Helen English


At the time of Twain’s visit, Newcastle was still emerging from the shadows of its origins as a notorious prison outpost.

Twain’s apparent assessment of Newcastle as consisting of “a long street with a graveyard at one end with no bodies in it, and a gentleman’s club at the other with no gentlemen in it” is the stuff of legends, despite questions regarding the authenticity of the quote.

In 2008, Helen was working on a soundscape inspired by Twain’s visit.

She became determined to unearth a more thorough representation of cultural life in the Coal City at the end of the 1800s, and question the negative picture represented by legend.

What she discovered was a bustling world of colour and music, competition and community, commiseration and celebration.

The forgotten musicians of Newcastle

Graduating from the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, Helen worked as a professional musician for many years.

She is a talented aficionado of the piano and harpsichord.

A move to Tasmania in 1995 and motherhood redirected Helen into pursuits more practical than the life of a travelling musician and she dabbled in musicology.

Coming to Newcastle in 2000, Helen enrolled in a Masters degree.

She was appointed Associate Lecturer at the University of Newcastle in 2003, and has since completed her PhD.

Researching music and community in Newcastle and Maitland, her interest in social justice issues, and a lack of existing musicological study on the regional working class, inspired Helen to hone in on her thesis topic, ‘Music as a Resource for World-Building in Newcastle and its Townships, 1869-1879.’

Taking her research one step further, Helen has presented on "Forgotten Musicians of Newcastle" at several forums and recorded much of the surviving music by these composers from the period 1860-1880.

Processions, picnics and parades

Giant personalities such as Mark Dent and Thomas Jones pepper Helen’s work.

Dent, blackballed following his involvement in an unsuccessful 1844 petition to English Parliament regarding dangerous working conditions, came to Australia and found work and community in Lambton.

Jones organized a community concert in Lambton, NSW, as a testimony to John Griffiths, who led a 400 strong choir from South Wales to London in 1872 and 1873, where they blitzed the competition at the choral games two years running.

These larger than life personalities, and many like them, rarely saw any financial benefit from their commitment to community and place making through music. What was their motivation?

“Drawing on social theory, I try to look at music not just as something that people did, but what it was doing for them,” Helen explains.

“Music was empowering people, or creating community, or helping them keep working when they were tired, or just creating a familiar context.”

Helen’s work tells of processions and picnics, fundraisers and concerts, of communities bonded together by the hardships and opportunities presented by a fledgling city.

Music and world building

Her understanding of the effects of music on the body, mind, and emotions uniquely qualify Helen for a role with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE), for whom she has recently been appointed an Associate Investigator.

Helen has received funding from the Centre to investigate amateur blackface minstrelsy in the Hunter Valley.

“People are embarrassed to hear about it now, but it doesn't mean you can't investigate it, why was it so important to people, so popular?” she asks.

Helen is also collaborating with Deputy Director of the Centre, Professor Jane Whitfield Davidson (University of Melbourne), on a project titled ‘Music and World-Building: From Past to Present’.

The co-researchers are investigating current music communities informed by research into historical communities.

Through looking at pre-existing music-making, the researchers seek to understand how music can be used to build and replenish community capacity.

Building community capacity

Helen is now a Senior Lecturer for the UON School of Creative Industries, teaching into a range of diverse courses including Music Research, Australian Music, and Piano.

It is her current role as Director of School and Community Engagement however, that sees Helen translating the theoretical capacity building of her research into real life outcomes.

With funding from the Commonwealth Government Higher Education Partnerships and Participation Program (HEPPP) and UON Centre for Excellence of Equity in Higher Education (CEEHE), Helen has orchestrated several projects in partnership with local schools.

These projects focus on bolstering music literacy and building aspirations in the creative and performing arts in school students.

One project saw UON student mentors working with students from seven schools to develop performance pieces, culminating in a showcase of their works at the Griffith Duncan Theatre.

Consultation with staff at several local schools has led Helen to coordinate a network of high school music staff, and further opportunities for students are in development.

Helen is also co-leading a research project with Matt Lumb from CEEHE, ‘Music, belonging, and transformation: Understanding the impact of outreach to low SES high schools in fostering and supporting aspirations’.

Dr Helen English

Considering cultural capacity

Dr English's primary areas of research include Music practices in the 19th century, Music and Society, Australian music, Social Justice and Gender studies.

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Career Summary

Biography

I have worked as an academic since 1997 when I joined staff at the Conservatorium of Music, University of Tasmania. In 2003 I was appointed as Associate Lecturer at the University of Newcastle. I am currently a Senior Lecturer and Director of School and Community Engagement for the School of Creative Arts, University of Newcastle. As a lecturer I teach diverse courses including Music Research, Australian Music and Piano.

My primary areas of research are: Music practices in the 19th century, Music and Society, Australian music, Social Justice and Gender studies, Music Education. My PhD topic was Music as a Resource for World-Building in Newcastle and its Townships, 1869-1879. The thesis investigated what music afforded Newcastle settler communities in world-building through its effects on body, mind and emotions. This led to a number of publications including: 'Newcastle in the 1870s: audience identity, power and cultural ownership', in Crossroads, UQ and 'Music-Making in the Colonial City: Benefit Concerts in Newcastle, NSW in the 1870s', Musicology Australia.  Other recent research has been into composers from nineteenth-century Newcastle. I have presented on "Forgotten Musicians of Newcastle" at several forums and recorded much of the surviving music by these composers from the period 1860-1880. These compositions and their stories also inspired a piece of performance art entitled 'Forgotten Composers of the Hunter Valley', which was performed at the Newcastle Conservatorium in December 2013. Other creative work has been shown in Hobart and Leeds ("Margery's Times: Margery Through the Looking Glass") and New York ("New Adventures of Mark Twain").

As an advocate for social justice, I am committed to supporting aspirations and creating pathways into higher education through research and outreach. I have been successful in grant applications to further this work. In 2012 I was awarded a Commonwealth Government Higher Education Partnerships and Participation Program (HEPPP) grant for BMUS Music Literacy. In 2015 I was successful in a HEPPP National Priorities Pool grant applied for through the University of Newcastle’s Centre for Excellence of Equity in Higher Education (CEEHE). The HEPPP grant, ‘Building Aspirations in the Creative and Performing Arts,’ allowed the development and implementation of an innovative project that empowered school students to develop skills in creative thinking, project design and its realisation. A short promotional DVD for the project can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/146851875.  I am currently leading a research project, ‘Music, belonging and transformation: understanding the impact of outreach to low SES high schools in fostering and supporting aspirations’. This is in association with and funded internally by CEEHE.

I have recently been appointed as Associate Investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE). This position will advance my current research into amateur blackface minstrelsy in the Hunter and its emotional impact. In addition I am collaborating with Professor Jane Whitfield Davidson (University of Melbourne) on a project: Music and World-Building: From Past to Present. In this project the co-researchers investigate current music communities informed by research into historical communities. Through looking at pre-existing music-making, the researchers seek to understand how music can be used to build and replenish community capacity.

Some of my current research can be seen on:


Work with high schools funded by the Australian Government HEPPP National Priorities Pool:

Research Expertise

Sonic Art - soundscapes representing temporality. 19th c. music practices in Australia, specifically the Newcastle region. The Historical Performance Practice movement in UK and Australia

Teaching Expertise
Australian Music, Music history, Piano playing and associated skills, 19th c. music, Baroque music

Administrative Expertise
Program Convenor, Software expertise: Word, Excel, Publisher, Finale, Sibelius. Auditions, enrollments, orientation, credits, mentoring, completions

Collaborations
"Assessment in Music: An approach to aligning assessment with Threshold Learning Outcomes in the Creative and Performing Arts" This research project was led by Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University from 2012-2014. As a team member, I was a contributor to discussions about assessment in music and was involved in determining Threshold Learning Outcomes in Music Studies at Tertiary level. In 2013 I gave a conference paper as co-author with Richard Vella, Chair of Music at University of Newcastle, "Embedding Creative and Critical thinking in Performance Studies - the Challenge". This is due to be published by Springer in 2014 as a book chapter


Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Newcastle
  • Diploma in Music, Guild Hall School of Music and Drama
  • Master of Arts (Music), University of Newcastle

Keywords

  • Australian Music
  • Keyboard
  • Music and Social Justice
  • Musicology
  • Nineteenth Century Music
  • music and gender
  • sociology of music

Languages

  • French (Fluent)
  • Italian (Fluent)

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
190407 Music Performance 10
160809 Sociology of Education 20
190409 Musicology and Ethnomusicology 70

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Senior Lecturer - Music University of Newcastle
School of Creative Industries
Australia
Senior Lecturer - Music University of Newcastle
School of Creative Arts
Australia

Academic appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/04/2003 -  Executive Officer NACTMUS (National Council for Tertiary Music)
Australia
1/01/1997 - 1/12/1999 Associate Lecturer University of Tasmania
Conservatorium Of Music Institute
Australia

Professional appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/01/1993 - 1/04/1993 Music Staff Opera 80 (now English Touring Opera)
Opera: Education Unit
United Kingdom
1/01/1993 - 1/12/1994 Music Staff Royal Opera House, London
United Kingdom
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Publications

For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.


Chapter (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2015 Vella R, English H, 'Embedding Creative and Critical Thinking in Performance Studies - The Challenge', Assessment in Music Education: From Policy to Practice, Springer International Publishing, Switzerland 141-151 (2015) [B1]
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-10274-0
Co-authors Richard Vella
2012 English HJ, Wye SQ, 'Musical entertainment in Newcastle, NSW, 1875-77', A World of Popular Entertainments: An Edited Volume of Critical Essays, Cambridge Scholars, Newcastle upon Tyne 207-220 (2012) [B1]

Journal article (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2014 English HJ, 'Music-Making in the Colonial City: Benefit Concerts in Newcastle, NSW in the 1870s', Musicology Australia, 36 53-73 (2014) [C1]
DOI 10.1080/08145857.2014.896071
2013 English HJ, 'Musical Entertainment in Newcastle, New South Wales, in the 1870s: Audience, Identity, Power and Cultural Ownership', Crossroads: an interdisciplinary journal for the study of history, philosophy, religion and classics, VI 73-83 (2013) [C1]

Conference (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2013 English HJ, 'Re-viewing history through sound - fact or fiction?', re-Visions: Proceedings of the New Zealand Musicological Society and the Musicological Society of Australia Joint Conference (2013) [E1]
2009 English HJ, Wye SQ, 'Popular musical entertainment in Newcastle 1876, focusing on the opening and early operation of the Victoria Theatre, Perkins Street', A World of Popular Entertainments Conference Proceedings (2009) [E3]

Creative Work (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2013 English HJ, Forgotten Composers of the Hunter Valley, 1870-79, Newcastle, NSW, Australia (2013) [J2]
2008 English HJ, Margery's Times: Margery Through the Looking Glass, Leeds, UK (2008) [J2]
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Grants and Funding

Summary

Number of grants 9
Total funding $173,673

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.


20152 grants / $127,622

Building aspiration in the Creative and Performing Arts$63,811

Funding body: Department of Education

Funding body Department of Education
Project Team Doctor Helen English, Doctor Jocelyn McKinnon, Doctor Kathryn Grushka, Doctor Miranda Lawry
Scheme Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme
Role Lead
Funding Start 2015
Funding Finish 2015
GNo G1501420
Type Of Funding Other Public Sector - Commonwealth
Category 2OPC
UON Y

Building aspiration in the Creative and Performing Arts $63,811

This project aims to raise aspirations and build capacity in students from low SES backgrounds who are currently under-represented in Creative and Performing Arts programs at the University of Newcastle.The proposal aims at developing skills in creative thinking, project design and realisation in the areas of music, visual arts and/or performance through an innovative process that rests on three pillars of collaboration, empowerment and technology to deliver positive outcomes for children from low SES backgrounds

Funding body: Department of Education

Funding body Department of Education
Project Team

Helen Jane English

Scheme Higher Education Participation Program
Role Lead
Funding Start 2015
Funding Finish 2015
GNo
Type Of Funding Aust Competitive - Commonwealth
Category 1CS
UON N

20142 grants / $28,750

ERF Teaching Relief - English$25,000

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Helen English, Professor Richard Vella
Scheme Equity Research Fellowship
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2014
Funding Finish 2014
GNo G1301347
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

Music in the valley: identity, memory and reinvention in colonial Newcastle 1870-1879$3,750

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Helen English
Scheme Equity Research Fellowship
Role Lead
Funding Start 2014
Funding Finish 2014
GNo G1301236
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20121 grants / $11,773

BMUS Literacy$11,773

This proposal will draw on a three-way partnership between the Community, the BMUS and the Conservatorium. This project proposes ways to retain those already in the program and to act as mentors to increase further low SES enrolments.

Funding body: Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (former)

Funding body Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (former)
Project Team

Helen English

Scheme Higher Education Partnerships and Participation Program
Role Lead
Funding Start 2012
Funding Finish 2012
GNo
Type Of Funding Aust Competitive - Commonwealth
Category 1CS
UON N

20101 grants / $1,500

Musicological Society of Australia/New Zealand Musicological Society Conference, University of Otago, New Zealand, 2 - 4 December 2010$1,500

Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts

Funding body University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts
Project Team Doctor Helen English
Scheme Travel Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2010
Funding Finish 2010
GNo G1000843
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20082 grants / $3,600

Margery's Times: Margery Through the Looking Glass$1,900

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Helen English
Scheme New Staff Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2008
Funding Finish 2008
GNo G0188941
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 7/7/2008 - 10/7/2008$1,700

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Helen English
Scheme Travel Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2008
Funding Finish 2008
GNo G0189126
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20071 grants / $428

Time and Temporalities$428

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Helen English
Scheme Travel Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2007
Funding Finish 2007
GNo G0188279
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y
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Research Supervision

Number of supervisions

Completed0
Current4

Total current UON EFTSL

Masters0.2
PhD0.9

Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title / Program / Supervisor Type
2015 PhD The Piano Works of Raymond Hanson - An Exploration
PhD (Music), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle
Co-Supervisor
2015 Masters An Identification of Past Influences and Current Trends in Australian Piano Pedagogy
M Philosophy (Music), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle
Co-Supervisor
2014 PhD The Role of Digital Technology in Folk Music
PhD (Music), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle
Principal Supervisor
2007 Honours Associate Artist or Accompanist?: an evaluation of the pianist's role
Music, University of Newcastle
Co-Supervisor
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Dr Helen English

Position

Senior Lecturer - Music
School of Creative Industries
Faculty of Education and Arts

Focus area

Music

Contact Details

Email helen.english@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 8929
Fax (02) 4921 8958
Links SoundCloud
Personal Blogs

Office

Room CON.305
Building The Conservatorium of Music
Location The Conservatorium
Cnr Laman and Auckland Street
Newcastle, NSW 2300
Australia
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