Dr. Heather Sparling Uses SSHRC Grant to Connect Scholars and Performers

When Dr. Heather Sparling received a Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) Connections Grant in March of 2017, she was thrilled to use the $25,000 to augment funding already received from an Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) Networking Grant to host a three-day workshop at CBU. The event, Writing (About) Music, offered a way to augment the research and knowledge mobilization capacity of fiddle and dance scholars and performers. The CBU workshop was held as one of a series of three international workshops designed to build momentum between the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention held in Cape Breton in October 2015 and the most recent Convention, having just been held in Aberdeen in July 2018.

The Cape Breton University workshop was divided into two parts. The first part was a day devoted to workshops run by local musicians and scholars, exploring tune-writing, songwriting, and online tools for sharing music knowledge with the general public. It was designed to showcase local strengths and to provide practical skills of use to performers and scholars alike.

The second part was designed to introduce participants to performance studies as an academic discipline. It, along with two earlier workshops held in Aberdeen, Scotland, were focused on “memory” as a key concept in the study of traditional cultural expressions. Each workshop introduced a different disciplinary approach to memory in traditional culture: how the brain remembers (cognitive psychology), how computers remember (digital humanities), and how bodies remember (performance studies).

Keynote talks from all of the workshops were made available to a broad audience via live streaming and archived on the NAFCo website. These video archives augment an earlier series of short video “snappers” highlighting the research and performance practices of NAFCo participants.

“The ultimate goal with these workshops was to connect scholars and performers in a meaningful way,” says Dr. Sparling. “When we bring together a variety of disciplines and encourage collaboration and dialogue, it creates opportunities for meaningful conversations to develop, allowing everyone to deepen their understandings of their craft. By holding the workshops between conventions, we were able to maintain and build momentum while giving both performers and scholars new skills and knowledge.”

Working in collaboration with the Celtic Colours International Festival and the Cabot Trail Writers Festival, Dr. Sparling capitalized on the knowledge base of Cape Breton University and the local community, bringing in external experts including Stewart MacNeil, Paul Cranford, and Brenda Stubbert to teach song- and tune-writing workshops. CBU faculty and staff, including Christie MacNeil (Beaton Institute), Dr. Ian Brodie (Folklore), Dr. Chris McDonald (Music), and Heather herself ran workshops on using social media, podcasts, Wikipedia, and websites in order to share music knowledge and research with a broad audience.

“The workshops were a wonderful success,” says Dr. Sparling. “With the help of the SSHRC Connections Grant, we were able to bring students to the conference who may not have otherwise been able to attend. Exposing students to this type of hands-on experience and providing them access to amazing experts is an integral part of their learning journey, and it really was satisfying to create such an opportunity.”

Through her work on the workshops held at both Cape Breton University and Aberdeen University, Dr. Sparling developed deeper connections with NAFCo organizers and was subsequently invited to the be one of the 2018 keynote speakers. Her address on a forgotten history of Cape Breton music and dance competitions was inspired by the NAFCo memory workshops, particularly the performance studies workshop.