[Since I was unable to be at the Ninth International Research in Music Education Conference in Exeter, I asked Liz Mellor to read this statement, “In Praise of RIME,” on my behalf.]
Among the values that characterize the academy is that of service—service to one’s subject field, department, school, university, profession, and beyond the academy’s walls, to the community, nation, and world. With their roots in monastic institutions, from the first, academics were sworn to help, cooperate with, and serve their colleagues in pursuit of the greater good. As they labored to preserve and enhance learning, to foster discourse, and to share their knowledge with others who sought it, they sensed an obligation that went far beyond their own personal interests and extended to the communities of which they were a part. Service to, for, and with others was a primary motivation for their work. As academic fellows, teaching was seen as a part of this obligation to serve, as were the host of other duties that facilitated, supported, and enhanced it.
In our own time, this ideal of service has faded. In its place, personal academic and research productivity are stressed, and the assessment of one’s outputs are constantly monitored. Service is too often relegated to women and more junior members of the academy. Among the academic ranks, the greatest rewards go to those who publish their research, and the work of those who labor to create the spaces and forums in which this research is discussed and debated often goes unsung and unnoticed. At a time of internationalized and globalized academic discourse, conferences are arguably more necessary, now, than they ever were. Yet, notwithstanding their importance, and the happiness of those for whom these conferences offer a necessary forum for presenting our recent scholarship, disseminating our research, and meeting together with others, the time-consuming process of organizing these meetings too often goes unheralded in the academy. I know of few academics who have made their way to its highest ranks on the basis of their service.
Today, I praise Sarah Hennessey who, with the assistance especially of Hilary Olek and Lis McCullough, has organized and run nine international conferences on research in music education over a span of the better part of two decades. Sarah has also fostered an international board of the Music Education Research, and members have come from around the world to be present at these conferences. When, due to illness, Mary Stakelum was unable to organize the 2015 conference at the University of Reading, Sarah stepped in and ensured that this ninth conference was held at the University of Exeter. To organize one such conference is an achievement in and of itself. To organize nine is monumental. Look at their achievements. I mention just two. First, these conferences have spawned and continued to feed an international refereed journal in music education, Music Education Research, and contributed to a genuinely cross-disciplinary and global discourse in music education scholarship. One finds within the journal’s pages a broad array of research studies, including some that, too often, have been regarded as marginal or “soft.” I applaud this wide and inclusive sense of music educational scholarship that helps to bridge the worlds of music teaching practice and academic discourse.
Second, these conferences have nurtured an inclusive, friendly, supportive, and humane community of music education researchers and teachers. On the occasions that I have been privileged to attend, the warm and welcoming atmosphere has contributed to and cemented friendships among music educators from various parts of the world. Nothing could be more important to music education research than the friendships, collegiality, and sense of mutuality that these conferences have prompted. The program for this conference again features individual papers and symposia in which groups of scholars can talk together about their work. Its social events have underpinned and supported these conversations. In focusing on matters of personal productivity, it is easy to forget how important the collegiality fostered in the RIME conferences is to our spiritual wellbeing as academics. These meetings have been inspirational as well as informative, sometimes unsettling as they have confirmed the importance of our work. As the ties that bind music education researchers around the world have been strengthened, it has become easier to look beyond the too-often narrow and strictured demands of national and regional imperatives, and see the larger world of music making and taking. Our obligations as music educators to foster better understanding, peace, and tranquility among the earth’s people have been highlighted. Without RIME, we would have been much the poorer as an international community of music educators. Collectively, we owe Sarah and her colleagues a profound debt of gratitude. These meetings have greatly enriched our professional lives and watered our souls.
In a just world, Sarah would be promoted to full professor at Exeter on the strength alone of the importance to scholarship of what she has wrought in these symposia and as editor of Music Education Research. The collective impact of this work on music education research internationally would be recognized at the University of Exeter and by the British and international community of scholars of music education as a signal achievement. Yet justice is yet to come. This moment affords an opportunity to reflect on our individual and collective duty to serve in the academy. It prompts us to determine to use every opportunity to band together, rescue and recuperate service as an ideal in our field even if this also means actively resisting and subverting the present academic preoccupation with minutiae and “bean counting” that passes for estimates of academic productivity. Sarah has chosen a better path—even if it is less valued in the academy. Her work will continue to live on as a blessing to the many who have contributed to and benefitted from these RIME conferences and who have, as I have been, privileged to be a part of them. It is to be hoped that others—both men and women—will carry on where she has left off.
Sarah’s contributions have been rightly recognized by others in earlier conferences. At the 2013 conference, a presentation of a glass bowl was made to Sarah in the expectation that this would be the final conference she would lead at Exeter. Still, the conference is again at Exeter this year! On this occasion, I have asked Liz Mellor to present a bouquet of flowers to Sarah and her colleagues on my behalf to mark my appreciation for what these conferences have meant to me, personally and professionally, and to wish them all of life’s good things in the future.