Ian Russell took up the Directorship of the Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen on 1 September 1999 and was awarded a Personal Chair in 2011. His doctorate (1977) was based on the singing traditions of West Sheffield. In 2014 he relinquished the directorship, retired and was granted Emeritus status.
During the past forty-seven years, he has conducted extensive fieldwork in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire and has researched, broadcast, made films, lectured and written on folksong, traditional drama, folk dance, crafts and traditional humour at home, in Europe and the USA.
He was the editor of the Folk Music Journal from 1980 to 1993 and was awarded the Harold Coote Lake Research Medal by the Folklore Society in 1986 in recognition of this work. Since 1994 he has directed the highly successful biennial Festivals of Village Carols at Sheffield.
In July 1998, he convened the international conference at the University of Sheffield to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Folk Song Society, opened by the Rt Hon David Blunkett. He has written the entry 'Traditional Music: England' for the 2001 edition of New Grove and produced a CD of his field recordings for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, which has been published under the title English Village Carols.
In 1998, he was awarded the English Folk Dance and Song Society's Gold Badge, the Society's highest honour. His carol research, which includes over a thousand hours of field recordings and hundreds of manuscripts, is currently being organized into a major archive called Village Carols. Copies of the recordings have been placed in the British Library Sound Archive. There are currently eighteen Village Carols publications including books, CDs and five carol collections.
His fieldwork in North-East Scotland includes sacred singing, free-reed instrumentalists, singers, and monologue performers. He has been researching the flute bands that lead the Annual Walks in the coastal communities of the 'Knuckle'; the 'soirées' and 'Sankey nights' for sacred singing, and the concert parties that perform in rural contexts. Research in Boddam and Peterhead has been undertaken into the craft tradition of making and sailing 'boaties'. These are models of the 'fifie' fishing boats that hunted the shoals of herring in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Through the Institute he has directed and organized (with others), the annual Traditional Singing Weekends at Cullerlie, the North Atlantic Fiddle Conventions (2001, 2006, and 2010), the annual Traditional Storytelling Weekends at Woodend Barn, Banchory, and the Free Reed Convention: 'Button Boxes and Moothies' (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015). He has convened conferences for the British Forum for Ethnomusicology in Aberdeen (2004 and 2008), and for the European Seminar in Ethnomusicology (2011).
He is the President of the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention, Convener of the Aberdeen and North East Branch of the Saltire Society, a member of the editorial board of Folk Music Journal, a member of the executive committees of the Folklore Society and the European Seminar in Ethnomusicology, a board member of Scottish Culture and Traditions Association (Aberdeen), the Traditional Music Forum (Scotland), and H-Net Network on Folklore: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, as well as a member of several other professional societies and special interest groups.
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Conferences Organised and Festivals Directed
- 2012 – (Consultant) The North Atlantic Fiddle Convention, University of Ulster, Derry City, international conference and festival, 27 June-1 July.
- 2011 – 'Button Boxes and Moothies': Free Reed Convention, Aberdeen, 11-13 November.
- 2011 – XXVII European Seminar in Ethnomusicology (ESEM), 'Taking Part', University of Aberdeen, 15-19 September.
- 2011 – 'Remembering Harlaw', Elphinstone Institute and the Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen, Trinity Hall, Aberdeen, 9 June.
- 2010 – The North Atlantic Fiddle Convention, 'Roots and Routes', University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Institute, with University of Limerick, Ole Bull Academy and RSAMD, in partnership with Scottish Culture and Traditions (SC&T), 14-18 July.
- 2008 – 'Sacred Singing and Musical Spirituality', co-convenor, one-day conference of British Forum for Ethnomusicology, University of Aberdeen, 15 November.
- 2008 – (Consultant) The North Atlantic Fiddle Convention, 'Crossing Over', Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John's, Canada, 3-8 August, international conference and festival.
- 2007 – 'Button Boxes and Moothies': Free Reed Convention, Aberdeen, 26-28 October.
- 2007 – 'A Boorach and a Barrie Nicht': A Celebration of the Oral and Cultural Traditions of Scottish Travellers, Marischal College, 30 March.
- 2006 – The North Atlantic Fiddle Convention, 'Connecting Cultures', University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Institute, with Universities of Gothenburg and Limerick, and the Ole Bull Academy, Norway, international conference and festival, with SC&T, 26-30 July.
- 2004 – The Tam Reid Memorial Concert, Thainstone Centre, with TMSA.
- 2004 (in progress) – Director, The Boaties Craft Residency, Peterhead Maritime Heritage Centre, with Aberdeenshire CC, annual, June-August.
- 2004 – 'Ethnomusicology at Home', Annual Conference of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, University of Aberdeen, 15-18 April.
- 2003 – 'Button Boxes and Moothies': Free Reed Convention, 20-22 November, workshops, concerts, lectures, with RSAMD.
- 2002-2005 – 'The Traditional Storytelling Weekend', Woodend Barn, Banchory, with Woodend Arts, May weekend.
- 2002 – 'Hugh Miller in Context', 10-12 October, with Lester Borley of Cromarty Arts, Cromarty.
- 2001 – The North Atlantic Fiddle Convention: Crossing Boundaries', University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Institute, 25-29 July, with Universities of Bergen, Gothenburg, Limerick, and University College Cape Breton, international conference and festival.
- 2000 – 'Local Schools and National Schooling: Education in North-East Scotland', University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Institute, 23 September
- 2000 (in progress) – Director, The Traditional Singing Weekend at Cullerlie, Aberdeenshire, annual festival, in progress.
- 2000 – 'The Popular and Traditional Songs of North-East Scotland', University of Aberdeen, Elphinstone Institute, 6 May.
- 1998 – 'Folksong: Tradition and Revival', for the Centenary of the Founding of the Folk Song Society, at the University of Sheffield, Department of Music, NATCECT, and EFDSS, 10-12 July.
- 1997 – English Traditional Singing Weekend, Eyam, Derbyshire, festival, 8-9 November.
- 1994 (in progress) – Director, The Festival of Village Carols, Grenoside, Sheffield, biennial festival, 3 December, in progress.