The Ritual Year Conference 2016: Findhorn, Scotland, 8-12 January 2016

The 12th annual conference of the SIEF Working Group on the Ritual Year, hosted by the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen, will be held at Findhorn, on the shores of the Moray Firth in northern Scotland.

The centrepiece of the conference will be a visit to the Burning of the Clavie, an ancient New Year fire festival in the neighbouring village of Burghead, held each year on 11 January, Aul Eel (Old Yule) according to the Julian calendar.

Free-Reed Convention Study Day

6 November 2015
Sponsored by the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, this study day was part of the Button Boxes and Moothies Festival, and explored the role and function of free-reed instruments in musical traditions throughout the world.

'Steppin Steens o Knowledge': Folklore, Ethnology, and Ethnomusicology Conference, Aberdeen (FEECA)

4–6 July 2014

Byron Dueck giving keynote addressFEECA was organized to answer the need for an academic forum for postgraduate research students and early-career researchers and to strengthen relations between relevant scholars and institutions in the UK and elsewhere.

‘Steppin Steens o Knowledge’ (Stepping Stones of Knowledge) refers to a life philosophy of the late Stanley Robertson, a Traveller and former research associate at the Elphinstone Institute. Drawn from the incremental nature of Stanley’s ballad and storytelling traditions, the concept encapsulates both the initial career steps being taken by conference-goers, as well as the new ‘steppin steens’ being created through each participant’s research.

FEECA Conference Excursion, Dunnottar CastleThe conference was a great success, demonstrating that strong research in Folklore, Ethnology, and Ethnomusicology is being conducted around the world. Indeed, the conference attracted delegates from Europe, Australia, North America, and South Asia.

See the conference programme here.


The conference was made possible thanks to the generous support of the University of Aberdeen Development Trust, the School of Education, and the Friends of the Elphinstone Institute.

The International Ballad Conference of the Kommission fur Volksdichtung

29 August–3 September 2007

Man and woman talking in front of Highland black houseThe conference was themed around 'Songs of People on the Move', a productive idea that led to some fascinating explorations of the world of singers and their songs. Selected refereed papers have been published as Songs of People on the Move edited by Thomas A. McKean. The conference was held at The Balmacara Hotel, Balmacara, Lochalsh, Scotland. We featured four days of papers and an excursion through north Skye, as well as singing sessions and concerts.

North Atlantic Fiddle Convention, 2006

At the heart of the NAFCo idea is the synergy created by the combination of an academic conference and a performance  celebration. The 2006 theme of Connecting Cultures in tradition provided a  unique forum for papers on the role of the fiddler (or dancer), musical  interplay with dance, socialization and competition, leadership and  transmission, tradition and innovation, and cross-cultural relationships. We were privileged to be addressed by four eminent keynote speakers.

Two profile picturesDr Alan Jabbour is former Head of the  American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, a position he held from 1976 to 1999. In ‘Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier’, Dr Jabbour spoke about the relationship between Old World and New World fiddle  traditions, advancing the proposition that all the modern regional fiddle  traditions of the English-speaking world are cultural cousins – born of a wider revolution in instrumental music and dance in the last half of the eighteenth century – a revolution for which the democratized Italian violin was the central catalyzing instrument.

Professor Colin Quigley, then of the World  Arts and Cultures Department at the University of California at Los Angeles, has  researched the inter-relationship of fiddle music and dance in Newfoundland and  Eastern Europe. In ‘Dancing Bows and Musical Feet’, he considered rhythm as the most defining characteristic of local and regional style in fiddling around the North Atlantic, and especially within Canada where so much  melodic material is widely shared.

Two profile photosProfessor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin,  Director of the Irish World Music Centre at the University of Limerick, is both an outstanding performer and a respected scholar. He discussed the remarkable fiddle traditions upheld by Gypsy Travellers in Ireland, most notably the fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988), with whom he undertook fieldwork.

Dr Peter Cooke, formerly of the School of Scottish Studies and the Department of Music at Edinburgh University, is an eminent ethnomusicologist whose research areas include both Scotland and West Africa. Dr Cooke revisited his groundbreaking study of the Shetland tradition and the world of fiddle music he encountered there when he undertook his fieldwork between 1970 and 1980.

One of the great strengths of NAFCo is  that it draws on scholars who are also fine performers, as is Mícheál Ó  Súilleabháin. This is also true of Alan Jabbour, who is a wonderful ‘Old Time’  fiddler, in the style of the Upper South, who learnt from musicians like Henry Reed of Glen Lyn, Virginia, and Tommy Jarrell of Toast, North Carolina. Other performer/scholars who offered papers include Richard Blaustein of East Tennessee State University, Matt Cranitch and Mats Melin of the University of Limerick, Katherine Campbell of the University of Edinburgh, Catriona Macdonald and Kathryn Tickell of the University of Newcastle, Kimberly Fraser of Saint  Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Karin Eriksson and Mats Nilsson of the University of Gothenburg, Sherry Johnson of York University, Toronto, Gaila  Kirdiene of the Lithuanian Academy of  Music and Theatre, and Mary Anne Alburger of the Elphinstone Institute.