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History in the Making

By June 1, 2015 March 23rd, 2016 Interviews-Leeds
Dr Stephen Muir

Dr Stephen Muir, senior lecturer at the University of Leeds’ School of Music, speaks to JLife’s Kirsty Plowman about his latest project ‘Performing the Jewish Archive.’


For most of us, having the opportunity to combine work and pleasure is nothing but a distant dream but for Dr Stephen Muir it’s a different story. Having been a singer all his life Dr Muir has worked in music for the last 22 years, and now as the principal investigator for ‘Performing the Jewish Archive’ he has once again struck lucky.


“Becoming involved with this project was a natural step in my academic and artistic career,” said Dr Muir, a senior lecturer for the University of Leeds’ School of Music.


“Performing the Jewish Archive’ is a major international arts research project which has been awarded a grant of £1.5 million by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the UK under the theme ‘Care for the Future: Thinking Forward Through the Past”.


It was only around six or seven years ago that Dr Muir became interested in Jewish music, and it was during his recent studies that the project came together.


“My recent research has focused on the musical documentation of Russian and Polish Jewish composers who found their way to South Africa through displacement and migration. At the same time, other team members were doing their own separate research into the music and theatre of Jewish artists from a similar period in history and so it was a timely meeting of minds,” he said.


The 40-month project involves a multidisciplinary team of 12 colleagues (eight researchers, a project manager and three PhD students) from the University of Leeds, University of York, University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.


The team will explore archives, develop performances and workshops with community and educational groups, mount five international performance festivals and create an interactive website of archives and performances.


Dr Muir added: “The project will bring rediscovered music and theatrical works by Jewish artists to public attention. As well as performing material that has lain dormant, forgotten, hidden or lost, the grant will enable the creation of new works out of existing archives.”


Although the project is in its early days, a successful response has already been noted. He said: “The project has been received very enthusiastically so far with some global press interest and a number of new offers for collaboration and partnership.”


While based in Leeds, the support of the international teams in America and Australia will help secure a global audience for the project.


“Our international colleagues will be crucial to our international profile and activities, which include five international performance festivals. We are also working with major partners such as the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Anne Frank Trust and world renowned performers such as the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.”


Back in Leeds, the team are keen to work with community organisations to facilitate public engagement at the events and activities. Currently – alongside Leeds-based Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association – the team are developing a series of interactive school workshops.


Dr Muir said: “A number of events (performances, concerts, talks, exhibitions etc.) will be open to the local community during the course of the project. Members of the community wanting to keep up to date with the project are encouraged to visit our website and join the project mailing list.


“It is very early days so it is hoped that the project’s archival documents will accumulate over the next three years and will ultimately be available via the project’s interactive website.”


For more details, visit Ptja.leeds.ac.uk.


Upcoming Events

• A free evening talk: ‘The Music of Jewish Prayer: Unearthing Layers of Liturgical Chant and Song’ on 16th June from 8pm-9.30pm at the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, University of Leeds.


• A choral concert: ‘One Little Goat’: new discoveries in Jewish choral music on 17th June from 8pm-9.30pm at the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, University of Leeds.


• A one day ‘Festival of Jewish Performing Arts’ at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA on 30th August. Ideas from this festival will feed into the Leeds and York Festival which is taking place in early June 2016 – sign up to the mailing list to be the first to hear when the date is confirmed.