Mary Richards (Darowen) and the collection of traditional Welsh folk songs (The Student Perspective)

Student: Dr Leila Salisbury
Company partner: Cwmni Cyhoeddi Curiad (Penygroes)
Academic Supervisor: Mr Wyn Thomas

The Project

Could you briefly outline your KESS project?

The title of my PhD was ‘Mary Richards ‘Darowen’ (1787-1877) and the Folk-Song Tradition of Montgomeryshire’. The project was divided into two sections: firstly researching the background, history and manuscript collections of Mary Richards as one of Wales’ first ethnomusicologists of the 19th century, and Wales’ first female folk-song collector; and secondly typesetting all of her tunes, which are kept at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

During my work placement with Cwmni Cyhoeddi Curiad I was to typeset and transcribe the music that would later be published through the company, creating a database of the company’s musical material, and to digitise the company’s documents.

Why do you think that this project was needed?

The project was needed in order to bring light to rare musical collections of the 19th century that were amongst the first collections of Welsh tunes recorded on paper. Although Iolo Morganwg is considered today as Wales’ first folksong collector, not many have heard of the contributions of Mary Richards from Darowen, near Machynlleth, to Welsh traditional music. In my doctoral thesis I argued that she was Wales’ first female folksong collector, following in the footsteps of Iolo Morganwg no doubt, but also creating new opportunities and opening new doors for women, because collecting, preserving and any type of antiquarian activity during that time was dominated by the contributions of men.

Do you feel that the project achieved what it set out to achieve?

Yes, I do think the project achieved what it had set out to achieve. From my perspective, as a student, I thought we kept very well to the brief. I produced two volumes for my PhD, outlining the background of Mary Richards collection and analysing the wider social context in the 19th century. The second volume was a transcription of all the tunes, background notes and editorial notes. There were no real unexpected results, what was unexpected was the vast number of tunes, we had not foreseen that she had collected so many, so many different manuscripts, this meant I was at Aberystwyth a lot longer that I’d anticipated, and the chapters varied considerably at the end.

The Company

In terms of the company itself, how have they benefitted from the research?

I have been typesetting and transcribing music for them to publish, so they could draw upon my expertise with the typesetting and transcribing to publishing the music. I created a database of all

the company’s musical material; until that point everything was paper based. So prior to this work being completed any potential clients phoning the company to ask for a piece of music for a choir, would have to receive a phone call back, then the staff member would need to look through all of the folders and the files to find the music, now they are able to search the database online. I also digitised all of the company’s documents, which included the contracts between themselves, the composers and the writers, this also made documents easier to find.

Could you say a few words about your experience of working with the company?

I loved working with the company because it drew upon my love and expertise of the history of Welsh music. It was nice to have different perspective of my work outside of the world of academia, which at times was refreshing.

In the work place I gained extensive experience of using software that was beneficial for my PhD and the work with the company, it developed my musical and technical skills and that helped with what I was doing day to day with the PhD, and with the company’s publications in the long term. I was also given the opportunity to use new and different software on digitising tonic sol-fa into modern notation which was beneficial for the company as well. When typesetting the music I could put the tonic sol-fa line in, a considerable number of males voice choirs wanted the tonic sol-fa and instead of sending work out, it could be done internally.


What do you think the benefit was to the company from working with the university?

The company were able to take advantage of the university’s expertise and the resources, this enabled them to seek additional funding and support, and they had grants and support that they could use for different types of equipment. Given that they were quite a small, traditional company they hadn’t been able to develop their technical equipment, but with the help of the university they were able to get these updates, which also included much needed software.

Do you think that there are further research opportunities that could be taken forward as a result of what you have studied?

Yes I do feel that there are opportunities for further research. Given the vast number of folk songs I was only able to do so much in terms of editorial notes on them (400-500 folk tunes in all). Nobody had seen them before, they were only manuscripts at the national library, so people can now go and see them, and they are accessible to the community.

There is the potential for further work to be done on the folk songs to create and to use them in the wider repertoire of today’s folk singers; there is an opportunity of going into depth in the background of those individual songs because I noted them quite broadly. I’m positive that there are interesting histories behind every song individually.

Could you let us know about activities that you have undertaken that are outside the company placement?

I have attended a number of conferences, all of which were in the field of Welsh music, and the best experience of presenting a paper was in Washington where I presented at the International Conference on Welsh Studies. It was odd that it wasn’t in Wales, but it was an excellent opportunity and strange because I kept seeing people that I know from here in Wales out in Washington.

My supervisor encouraged me to do a lot of papers, to get me into the practice of presenting from an early stage in my PhD, being in front of people helped a lot. I have been able to travel extensively through Wales to present different papers. I also chaired a session in Maynooth, Ireland, and presented to the congress of Celtic studies. Being encouraged and given these opportunities throughout the three years has been a fantastic experience for me and something I would not have been able to do if not for the KESS funding.

What has been the most memorable experience while undertaking the KESS PhD?

Being able to attend conferences like the one in Washington has been excellent, to be able to go to places like this wouldn’t have been possible if not for the funding that was in place, it was good. One of the good things about KESS was that whenever I went somewhere using the KESS funds, I reflected back on it in my quarterly reports, to be fair there was a lot of paperwork, but it was well worth it, you don’t just go through the three years blindly, it’s a continuously reflective process.

Is there anything else that you would like to add about your overall experience of KESS?

It’s been a memorable experience all round; being able to engage with a company worked really well, and because the hours weren’t set, I worked when the work came around and there was a need for my skills.

I had fantastic support from my supervisor; I think we had the support of KESS because we used it to our advantage. The different elements of the funding were there to support different aspects of the study and the research and the company work, so as a whole for me it was a good scheme.