Two members of staff in Reid School of Music have been awarded the Frances Densmore Prize by the American Musical Instrument Society. The prize is awarded annually for the most significant article-length publication in English.
The winners of the award are Dr Jenny Nex, the Musical Instruments Collection Curator, and Dr Lance Whitehead, a tutor. The article, ‘The Insurance of Musical London and the Sun Fire Office 1710–1779’ which was published in The Gaplin Society Journal in 2014, brought to light numerous musical instrument makers who were not previously known.
“It led to a much greater awareness of women’s contributions to the trade, and hence to a broader picture of musical life which examines more than just the male heads of firms,” said Jenny, “You can also see how much the music trade grew through the 18th century, with London developing its role as a major hub for musicians from all over Europe.”
Jenny and Lance originally met when they were both studying at University of Edinburgh, and got married in 1994. They have collaborated on a number of research projects since then.
“Choosing the topic was a bit of a lucky accident,” said Jenny, “Before returning to Edinburgh in 2013, Lance and I both worked at the Royal College of Music in London and our roles within the museum there included research. We took the opportunity to explore the archives in various Greater London archives and libraries, and one day Lance stumbled across the Sun Fire Insurance records at the Guildhall Library (they have since been transferred to London Metropolitan Archives). These have been used by historians for some years, but no-one had really looked into the musical side.”
As well as being the Musical Instruments Museum Curator, Jenny teaches and supervises students at the university. She is interested in how musical instruments fit in to wider social contexts and what influences beyond the purely musical may drive changes in instrument design.
“In research methods, I explore what different types of resource can tell us and to be open to things which may at first appear to be odd places to look. Having a browse and a rummage can still be a productive way of finding sources, even with online access and improved cataloguing. Thinking about why a document was created is very important when drawing information from it as everything was written for a reason and that reason will influence the nuancing of the text and hence what can and cannot be concluded.”
“It is an honour to be recognised by the American Musical Instrument Society, as well as a surprise,” said Jenny, “Any recognition by one’s peers and by an important international organisation is humbling, but also encouraging. It makes you want to go and do more, and to do it better!”