Report on the 5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies

By Natalie Hyacinth

I had a fantastic time at the University of Edinburgh for the 5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies.

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The conference took place over 3 days from Wednesday 10th June – Friday 12th June 2015. The venue itself was an exciting space to be, with the famous and beautiful Arthur’s Seat providing a very scenic and charming backdrop. It was also my first time in Edinburgh and I was thoroughly blown away by the sheer natural beauty of the city.

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Sharing Memories Coffee Morning, Our Lady and St Joseph’s Church hall, Thursday 25th June

After morning mass on Thursday 25th June, a bright and sunny morning, we hosted a coffee morning for parishioners at Our Lady and St Joseph’s Church. The aim of the coffee morning was to tell them about our research project and to learn more about the history of this faith community. The original church of Our Lady and St Joseph’s in Hanwell was built by Edward Pugin in 1860.

The original Our Lady and St. Joseph's church Source: Essen, R. (2001) Britain in Old Photographs: Ealing, Hanwell and Greenford. Sutton Publishing, Stroud.

The original Our Lady and St. Joseph’s church
Source: Essen, R. (2001) Britain in Old Photographs: Ealing, Hanwell and Greenford. Sutton Publishing, Stroud.

The original Our Lady and St. Joseph church. Source: OLSJ booklet

The original Our Lady and St. Joseph church.
Source: OLSJ booklet

A service in the old church Source: OLSJ booklet

A service in the old church
Source: OLSJ booklet

It provided a spiritual and social centre for the Irish migrant workers building the viaduct and Great Western Railway and it was to remain a predominantly Irish parish for a century. However it is now a diverse multi-ethnic parish with parishioners from Africa, the Caribbean, India and Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Poland and many other parts of the world. As the congregation expanded a larger modern church was constructed in 1967.

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Making Suburban Faith at Hanwell Carnival

Making Suburban Faith at Hanwell Carnival, 20th June 2015, 2-6pm

The MSF Team in front of our stall at the Hanwell Carnival. Left to right: Dr. Claire Dwyer, Christian Sayer, Dr. Nazneen Ahmed, Natalie Hyacinth

The MSF Team in front of our stall at the Hanwell Carnival.
Left to right: Dr. Claire Dwyer, Christian Sayer, Dr. Nazneen Ahmed, Natalie Hyacinth Photo: Liz Hingley

As part of the Connected Communities Festival 2015 we took our Making Suburban Faith stall to Hanwell Carnival on 20th June 2015. Our interest in the carnival was first as a great community event where we would have the opportunity to meet members of the public and engage them with our research. However the Carnival, which was established in 1898 and is thus the oldest carnival in London, has an important place in understanding the making of suburban faith. The carnival, a secular event organised initially to raise money for the local hospital, has interesting religious connections. Members of churches and other faith communities have always participated in the carnival and we have images of carnival floats organised by local churches dating back to the 1920s. There were also Thanksgiving services held on the Sunday after the Carnival, and there are records of these held outside in Hanwell Broadway or Ethorne Park in the 1920s and 1930s. These continued in the park and in local churches including St Thomas’ Church, St Mary’s Church and Hanwell Methodist Church until the last recorded service of thanksgiving in 1996 at St Mellitus Church. Today the intertwining of religious and secular processions are evident in the annual Beating the Bounds walk revived by the Carnival Committee as a fundraiser.

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Beating the Bounds Podcast

Participants at the start of the Beating the Bounds walk

Participants at the start of the Beating the Bounds walk Photo: Laura Cuch

A similar group of Beating the Bounds participants outside the Fox and Grove on Hanger Lane in 1887 source: Ealing As It Was, Hendon Publishing 1993

A similar group of Beating the Bounds participants outside the Fox and Grove on Hanger Lane in 1887
source: Ealing As It Was, Hendon Publishing 1993

This is a podcast made by the Making Suburban Faith team when we took part in the Beating the Bounds walk on May Bank Holiday Monday 2015. Beating the Bounds is an ancient tradition, carried out once a year when the parish priest, churchwardens and congregation would walk around the formal boundary of the parish. They would mark the boundary stones of the parish, sometimes by ‘bumping’ the boys of the parish on the stones. The walk served a practical purpose to determine the true extent of the parish, ensuring the extent of those required to contribute to the church, or who might require its services, such as burial. The young boys were supposed to ensure that this knowledge of the parish boundaries was passed on through oral tradition.

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Home and Art

by Laura Cuch

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On Friday 1st May I gave a presentation at the workshop Home and Art: Creating and Researching Home at the Geffrye Museum, organized by the Centre for Studies of Home at Queen Mary University.
My presentation ‘The Best Place in The World’: A Biography of home was a performance that consisted of a carousel slide projection of my photographic project ‘The Best Place in The World’ alongside a reading combining personal biographical narratives with academic interpretations on notions of home.

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Ganpati on the Move

Dr. Nazneen Ahmed

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My retired father in law has been unusually busy this week. He’s had several trips to Wickes, all his tools are strewn over the dining room table, and the room hums daily with the sounds of banging and drilling. He’s relocating our family’s shrine to Ganpati.

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Everyday Muslim Symposium: Islamic Design in Wartime Britain

    Everyday Muslim Symposium: Islamic Design in Wartime Britain

Dr. Nazneen Ahmed

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Writing my paper for Everyday Muslim way back in January was an interesting experience. While the material I was drawing on was related to East London, and based on work I did for my previous role researching Muslim histories of East London for “Religion, Space and Migration in East London, 1880-present”, it seemed in the writing of the presentation that I was looking at this material anew, with my Making Suburban Faith eyes. For the archival issues I chose to present, and the material I spoke about from the East London Mosque Archives, were all relevant and spoke to themes on Making Suburban Faith. In the first half of my paper, I considered the problems we face when approaching formal archival repositories in order to recuperate British Muslim histories, a challenge we face in West London too, to an even greater extent. In the second half of my paper I did what I love to do best – show archival treasures and tell their stories. In particular, ideas of everyday vernacular makings, creativity, and design were foremount in my mind when I was putting my presentation together and these ideas really transformed the way I was looking at the material I had found.

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Drums, tin whistles or the organ: migration, transnationalism and Catholicism

I’ve long been fascinated by the intersections of migration, transnationalism and Catholicism – for me it’s biographical as well as integral to our research project. Growing up my Catholic class mates included many Italians and Poles, as well as those of Irish ancestry like myself. As a student working in a Catholic mission in Calcutta I learned new forms of Catholic practice – removing shoes before entering the chapel, garlanding of favourite statues – suggesting the hybridities of Indian Christianity. In West London my sons attend Catholic schools which are much more diverse than mine in 1970s Hertfordshire – their friends are of Irish, Afro-Caribbean, Polish, French African, Lithuanian, Filipino, Eritrean, Sri Lankan, Italian ancestry – Catholic identities are ‘superdiverse’ and transnational here. At their primary school all the national saints days were celebrated, ethnic cuisine stalls vied with each other at the school fete and the head teacher introduced a self-conscious performance of Britishness by the singing of the national anthem once a year at the awards assembly (which never went down well with the Irish parents!)

On 25th February I acted as a discussant at the workshop Migration, Transnationalism and Catholicism held at SPRC organised by Dominic Pasura and Marta Bivand Erdal. The workshop sought a comparative approach to how contemporary international migration and transnationalism affects Catholicism both as practice and institutionally. The workshop’s comparative focus highlighted some interesting ideas for our project. Historian Sara Roddy’s discussion of the impact of mass migration on the Catholic Church in Ireland offered a useful corrective to ahistorical accounts of religious transnationalism, reflecting on the ‘Irish Spiritual Empire’ and the harnessing of remittances from the Irish diaspora to church building projects back in the homeland in the late nineteenth century. It offered another perspective to our own reflections on the Irish Catholic migrants in Ealing in the 1850s, working as navvies building Brunel’s railway, and forging new faith communities in West London while maintaining links to their homeland.

The Polish Church in Ealing was founded by the post-war émigré community in West London, hosted first as a Polish service in other churches before gaining a former Methodist Church in 1984. It maintains an institutional relationship with the Catholic Church in Poland – rather than coming under the jurisdiction of the English Bishop’s Conference – and provides services and sacraments in Polish to the émigré generation, their children and grandchildren and new Polish migrants in London. Louise Ryan’s paper outlined some of the institutional dilemmas for the Catholic Church in the UK of such ethnic chaplaincies. Should new migrants be encouraged to ‘integrate’ in local parishes? And what traditions of Catholicism are they ‘integrating’ into? What are the benefits of retaining worship practices and traditions from ‘home’? Dominic Pasura offered an insightful into the experiences of Zimbabwean Catholics of the forms of worship in ordinary ‘English’ Catholic churches. The migrants described mass as ‘rather flat’ and lacking the energy of their home churches – they wanted drums not the piano!

In our project we’re interesting in finding out how different musical and performative traditions are negotiated and created in different suburban spaces. Is there room for drums, the organ and Irish dancing in suburban Catholic churches which have congregations with diverse ethnic backgrounds and religious traditions? How are diverse religious practices and performances of Catholicism accommodated within the space of the church? Are the material cultures of different forms of Catholicism combined or blended through migration?

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Afro-Caribbean dance group performing at an international evening at Our Lady and St Joseph’s Church, Hanwell

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Blessing of the Easter baskets, Our Lady Mother of the Church, Ealing

Republished with permission of Testigo

Report on the Weeks Centre, Choir Symposium, London South Bank University

Natalie Hyacinth
PhD Researcher
Departments of Geography & Music
Royal Holloway University of London

“If you can walk, you can dance, if you can talk, you can sing!”- African proverb

I had the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful and stimulating day at London South Bank University’s Weeks Centre Choir Symposium on Friday 30th January 2015. The Symposium’s full title, ‘Singing from the Same Hymn Sheet? The Role of Choirs and Collective Belonging?’ hardly does justice to diversity of the speakers and ideas presented throughout the day.

The Symposium’s aim was to explore “the embodied, affective experience of group singing and how these spaces can be used to create social and political connections, perform gendered roles and evoke a shared purpose beyond the congregation”. The Symposium was divided into 3 broad theoretical sections; Religion, Community Activism and Gender. David Gilbert and I presented our paper, ‘Music, singing and creativity in suburban faith communities’ in the first section of the Symposium. David opened our presentation by detailing the key themes and objectives of the Making Suburban Faith project, highlighting the collaborative, artistic and practice based nature of the project.

Following on from David, I spoke specifically about Making Suburban Faith’s first project visit to some of the potential case study sites, and my initial impressions of three of the faith spaces we visited on the day. I began with a Pentecostal Church and told of my surprise at discovering the incredible spatial dynamics of the building, with renovation being undertaken over the years to transform it from a former theatre and cinema to the large worship space it is today. I think I managed to convey to the audience somehow that this was certainly a site and space to behold! I suggested that the diversity that is to be found within the Pentecostal congregation reveals not only the multi-faceted nature of suburbs but also the diverse and exciting nature of the sacred music itself that is produced on these sites.

Next I spoke about our experience at a local Hindu Temple and played a sound recording of the holy men’s singing taken during a traditional Hindu ritual. I presented to the audience an idea that I had formed that had been inspired by this ritual, namely the ‘choir of the one’, meaning singing to and for others as a form of embodied group meditation.

Lastly I touched upon the importance of the physical acoustics of sacred space in the production of sound. I spoke of the interesting insight from one Anglican priest of about how intoning on one note was not always necessarily due to taste, but in fact due to the acoustics of traditional cathedrals. I later discovered from another presenter that there was indeed a perceived ‘perfect’ note for perfect cathedral acoustic resonance, and that this was a #D sharp! To conclude I reiterated David’s opening remarks about the collaborative and creative nature of the Making Suburban Faith project and at my excitement at being given the opportunity to share my early experiences with knowledgeable and friendly colleagues.

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Thankfully, we received much positive and encouraging feedback regarding our presentation and my confidence at presenting ideas has definitely developed through this great experience. So despite being a little nervous about my first conference presentation, I am pleased to say I think it went rather well! So I am very appreciative to Dr Emily Falconer for accepting our paper and presentation of a project in its very early stages and to David for his encouragement and support.

The conference itself provided for me much food for thought and connections to other academics working within the interconnected fields of music, faith, embodiment and affect. The first section of the Symposium which focussed upon Religion and singing provoked many interesting thoughts and ideas on how faith and music supports and sometimes opposes one another. We saw this with Ambrose Hogan’s presentation, ‘Continuity and Change in Catholic practice: Dominican Chant, the collective in song, oral traditions and scholarly reconstructions’ which spoke upon liturgy and the song pleas to a ‘transcendent feminine’. Following on from his presentation an interesting discussion took place between Ambrose and Rev Professor June Boyce-Tillman who touched upon the ways in which the liturgical pursuit of the transcendent or ‘divine feminine’ at times simultaneously espoused a denial of the priesthood of the human woman. Ambrose concluded his presentation with the idea that the pursuit of the feminine also included his (male) pursuit of the feminine in real form, meaning the inclusion of the female into real religious practice. Thus from the very beginning of the conference, the gendered nature of faith practice was talked through and examined.

Rev Professor Tillman provided a very central and impactful presentation of her own entitled; ‘Choral improvisation and community creation- Giving difference a dignity.’ Rev Professor Tillman referenced Emmanuel Levinas’ concept that one must allow the Other a distinct identity if the Other is to ever truly embody full societal existence. For me the central question of Rev Professor Tillman’s presentation was; “How do we truly embrace diversity?” I felt Rev Professor Tillman’s presentation of her ‘Space for Peace’ programme provided an excellent and practical answer to this question, a project which I hope to collaborate with in the future. ‘Space for Peace’ is an interfaith event where choirs of different faith groups converge to sing to celebrate their faiths as well as others. Interestingly, the event does not have a programme, but a ‘map’ for participants to use so they are able to move in and between the different faith spaces within the larger space of Winchester Cathedral. I believe this helps bring about an improvisatory and spontaneous nature to the event which I will try to use for future inspiration for my own PhD research pieces.

The ‘Community Activism’ section of the Symposium opened with Dr Rebecca Bramall’s presentation ‘Sing while you work: the ‘rise of the choir’ in austerity’. Dr Bramall’s paper raised interesting political questions about the ways in which the seeming commercialization of choirs through programmes such as the BBC’s ‘Sing While You Work’, highlight the austerity politics of the workplace and the rise of the concept of employee ‘well being’. It was interesting to think of the ways in which choirs had been used to offset the rising levels of stress in the workplace since the 2008 financial crisis.

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Dr Gavin Brown’s paper, ‘Rousing Solidarity: the practices of choral singing in British anti-apartheid protests’ proved to be a fascinating political history of the anti apartheid non-stop picket movement that took place outside London’s South African embassy between 1986-1990. Dr Brown explained how collective singing helped alleviate “boredom” at times experienced by campaigners camped out on the picket. DDdespite the sometime popular imagination of radical street politics as always “thrilling”, political opposition is at times something as stationary as sitting in a tent night after night in freezing London temperatures. Dr Brown showed that the repetitive group singing of protest songs, sometimes in unknown Africa Zulu languages, lifted the collective spirits of the protesters in these times. Choral singing helped mobilise the picketers for an impending assault on the picket camp from the police or South African representatives. I learned from this paper that at times the perfect creative expression of human solidarity can be heard through song.

Dr Eiluned Pearce’s presentation, ‘Singing Together: Uncovering evolved mechanisms for community cohesion’ focussed on the biological and evolutionary explanations of community song and asked two important questions; “How do humans create and maintain social networks?” and “Is singing special?” In what Dr Pearce terms the “Ice Breaker Effect”, singing is indeed particularly special as her research showed that singing appears to genuinely bond people after just an hour of singing together, even if they have not previously met each other. Thus Dr Pearce’s research raised another interesting question, “Does there need to be an end goal to create bonds with outsiders..?” There is no doubt that many people immediately feel a closer bond to someone they have sung with, thus singing could be said to provide a fast route to community cohesion.

Shilpa Shah presented a beautiful, intimate and moving portrait of the development of her female choir group, ‘My Heart Sings’, for her presentation entitled, “Women’s Choirs: race, feminism and intersectionality.” Shilpa recounted her personal journey and motivation for starting a women’s choir and through this spoke of “cultural assimilation as a survival strategy”, a phrase I felt we all could understand. Shilpa spoke of the literal importance for her, and others in similar positions finding their own voices in a chorus of hope and cultural unity. I found that Shilpa’s talk resonated deeply for me especially when she touched upon finding a place in society where one feels comfortable to be themselves and the support and encouragement one can receive when bonding and working with others. Touching and poignant are some of the positive words I would use to describe this incredibly thought provoking piece by Shilpa, who was also joined towards the end by other members of her ‘My Heart Sings’ female choir group.

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The Symposium was beautifully closed with an impromptu and fun conference sing- along led by Dominic Stichbury of ‘Chaps Choir’. I must say this was the first time I have sung collectively in a while…and it was such a joyous experience to be a part of! Altogether the Choir Symposium was a fantastic and thought provoking day of which I feel very happy I was a part of.

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I would like to thank once again Dr Emily Falconer for organising the event and all the supportive colleagues who offered to me words of encouragement and fresh interesting insights for my PhD research. Such a wonderful day!!