Dr Emma Hornby is senior lecturer in Music at the University of Bristol. She is an expert in early medieval chant and has written about various chant genres within the Gregorian, Old Roman, Milanese and Old Hispanic traditions.
Q. What projects are you currently working on?
At the moment, I'm working on several projects connected with what people sang on the Iberian Peninsula before Gregorian chant, a period that ends in the 1080s. We have some manuscripts; the only thing is that in order to be able to read them, you need to know how the melody goes, but there are no surviving manuscripts to provide any clues about that. Although we may have a general idea about the shape of the music, that is we know where it goes up and down, we do not know what the particular intervals are. This kind of research is really exciting. I collaborate with Rebecca Maloy, from the University of Colorado (Boulder), and we’ve just written a book and several articles together. Now we're getting ready to put together our next big research project.
I also conduct a 15-strong female choir Schola Cantorum. In 2009, everything we did was related to old Hispanic chant. We ran workshops and lecture recitals in Bristol, London, Leeds, and various other places. One workshop I particularly remember was at St Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol, where we invited members of the public to come and sing with us. In the evening we did a meditation led by the vicar, and the Old Hispanic chant came from the few bits we could transcribe from that period. There were members of the public singing this music – music that's over 1000 years old - in a church context. It was amazing.
Q. What first attracted you to studying the Arts?
I knew I was going to be a musician when I was 14, which is when I went to the Royal College of Music as a junior. Every Saturday, I would travel 70 miles on the train, then travel across London on my own. When you’re a musician, it's a vocation. I always knew I was going to either be a musician or work with music in some way. It’s completely bound up in my identity.
Q. How did you come to work in the Arts as a career?
I spent much of my degree in Oxford playing the oboe; I was running a student wind ensemble all the way through my undergraduate degree and we spent lots of our time playing at weddings and parties and giving concerts. As I was in the throes of my dissertation at the end of my 3rd year, it dawned on me what the whole academic music thing was about. I was a committed musician but until that point, I hadn't really been committed to the history of music. The dissertation definitely gave me the bug! I got in to teaching by chance really; when my college lost their expert on medieval music, I was asked to step in at short notice to do some revision sessions with students about to take their finals. As a result, I was asked to join the early music teaching the following year, and it gradually grew from there.
The fact that I had chosen a route into academia came as a gradual realisation. I can't say that I had a burning desire to be an academic when I was 18, but I love sharing my work. I mean, what other kind of job could you have where you get paid to talk to people for hours on end about your passion?
Q. What advice do you have for anyone thinking about studying in the Arts?
In the Department of Music, we're spoiled because most of our students have to do music at university simply because they can’t bear not to do it. They have so much passion and they're absolutely devoted to it. If you have such an intrinsic motivational force, you just need to follow it and take all the opportunities presented to develop your passion in any number of directions.
Q. If you could be any fictional character, who would you be and why?
Nancy Blackett in Swallows and Amazons. She is fearless and utterly competent, with an unbeatable taste in red knitted caps. What more could one aspire to?
Emma Hornby's lecture, Inscribed on the heart: the power of medieval music, is on Tuesday 18 October at 6 pm, in the Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road, BS8 1RJ. View full details on our programme or visit our booking facility via the link below to reserve a free place.
To find out more about Emma Hornby, visit her academic webpage.