Music, Spirituality and Genre Study Day: Abstracts


10-11am Session 1: Conceptual Frameworks

Dr Brian Inglis (Middlesex University): Music, Spirituality and Mysticism

Sound and music have often been linked with mystical and visionary states, from the multimedia visions of St Hildegard of Bingen (which reportedly gave rise to her chant compositions) to Margery Kempe’s auditory vision of heavenly melodies and birdsong. In this paper, I use a number of authors’ definitions and categorisations of mystical spirituality to explore how it can be manifested in and through music. Examples from Hildegard, Couperin, Arvo Part and Peter Maxwell Davies explore the musical encoding of spiritual ecstasy; musical signs; and musical processes analogous to spiritual ones.

Dr Brian Inglis is Senior Lecturer and BA Music Programme Leader at Middlesex University. Born in Germany, he studied at Durham University and City University London, gaining a PhD in music composition and analysis in 1999. He is a Trustee and Board member of record company and events promoter Nonclassical; a member of the editorial board of the Journal of the Royal Musical Association; and a steering group member of Music, Spirituality and Wellbeing International. A composer and musicologist, his music is published by Composers Edition and Forton Music, and his releases include a solo album, Living Stones (Sargasso). He has published articles, editions and chapters with Tempo, Revista Vortex, Routledge, Cambridge Scholars, and in Peter Lang’s Music and Spirituality series edited by Rev Prof. June Boyce-Tillman.

Prof Fae Brauer (University of East London): Composing ‘Symmorphies’: Chromaticism, Astral Vision and Kupka’s Cosmological Abstractions 

The concepts of chromatism in music and musicality in colour became vital for achieving František Kupka’s cosmological abstractions he called “symmorphies” that, he said, “like a symphony will develop in space”. To explore how this happened, the impact of the compositions of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel upon Kupka from the time he moved to Paris in 1896, shall be initially examined, alongside the ‘Bach revival’. To consider why, by 1905, Kupka called his paintings “concepts, syntheses, chords”, Kupka’s research into the interrelationship of visual art and music to colours, feelings, sound, light and water shall be explored, alongside his engagement with Spiritism and Theosophy, particularly Annie Besant’s and C. W. Leadbeater’s Thought-Forms and The Astral Plane, plus Léon Lefranc’s Le Corps Astral du vivant. Given Kupka’s clairvoyance and renown as a medium with distinctive psychic power, his relationship to art, music and mesmeric cultures shall be illuminated by an exploration of the magnetic photography of phantoms being conducted by Hector Durville’s Société Magnétique de France and the photography of performers mesmerized by Albert de Rochas. After examining Ravel’s piano solo, Les Jeux d’eau; Debussy’s La Mer and their chromatic scales correlating to Kupka’s Piano Keys – Lake, the interrelationship of cosmology, astrophysics, astrophotography and Bach’s fugues to Kupka’s Astral Vision and Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colours shall then be explored in order to ascertain the constellation of conditions in which Kupka composed his paintings as “symmorphies”.  

Fae (Fay) Brauer is Professor Emeritus of Art and Visual Culture at the University of East London Centre for Cultural Studies Research, Commissioning Editor for the Radical Cultural Studies Series with Rowman & Littlefield International and an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts with MA and PhD from The Courtauld Institute of Art. Her interdisciplinary books include Vitalist Modernism: Art, New Energies and Creative Evolution; Picturing Evolution and Extinction: Degeneration and Regeneration in Modern Visual Cultures; The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms and Visual Culture; Art, Sex and Eugenics: Corpus Delecti, and Rivals and Conspirators: The Paris Salons and the Modern Art Centre. 

11.15am-12.45pm Session 2: Popular musics across time & place

Prof. June Boyce-Tillman (North West University, South Africa): Songs of the subjugated – The sacred Victorian bourgeois ballad

The Victorian bourgeois Ballad is a distinctive genre (Scott 1989).  this paper will examine in detail four examples of the genre – The Lost Chord, The Holy City, Arise O Sun and The Volunteer Organist to examine the spirituality of the genre in terms of the materials used, the musical construction, the value system underpinning it and the expressive character (Boyce-Tillman 2014). It will interrogate the place of the spirituality in the lives of the people with whom they were popular and its role in their social life, drawing on the author’s own experience. It was also a genre in which women excelled and this will be examined culturally and where the spirituality sits culturally drawing on Foucault’s notion of subjugated knowing (Boyce-Tillman 2000). 


Boyce-Tillman, J.B. (2000), Constructing Musical Healing: The Wounds that Sing, London: Jessica Kingsley 

Boyce-Tillman, June (2016). Experiencing Music – Restoring the Spiritual. Oxford: Peter Lang. 

Scott, Derek (1989). The Singing Bourgeois : Songs of the Victorian Drawing Room and Parlour. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd 

The Rev Professor June Boyce-Tillman MBE is Professor Emerita of Applied Music at the University of Winchester and Extra-Ordinary Professor at North West University, South Africa. Her work in education has been translated into five languages.  She has published widely in the area of music, wellbeing and spirituality and is a hymn writer. She is the convenor of Music Spirituality and Wellbeing International ( and editor of the Peter Lang book series on Music and Spirituality.  She is an ordained Anglican priest. 


Mike Dines (Middlesex University): Tracing the Sacred Thread: Exploring the Sonic Theology of Krishnacore

Drawing upon previous research, this presentation looks at the origins of the Krishnacore scene, a phenomenon born from the amalgamation of American straightedge punk and the Hare Krishna Movement in the 1990s. It argues that whilst shared choices of lifestyle, such as vegetarianism and a distaste for intoxicants and illicit sex, were core tenets towards the conception of the scene, it was bhakti-yoga (the theological and philosophical basis of the Hare Krishna Movement) that cemented such a relationship. Furthermore, it also explores the aesthetic context of punk within a Vedic context, in particular with reference to what is termed as ‘Nada-Brahma’, or the sacralisation of sound, drawing upon ethnographic research with regards two key musicians within the contemporary scene.

Mike Dines is Co-Pathway Leader for Popular Music at Middlesex University. His publications include The Aesthetics of Our Anger: Anarcho-Punk, Politics, Music (Autonomedia/Minor Compositions, 2016), Punk Pedagogies: Music, Culture and Learning (Routledge, 2017), The Punk Reader: Research Transmissions from the Local and the Global (Intellect, 2019), Punk Now!! Contemporary Perspectives on Punk (Intellect, 2020), Trans-Global Punk Scenes: The Punk Reader Vol. 2 (Intellect, 2021) and Punk Identities, Punk Utopias: Global Punk and Media (Intellect 2021). He has also written chapters for The Oxford Handbook of Punk Rock (Oxford University Press, 2021) and The Oxford Handbook of Global Popular Music (Oxford University Press, 2021).


Matthew Williams (Bristol University): Stormzy and the Spiritual Re-enchantment of our Secular Age 

The term ‘secularisation’ (as utilised by Max Weber) refers to the existence of a societal milieu that does not include God. Secularisation theory proposed that the modernisation of society across the West would lead to ‘entzauberung’ (disenchantment). Eventually, society would be devoid of belief in the transcendent. The philosopher Charles Taylor (2007) challenges this theory by suggesting (with some qualifying factors) that the re-enchantment of the West better describes the secular age we occupy. Taylor submits that we can perceive the re-enchantment of this secular age through the human relationship with art. The presence of African American gospel music stylisation in secular pop (in the form of what I term gospel codes) is one example of this re-enchantment. While an uninitiated person may not explicitly link certain performance stylisations to a personal experience of the black church, tacit knowledge of these signs supports the evocation of the transcendent. Tacit knowledge is implicit knowledge (instead of formal, codified or explicit knowledge). Through a case study about the performance of ‘Blinded by Your Grace’ by Stormzy at Glastonbury festival 2019, I will demonstrate that gospel codes in pop music have spiritual significance in re-enchanting Western society. 

Matthew Williams is a final year musicology PhD candidate at the University of Bristol. His research is about gospel-pop, sacred-secular crossovers. In 2019 he was the recipient of an Alumni Bursary at the University of Bristol. He has been an assistant tutor at the university and has lectured at master’s and undergraduate level on topics from African American music to Intertextuality and Semiotics. He has also given a talk on the prestigious Fulbright programme on music and The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Matthew currently holds a role as an external music tutor at Oxford University. He has a book chapter forthcoming in an edited volume entitled Black British Gospel Music from the Windrush Generation to Black Lives Matter with Routledge Press. 

2.15-3.15pm Session 3: Global Perspectives

Keith Thomasson: Nurturing connectivity: learning songs from the global church

I explore how spirituality is manifested through the lens of connectivity in the rehearsal, and performance in worship, of chants sourced from the global church. During Lent 2022 I shall gather volunteers from Troon in South Ayrshire to sing chant from the world church. This is in preparation for the Triduum in Holy Week (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) at St Ninian’s Scottish Episcopal Church. I shall root my investigation in the literature of Arnold J., Bell J., Beres L., Boyce-Tillman J., Holloway R., Kenny A., and de Quadros A. 

Working ethically, I shall record and reflect my observations of rehearsals and performance. Participants may voluntarily share their learning and experience through a questionnaire (or corresponding conversation).  

Developing a code to interpret the responses, I shall learn how participants understand spirituality to be manifested in connectivity: 

  • through embodiment (finding voice, physical expression) 

  • through the deepening connection with other participants (community) 

  • through co-creating musical harmony (singing together) 

  • through exploration of the theological content of the chants (text, concepts) 

  • through people sharing their experience and/or knowledge of the originating country of each chant  

  • through how people speak of their connection with the recipient of the songs (congregation and God) 

Keith Thomasson is Rector of St Ninian’s Troon in the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway, in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Currently Keith is exploring the idea that all are called to be creative, and that it is through engagement with the arts, and particularly music for Keith, that we learn more about God, and develop theological enquiry.  Prior to ordination Keith was a class music teacher. He enjoys singing in choirs and has rehearsed community choirs, orchestras, and brass bands. Keith has contributed two chapters in the Music and Spirituality series (Peter Lang).     

Prof. Lily Chen-Hafteck (University of California, Los Angeles, USA) and Claire Hafteck (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, HK): Connecting the Physical and Spiritual Experience of World Music: A Case Study on Jamaican Dancehall 

Music is an important form of cultural expression (Clauss-Ehlers, 2010). Certain traditional cultures that cherish the spiritual aspect of life use musical practices as a way to enhance the connections between the physical and spiritual being. The first author is a music educator, who has observed how Chinese traditional music enhanced students’ spiritual experiences and well-being (Chen-Hafteck, 2010). The second author is a dance practitioner. She has explored how dancing to music from various world cultures, such as those in West Africa, Middle East and Caribbean, can be used as tools to explore one’s spiritual experience. This presentation examines the connection between the physical interpretation of cultural music through dance and expression of spirituality. Jamaican Dancehall music, rooting from a history of oppression, was an important channel for ethnic minorities to express their personal life experiences through sound and movement. The style of Female Dancehall in particular focuses on the expression of feminine energy and celebrates fertility and life. We investigate the importance of connecting to and teaching these practices as a way of grounding and reconnecting with one’s mind, body and soul. This is of particular significance today as many of us experience disconnections exacerbated by the pandemic.  


Chen-Hafteck, L. (2010). Discovering world music and children’s worlds – pedagogy responding to children’s learning needs. In A. C. Clements (ed.), Alternative approaches in music education: case studies from the field, pp. 41-55.Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 

Clauss-Ehlers, C.S.  (Ed.). (2010). Encyclopedia of cross-cultural school psychology. New York, NY:  Springer. 

Lily Chen-Hafteck is Professor of Music Education at University of California, Los Angeles, USA. She is a Fulbright Scholar featured in numerous publications, including Oxford Handbook of Music Education and Oxford Handbook of Children’s Musical Cultures. Her research interests include early childhood and multicultural music education. She has held leadership positions of International Society for Music Education as member of its Board of Directors, chair of its Young Professionals Focus Group and Early Childhood Commission, and is currently a Music in Schools and Teacher Education Commissioner. She is also the World Music Representative of California Music Educators Association State Council. 

Claire Hafteck is a dancer, choreographer and instructor studying at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. She has explored various styles, including Chinese folk, lyrical jazz, ballet, hip hop, Afrobeats, bellydance, and Latin, among others. She has been teaching dance fitness for five years, and uses her diverse background and love for various music genres to incorporate different styles and cultures into her classes. She has performed in various musical theater and dance productions in Los Angeles, with more recent performances in Hong Kong including Harmony Show IV, K11 Musea and Dance For Life on TVB. 

3.30-4.15pm Performance By & Discussion With The Dark Moon Ensemble

The Dark Moon Ensemble is a recently established group consisting of clarinet (Emma Francis) and piano/synths (Nigel Sanders), with the goal of using music to take people on a journey, communicating without words. Words tend to restrict what we are trying to convey, so, without words, the members of DME aim to establish a connection with their deeper selves, the soul part of them, and channel it directly through music, working with communicating through feeling and emotion. They hope to use it to connect people, heal people, take them on a journey and leave uplifted in some way. They work by laying out a soundscape, calming the mind, and communicating what comes through in that moment. This way of working means that each performance is unique.  Their discussion after the live performance will aim to reflect upon how we achieve this synergy between our spiritual selves and expressing that through our instruments. It also aims to reflect upon the process of composition we use to convey our deeper selves through sound and not words. For example, minimalist influence from Phillip Glass transcends through the sense of place and the moment of reality that the music is being performed. Therefore, focus is placed more on the ambient sound of the room and the instruments interaction with it and in turn how this becomes and individual performance in its own right. Very much in the thought processes of John Cage for example.   

Nigel Sanders is already a well-established artist/composer, with a number 1 spot in the National Ambient Charts and holding a top 10 position for over two months under his previous name of nss58. Nigel has also appeared on Soundlab UK, GSGM, Chat and Spin Radio, Power Of Prog radio, MMH Radio, BBC Essex, Youtube and N1M network. He has studied music composition and music technology at The Open University, OCA and Colchester Institute. He completed his MA Music at Middlesex University gaining a Distinction and studying for 2 years on a PhD in electronic music composition at the London South Bank and Anglia Ruskin University. Nigel has been playing piano for over 25 years and has performed with a wide range of prominent musicians including The Roulettes, Jay Ebby East and The Busker Hounds, Damon Butcher (Beautiful South), Giovanni Amighetti (Shan Qui), James Coppolaro (Sergey Lazarev), The nss58 Project and Black Spring Rising.

Emma Francis is a first class orchestral performance graduate specialising in the clarinet. She has had many notable achievements including recording at Abbey Road Studios, and performing at Goodwood Festival of Speed on multiple occasions. She also holds an ATCL clarinet diploma, where she achieved a distinction. Since graduating, Emma found her place in spirituality, leading to a completely different interpretation towards how music is used, composed and expressed.   

4.15-5.45pm Keynote Panel

Georgina Gregory (University of Central Lancashire) Popular Music: Ubiquitous Spiritualities

Prof. Richard McGregor (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland/University of Cumbria)

Songs that seem to come from nowhere’: Compositional inspiration and spirituality may share a common root, but can we talk about them in the same breath?

If it’s so difficult to actually define what spirituality is – because it has so many manifestations, so many cultural contexts and so many different expressions – it might seem foolhardy to try to ally it to the notion of inspiration, whether in music, or literature or art. Equally, the notion of inspiration is such a contested term that most serious music analysis avoids discussion of the idea, or, at best, assigns it to what can be made concrete, conceptual and definable. Given that both states contain an implied element of external agency it is possibly not unexpected that there is comparatively little literature on the subject, except perhaps, surprisingly, in education-related material, and, not so surprisingly, in the area of therapies, music, drama and art.

Some of the more common theories – such as Reception Theory – skirt round the problem/problems by throwing the onus on the recipient to interpret the stimulus, that regardless of whether or not the composer/artist was actually attempting to convey some deeper sense within the work: in music, this would apply to some specific composers, some of whom are happy to try to articulate for themselves, but also to have their work rearticulated by others.

The fact is that we all, whatever our cultural context, cannot help reflecting the images of past understandings of both spirituality and inspiration as conceptual states. Nonetheless, it is important for us to understand, as far as we can, what we have unconsciously absorbed from the past, as well as how the language we use can both inhibit and obscure an understanding of the aspects of musical creation which are less conducive to objective analysis.

This lecture will not pretend to answer the question it poses but will explore some of the specific issues which stand in the way of our ability to speak meaningfully about these elements of the processes of musical creation and composition, as well as giving examples of how composers and commentators have tried to make sense of the ‘furor poeticus’.