A Day in the Life: Maynooth University

Interview and write-up: @EmerNestor

Photographs: @FMarshallPhoto

Anja Bunzel is currently in the third year of Doctoral studies in Musicology at Maynooth University (National University of Ireland, Maynooth) under the supervision of Dr Lorraine Byrne-Bodley. She speaks to Final Note about her love for German Art Song, and her postgraduate experiences so far.

Tell us a little about your early college studies.

I completed my BA and MA at Freie Universität, Berlin, but it wasn’t until my MA studies that I decided to focus on Musicology. I entered university thinking that I would like to be a journalist — perhaps a music journalist — so, for my BA, I took journalism and media studies as a major, with music theory and English as minors. I enjoyed every bit of my course, but I soon realised that my initial impression of journalism was no more than an illusion.

My MA in Musicology covered a wide range of modules on very specific topics. I enjoyed the way in which we students were given a great deal of freedom of choice: we could pick the seminars that attracted our interest and, for some of the modules, we were also able to choose what sort of assessment we would like.

Why did you decide to pursue Doctoral studies at Maynooth University?

During my MA, one of my lecturers asked me what I wanted to do after graduation. When I told him that I was considering a PhD, he encouraged me to attend a conference abroad in order to get acquainted with the international musicological stage. I began to Google possible conferences in Ireland, because I had made friends there during various work placements in previous years. I came across the CfP for Aisling Kenny’s conference ‘Women and the 19th-century Lied’, which was held in Maynooth in December 2011. I sumbitted a proposal for a paper on Fanny Hensel’s Lieder and, to my surprise, I was accepted. So I travelled to Maynooth in December 2011, enjoyed a fabulous conference, and was captivated by the friendly atmosphere in the Music Department. During this conference, I also met my present-day supervisor, Dr Lorraine Byrne-Bodley. We corresponded via e-mail about the possibility of me pursuing doctoral studies in Maynooth, and that is how it all began.

Have you always had an interest in German Art Song?

Aisling Kenny’s conference set the ball rolling. German Song is something that I didn’t examine at depth during my university studies in Berlin. But in a seminar on Beethoven’s violin sonatas, a lecturer once dropped a comment on Beethoven’s Elegie auf den Tod eines Pudels ('Elegy on the Death of a Poodle') — perhaps this whetted my appetite for German art song! It was the same lecturer that recommended that I should attend a conference abroad — I certainly owe a lot of inspiration to him!

Why did you decide to focus on the works of Johanna Kinkel?

Johanna Kinkel is a very interesting figure within nineteenth-century history. She published about 80 Lieder, but also wrote novellas, a large-scale novel, music-theoretical and music-historical essays. Kinkel was the director of a choral association, co-founded a literary and political association, and edited a daily newspaper — so her artistic and literary output is huge. On a personal level, Kinkel’s enthusiasm and positivity impress me: after a long fight, she achieved the divorce from her first husband, converted to the Protestant faith (she was born as a Catholic), got married to the German poet and revolutionary, Gottfried Kinkel, gave birth to four children, and then emigrated to London in 1851.

How have you found the PhD journey so far, and has it turned out as you expected?

It’s been a very exciting journey with many unexpected turns. When I started my PhD I was working full-time as a receptionist in a Dublin tourist hostel, which I absolutely loved. I thought that I would have to carry on like this for three or four years — working and writing like crazy. However, I was awarded a scholarship by the Irish Research Council. This enables me to attend conferences and conduct research trips abroad. I thought that this scholarship would give me loads of free time, but I was wrong. I hadn't envisioned days in which I would work on college-related things until 2 o’clock in the morning. Finding patience within ‘mindless’ work, such as typesetting music examples for my chapters is challenging. I am also finding it difficult to stick to limited word counts — a new phenomenon which I never faced during my BA and MA (because there were no such limits). It is so easy to write a lot!

Has the direction of your topic evolved much since you first registered?

While the general direction of my topic hasn’t altered much, I feel that my own approach has changed since I started. I have taken on board a few unexpected theories from different fields, such as ethnomusicology and cultural studies. I feel that every paper I write changes my own view on my topic in one way or the other. Having to submit a satisfying dissertation within the time-frame of four years is quite challenging, as scholarship works and progresses by way of constant change and challenge.

Do you enjoy presenting papers at conferences?

I absolutely love conferences: I enjoy the networking experience and I very much appreciate the diverse feedback that I have received along the way. Besides the exchange of knowledge and the cultivation of inspiration for future research, I have met with a variety of wonderful people from various countries and research backgrounds. I look forward to meeting these like-minded individuals again in the future and making connections with new people too. I love the element of travel that comes with international conferences. Since I took up my PhD studies, I have travelled to Düsseldorf, Athens, Edinburgh, and Istanbul.

What excites you about the world of academia, and musicology in particular?

I am a people person. I find the thought of learning from others fascinating. What excites me about musicology is its diversity. You could end up lecturing in musicology, or you could work in different areas such as media, exhibitions, museums, publishing, etc... While these jobs involve a great deal of interaction with people, they aren’t boring and will always pose different challenges. I think, besides my interest in the subject, it’s the diversity of possibilities and the ubiquity of music in the public domain that excite me most.

Describe a typical day as a postgraduate student in Maynooth University.

I am working in the postgraduate research lab of An Foras Feasa on the Maynooth North Campus. I’m in there every day. I can spend hours and hours sitting at my laptop typing if I need to, but I also like a bit of communication in between. I try to make time for personal 'chit-chat' with other students in the postgrad lab. The Music Department hosts research seminars, study days, colloquia, and recitals, which can be a nice change from the work in the lab. Besides this, I am an active kayaker and train five or six days a week — sometimes I go for a run, swim or gym session on the campus, but mostly I meet up with fellow kayakers for runs or paddles in Dublin.

Who do you admire most in your chosen field of study, and why?

That’s a difficult question! When I was a teenager, I was mad into tear-off calendars with aphorisms for each day. A few of them stuck with me until this very day and one of them is a line from Rousseau’s Émile: ‘It is more valuable to have your fellow (wo)men’s respect at all times than their occasional admiration’ (free translation). This quotation struck me when I first came across it — perhaps this explains why I do not really admire anyone. I have a lot of respect for everyone. I am impressed by people who manage to juggle family, work, research, and friends and remain positive. I am fascinated by (and grateful to) hard-working people who are generous with their knowledge and time. I am fascinated by lecturers who keep their enthusiasm for their subject, and allow students to challenge them. I feel very lucky to have worked with such people in the past (both my MA supervisors, Bodo Bischoff and Franz Michael Maier are like this), and to be working with such people at present.

What is your involvement in the forthcoming conference ‘The European Salon: Nineteenth-Century Salonmusik’ at Maynooth this October.

My own dissertation deals with the socio-cultural context of Johanna Kinkel’s Lieder compositions, so I wanted to find out where Kinkel’s Lieder would have been performed and by whom. In November 2013 I started researching Kinkel’s Berlin salon life and encountered a few contradictions. Since then, I have been in touch with many helpful and generous salon scholars. It is such a friendly research community and there is still so much to explore within the field of nineteenth-century European salon. Many salons (including salon composers and/or performers) are hardly known nowadays, and a lot of the music that would have been performed at such gatherings is forgotten. I talked to my supervisor (and conference mentor) about the possibility of organising something in this area, and that’s how the conference came about. The CfP was circulated last year and was closed in February this year. I am still overwhelmed to have received abstracts from all over the world. It’s really very exciting! It’s reassuring to have Dr Lorraine Byrne-Bodley’s expertise and experience, as well as a really helpful, astute conference committee. The Music Department, and Maynooth University in general, are being really supportive too.

Have you found a balance yet between the long hours of researching and writing, and having fun?

I need a lot of physical exercise in order to balance out the long hours at the computer and my above-average consumption of ice-cream and chocolate. Taking up competitive kayaking 15 years ago was probably the best, and certainly the most influential, decision of my life so far. I very much like the team element of it, including the slagging and banter between sessions with my training group in Dublin. I enjoy the races, which are great practice for stress resistance, strategy, confidence, trust, and teamwork. Marathon and sprint canoeing give me a lot of positive energy, which feeds directly into my work in college and my attitude to life in general. I am still very close with my home canoe club in Germany; I am flying to Germany in May in order to race for (and with) my home club at a German sprint regatta — it will be good fun and a welcome change of scenery from both the Liffey and the research lab.

What does life after the PhD hold for you?

I don’t have a lot of dreams and wishes, but if I could manage to maintain my inner peace and happiness this would be fantastic. In terms of my professional career, I am very grateful for all the luck that has come my way so far, and I’m sure something will come up in the future. I would love to stay in Europe as I like to be (relatively) close to my family, and I would absolutely love to be fluent in another language — maybe Poland could be a nice destination some day in the future, but I’m in no rush.

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