Research Radar – Kate Bevan-Baker

Newfoundland-born Kate Bevan-Baker is a recognized fiddler, violinist and singer with extensive professional recording and performance experience. She has been playing violin since the age of four and thrives on a variety of musical styles from Celtic to jazz and classical. Kate holds violin performance degrees from Memorial and McGill Universities, a Graduate Certificate in University Teaching, and a PhD in Ethnomusicology from Concordia University where she was a SSHRC doctoral scholar. She has performed across North America, Europe, and China with various ensembles, choirs, and orchestras, and has presented her academic research at conferences in North America and Europe. Kate has been featured on many nation-wide radio and television broadcasts and can be heard on over thirty CDs, videogames, and movie soundtracks. She is a member of several Celtic music ensembles in Montreal, teaches part-time at Concordia and McGill Universities, and balances an active performance and teaching schedule. 

© Tristan Pierce

Who is your favourite academic? / Who (academic or not) has shaped your critical thinking the most and why? 

When I was first thrown into the sea of ethnomusicology in 2013 by my PhD supervisor, Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, he introduced me to John Blacking’s work. Both of these academics have greatly shaped my critical thinking. It was through Blacking’s book, How Musical is Man?, that I sensed a shift in how I consider music (in all its forms) and examine it through the lenses of cultural and social anthropology.

What are you reading for work and/or for leisure these days?

I’m working through a big stack of folk music collections and trying to discover some gems that are not commonly performed. Kenneth Peacock’s three-volume collection, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports is currently on my bedside table. I love being able to read about the history and context behind the songs in addition to seeing the actual musical transcriptions and lyrics that have been collected.

What podcast(s) do you recommend?

I’ve never been a big podcast person, but I have recently discovered some interesting ones through the Library of Congress. My two favourites so far are Folklife Today and Music and the Brain.

What is your favourite archive or library? / What is your fondest research memory?

As an ethnomusicologist, there are some great archives that have recently been digitized, making research *much* easier, especially since the onset of COVID-19! I personally love listening to recordings of music from all around the world through the UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music, and the Irish Traditional Music Archive is an amazing repository of digitized images, manuscripts, music transcriptions, sound recordings, videos, and books.

What book or movie changed your life?

I lived and breathed classical music throughout my teenage years, and two movies that played a huge part in my musical development and life path were Amadeus (1984) and The Red Violin (1998). After watching each of these films, I knew that music would play a central role in my life, and I continue to learn more each time I re-watch them.

Do you play music while you work?  If so, what?

I rarely listen to music while I’m reading or writing because I pay too much attention to the music and not to the task at hand! If I do have music on in the background, it has to be instrumental. One of my favourite folk albums is by Mike Vass, and when I’m in the mood for classical, I always come back to this recording by the Kronos Quartet (especially track 1!). I find it calming and a very welcomed change from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Being married to a jazz musician means I often have no choice but to work while listening to jazz (through the walls) – but it’s ok – I enjoy hearing it, plus it’s my own private concert in a way!

What is your favourite way to de-stress? / What habits or hobbies support your research practice and/or allow you to destress?

I exercise to de-stress. Whether it’s going for a long walk by myself or working out at home, I will often listen to music by a new artist while exercising. Discovering new music brings me into an open space where I can focus on something entirely different, and I become completely out of touch with the rest of the world and my sense of time is gone.

What are your essential research tools/supplies and why?

When I’m practicing or composing new musical ideas, voice memos on my iPhone are invaluable. Even if I have an idea for a new conference paper or research question I want to consider, I love recording a quick voice memo that I can revisit later. It’s also very entertaining to go back and listen to old ones! Throughout my university career, I learned how valuable it is to record myself and listen back as a learning tool, and I still find myself using this research practice today (even though I absolutely hate hearing the sound of my own voice and I focus only on the mistakes when I hear myself play violin!). It’s still a very helpful and revealing method of research and practice.

How has the pandemic affected your research practice?

As an artist, the pandemic has majorly affected my research practice. Research-creation plays a huge role in my creative output, and not having human interaction and the ability to collaborate with other artists face-to-face has greatly hindered my artistic outlets and output. It hasn’t all been negative, though! With the lack of musical performances, I have gotten the chance to catch up on a lot of reading and practicing in my free time. Technology has also allowed for many innovative forms of artistic collaboration: I got to participate in some really interesting projects including a commission for upper-voice choirs from across the country. I am lucky enough to sing with the award-winning choir, Adleisia, which was the Quebec representative for the Hands project – a piece without words that symbolizes the unity of humankind without the barrier of a specific language. It felt odd recording video and audio individually, but the finished product was very moving for me to watch for the first time. I will never take “real” human interaction for granted again!

Favourite form of procrastination?               

One of my favourite forms of procrastination is browsing through cookbooks and recipe blogs (two of my favourites are Cookie and Kate and the New York Times Cooking). I love discovering new dishes and twists on old favourites, and I have majorly upped my cooking game since the pandemic has hit!

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career/degree?

Procrastination is normal, and not to feel guilty for leaving things until the last minute. I wish I hadn’t been such a perfectionist in the past – I could have saved so many hours!

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