Music for the ages: McCredie Musicological Award Recipient Dr Sarah Kirby examines the historical pull of music

Dr Sarah Kirby is the recipient of the Australian Academy of the Humanities’ prestigious 2023 McCredie Musicological Award, recognising outstanding contribution to Musicology by an Australian scholar.

Musicology is the scholarly study of music that aims to explore its cultural and/or historical context, its aesthetic features as a form of human expression, the modes of performance associated with it, and its role as a social and political activity.

McCredie Recipient Dr Sarah Kirby, a woman wearing a black shirt with a blonde bob hairstyle.
2023 McCredie Musicological Award recipient, Dr Sarah Kirby.

A Grainger Fellow in the Museums & Collections department of the University of Melbourne, Dr Sarah Kirby began her career studying piano at the University of Melbourne, but towards the end of her undergraduate degree, discovered musicology and was instantly drawn to the intersection of history and music.

Her doctoral studies focused on music at international exhibitions in the British Empire, particularly in the late 19th century. She was also the 2022 Nancy Keesing AM Fellow at the State Library of New South Wales, with a project about the British Music Society in Australia and interwar musical internationalism. She is the associate editor of Musicology Australia and membership secretary of the Musicological Society of Australia.

Dr Kirby has published widely on music in Britain and Australia, colonialism, women in music, and music in museums.

“World’s fairs and other international exhibitions were meant to show off everything that ‘humanity’ had achieved. Music was considered a huge achievement, but it didn’t have a physical presence, nor could it be displayed for the masses like other physical artforms could be,” said Dr Kirby about her research. “A lot of my work has been about exploring how people have historically negotiated that incompatibility between the temporal and the physical.“

Dr Kirby has also previously tutored and lectured in undergraduate music history, at the Melbourne Conservatorium, and more recently at the University of New England.

“Exhibitions held in Australia were nodes in an international network that conveyed ideas across the British Empire, including about what music might be used for or even how it was defined. International exhibitions allowed encounters between Western and non-Western cultures, but these encounters were highly curated and deliberately constructed to perpetuate cultural and racial hierarchies.”

On the impact of this award, Dr Kirby said, “It is such an honour to receive this award. I admire the work of all the past recipients so much, so to have anyone consider my work alongside theirs and be named the 2023 recipient is amazing.”

“I’d love to be able to continue to expand on the work I’m doing, and this award will help me do that. It’s not a secret that humanities research funding or opportunities can be unstable, but they are essential in understanding why we are and what we are.”

Award applications were assessed by an Expert Panel of internationally recognised leaders in the field of Musicology: Emeritus Professor Linda Barwick AM FAHA (Chair); Emeritus Professor Malcolm Gillies FAHA; and Associate Professor Dorottya Fabian FAHA.

“Dr Sarah Kirby is a brilliant emerging scholar whose work illuminates the role of music in public representations of cultural identity in Europe and Australia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,” said Professor Linda Barwick. “Innovative interdisciplinary insights are brought to bear to address music’s power to connect diverse societies and currents of thought. The quality and impact of her work, and her dedication to advancing the discipline of musicology through publishing and public comment, make her an outstanding winner of the McCredie Award.”

As a part of the award, Dr Sarah Kirby will be presented with the award, and make a short presentation at the Annual Academy Dinner on 16 November 2023.

About the McCredie Musicological Award

The McCredie Musicological Award recognises outstanding contribution in musicology by an Australian early-to-mid-career  scholar, from performance practice, music in the cultural context, through to the theory, analysis and composition of music. The award is made possible thanks a generous bequest by Andrew McCredie AM FAHA (1930–2006). The award celebrates his outstanding career as an Academy Fellow and Emeritus Professor of Musicology at the Elder Conservatorium of Music in Adelaide. Professor McCredie was an eminent musicologist who greatly influenced the teaching of music in Australian universities and schools.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Australian Academy of the Humanities recognises Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and their continuous connection to country, community and culture.