Cornish Music Symposium by Kate Neale

On Saturday the 28th of October, the Cornish Music Symposium took place at Kresen Kernow as part of the annual Lowender festival – Cornwall’s festival of music and dance. The Symposium a recurring part of the festival and is a joint venture with the Cornish National Music Archive: a website and community project that has been active since around 2016. Running in-person for the first time since 2019, it was a huge pleasure to welcome people into the Dowr room at Kresen Kernow – but in keeping with the new tricks learned during the pandemic, and with the help of Chris Trevena from SoundsLikeCornwall, the session was also live-streamed over YouTube for virtual audiences.

Welcoming both in-person and online audiences, Kate Neale opened the Symposium, explaining that the theme chosen for 2023 was the Cornish diaspora, since music has been and continues to be an important thread in lives of historic Cornish migrants. This year’s Symposium also took a spot on the Institute of Cornish Studies’ Diaspora seminar series; a programme of online sessions exploring the connections with Cornwall’s overseas locations and communities.

Robynne Sanderson was the first speaker. A member of Broken Hill Cornish Association, in conversation with Merv Davey (also part of the CNMA project), she talked about the Cornish heritage of Broken Hill, particularly focusing on Community Voices choir, which she has been a member of for over 20 years. Their repertoire focused on songs about social justice, and in recent years has explored singing in Kernewek, the Cornish language – including a wassail song from Redruth.

Second on the roster was Cornish singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Cornish bard, Richard Trethewey. Richard has written a range of songs exploring people and places of the Cornish diaspora, inspired by history and his own family. He spoke about Richard Jose, the Cornish counter-tenor who was one of the first recording artists in the USA, a visit to Mineral Point in Wisconsin, writing and researching the Cornish in the Kolar goldfields in India, and his hopes to visit the Trethewey Mine in Canada.

The third and final speaker was Jim Wearne, from the state of Illinois in the USA. Jim’s conversation with Merv Davey covered a lot of ground, and Jim’s songwriting output as a vehicle for social commentary on Cornish politics, the diaspora, thoughts on family history, the housing crisis, and much more. Jim has also sung in Kernewek, closing with a Cornish translation of a well-known pop classic.

A technical hiccup meant that Jim couldn’t join us for questions, but following the end of his video interview, the session ended with a long discussion about Cornish music and language as expressive culture, and the strides that have been made in promotion and participation in recent decades. Kate thanked everyone at the close of the session before attendees moved on to other events on the festival programme.


If you missed the Symposium, you can catch up on it here:

Very many thanks to Terry Harry for kindly volunteering to taking photographs at this event, and to Cornwall Yesteryear for hosting this writeup.