Music and Performing Arts

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire welcomes applications from prospective doctoral students in Music and Performing Arts. We have a broad range of specialisms, particularly centred around the research clusters below. To develop an application for doctoral study at RBC, please download the expression of interest form. This form, and any queries, should be sent to by 17 November 2023.

Conservatoire Composition Cluster

Research within the Conservatoire Composition Cluster, headed jointly by Prof Joe Cutler and Professor Michael Wolters covers a wide aesthetic and performative spectrum, from score-based and improvisational work through to interdisciplinary and conceptual work, as well as advanced computer-based research into the live interaction of digital technologies with human performers.

Although the research underpinning compositional practice is individual and personalised, the Conservatoire’s composition staff positively celebrate and encourage diversity of expression, and enjoy a strong bond of artistic endeavour. Staff share a desire to challenge traditional institutional preconceptions regarding the nature, content and presentation of new music and art, especially with respect to experimental venues, non-elite content, mixed-media creativity and the cultivation of new audiences. They explore, examine and document the potential, difference and impact of work which is realised through alternative and more independently mediated creative processes.

Key research concerns and issues include:

  • Alternatives to the traditional concert hall
  • Composer-led collectives
  • The composer as performer
  • Interdisciplinary composition
  • Composition with minimal means
  • Control of dissemination of our works, through our own label, Birmingham Record Company
  • Community engagement as artistic practice
  • Queerness and Queering in performance

Forum for Seventeenth-and Eighteenth-Century Music

Intersecting with RBC's French Music Research Hub, the Forum for Seventeenth-and Eighteenth-Century Music aims to promote research into, and performance of, music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Led by Dr Carrie Churnside, it brings together one of the strongest concentrations of expertise in this area within the UK. The close links with performance, through work on performance practice and the creation of critical editions that lead to research-informed performance, make the work of the Forum ideally suited to a Conservatoire setting. The Forum’s research expertise informs the curriculum at all levels; courses in performance practice, critical editing and the music of the period are offered to both undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Specialisms and core themes:

  • 17th- and 18th-century French music
  • 17th- and 18th-century Italian music
  • 17th- and 18th-century English music
  • 17th-century performance practices
  • Latin-American Baroque music
  • Late 18th-century Austro-Germanic music

Three key approaches present in much of the Forum’s work:

  • Critical editing
  • Performance practice
  • Historically-informed performance

French Music Research Hub

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s research and teaching in historical, analytical and critical musicology enjoys world-leading expertise in specific areas of French music studies, which led to the founding by Prof Deborah Mawer of the French Music Research Hub in early 2014, now directed by Christopher Dingle.

The Hub aims to foster the highest standards of scholarly engagement with, and performance-based practice of, a broad repertoire of French music (especially of the 17th, 18th and 20th centuries).

We are proud to host the major AHRC-funded project: ‘Accenting the Classics: Durand’s Édition classique (c. 1915–25) as a French Prism on the Musical Past’. This research focuses on analytical, editorial and cultural study of a large-scale French edition of European piano/keyboard music, from around World War I through to the early years of French neoclassicism.

The Hub’s main themes relate to rigorous, innovative exploration of:

  • French composer studies (17th–20th centuries), including Lully, Charpentier, Marais, Couperin, Rameau and Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges as well as Messiaen, Dutilleux and other 20th-century figures.
  • Theory and analysis of French music
  • Critical source, sketch and archival studies of French music
  • French music editions and critical, historical performance practice
  • French national and transnational cultural identities
  • French cultural milieu: wartime, religion, institutions, publishing, political propaganda
  • Interdisciplinary connections with opera, ballet, dance and jazz

Integra Lab

Led by Prof Lamberto Coccioli, the work of Integra Lab falls into three main areas of practice-based music technology research:

Music Interaction Design
Music Interaction Design is at the heart of the Lab’s activities. As pioneers of the conceptual ‘musician-centred design’ framework, we place musicians and the activity of music making at the centre of our work, developing interactive tools and techniques designed by and for musicians and exploring the wide range of potential music applications from an HCI perspective.

Composition and performance with technology
Integra Lab has a long history of supporting composers and performers in any aspect of their work that involves interacting with technology. From computer-assisted composition to augmented performance, from live electronics to immersive media installations, we have collaborated with many composers throughout the years (Anderson, Francesconi, Harvey, Hurel, Leroux, Paredes, Saariaho, to name just a few).

Sustainability of the live electronics repertoire
Integra Lab has considerable experience in modernising obsolete technologies so that forgotten seminal works from the repertoire can be studied and performed again. We are particularly interested in developing cost-effective, accessible, and sustainable software-based solutions to encourage more performances and increase the knowledge and dissemination of music with live electronics.

Jazz Studies

Since 2013, the Jazz Studies cluster has gained global recognition for research leadership in jazz. It boasts a large community of interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners from both Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research. It has an established record of monographs and peer-reviewed publications, alongside practice-based research outputs, hosts regular symposia and conferences, and attracts significant external funding. The cluster is home to the peer-reviewed Jazz Research Journal and the Routledge Transnational Studies in Jazz book series, and has partnerships with major non-academic organisations such as the Europe Jazz Network, Cheltenham Jazz Festival and BBC radio. Research within the Jazz Studies cluster focuses on developing new models for jazz scholarship in a number of key areas:

  • The cultural meaning of jazz
  • Studies of jazz as a transnational practice
  • Improvisation and cultural practice
  • Jazz on television and radio
  • Archives and documentation
  • Mediation and technology
  • Jazz and philosophy

Performance Research Hub

The Performance Research Hub is an interdisciplinary research cluster working across the faculty of Art Design and Media with concentrations at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and in Art and Design. It produces world leading work led by its co-directors: Prof. Aleksandar Dundjerovic (performing arts), Prof. Jamie Savan (music performance research). Senior, mid-career and emerging/post-doctoral researchers work alongside a large research student community in a constellation of areas contingent to performance.

We recognise a disciplinary distinction between research about performance, and research in and through performance (Borgdorff, 2012), typified by the twin burgeoning fields of Performance Studies (including Historical Performance Practice) and Artistic Research (including Performance-led Research), respectively. Both fields are reflected within the activities of the Hub, which also provides a means of connecting practitioner-researchers with the broader research community.

Performance research has the potential to create insights that are not possible by theoretical means alone. Performance is also a natural conduit for sharing insights generated through research, often with high potential for impact. But one the challenges of performance research, and therefore one of the Hub’s key objectives, is to develop and share best practice in the documentation and articulation of the research questions, methods and processes that underpin such activity.

For all general enquiries about our doctoral programmes, please contact Dr Carrie Churnside, Research Degrees Coordinator.

See our PhD course page