Music is among the most ubiquitous and varied aspects of human culture. Throughout all of our history and all around the planet, musical traditions have evolved to become signifiers of time and place. The variety of musical forms and the ingenuity of musicians throughout history are astonishing; learning about them and tracing their development is extremely interesting and helps us to better understand much about humanity beyond the art.

Manchester is a multi-cultural and famously musical city. Many musical traditions are represented here and are often adapted and melded with others and/or with modern technology to create innovative musical forms. We aim to explore and examine these Manchester-based international musics with the Global Folk Instruments Heritage Project – a collaboration between Manchester International Roots Orchestra (MIRO), the Henry Watson Music Library (HWML) and the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM).

The three areas of focus are:

  • Historical/Cultural – How instruments and musical forms evolved.
  • Technical – How the instruments work, playing techniques et cetera.
  • Personal – How the project’s musicians came to play their instruments and how they are connected to their respective musical traditions.

For this project, which is expected to continue and expand for years, MIRO is creating and performing music featuring instruments from different cultures; the HWML is acquiring instruments, conducting research, creating written pieces and archiving the project and RNCM is filming and recording music. The outputs of the project will include a series of short documentaries, live performances and educational sessions and writings on the instruments, traditions and musicians involved. All will be accessible via the HWML.

The furtherment of musical performance and education and the building up of a new collection of instruments adds to the legacies of the three organisations. Henry Watson took a pioneering interest in musical instrument studies. He gave lectures on the histories and developments of musical instruments and was a member of the organising committee of the 1900 International Loan Exhibition Of Musical Instruments, at the Crystal Palace in London. To this, he lent 38 of his own instruments, which came from various times and places. He also donated a personal collection of instruments to the now RNCM in 1900, followed by a donation of musical books and scores to Manchester Libraries in 1902, creating the Henry Watson Music Library. His subsequent donation of instruments to the HWML in 1910 has since been added to the RNCM collection, which is on display for the public.

MIRO was set up in partnership with RNCM and has undertaken projects and performances there and at the HWML. The orchestra brings together musicians of different cultures and instruments to showcase them and create new music. The previous MIRO documentary project pertained to the musical ancestries of Manchester-based migrant musicians.

Live events and release dates for parts of the project will be announced. The first phase will end on August 24th and archived content will be available from then!