New video! Falling Off A Cliff Backwards: Conductors’ Stories

Kathryn Emerson is a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. Her supervisors are Professor Ray Wilkinson (Human Communication Sciences) and Dr Victoria Williamson (Music), and via the latter person she is an associated member of the Music and Wellbeing research unit. Kathryn’s PhD work uses Conversation Analysis techniques to investigate the interaction between choirs and conductors, and hence learn more how we talk and gesture about music.

In July 2016 Kathryn gave a speech about her PhD work and the fascinating words that conductors’ employ when describing their gestures. She also talks about their use of facial expression to communicate – you never knew that eyebrows were so important!

“My story is the story of story tellers who tell story tellers how to tell stories” 

Enjoy Kathryn talking about her research at the Sheffield Life Festival. She showed how, through her work, we can better understand our complex embodied relationship with music (scroll to Talk 7 using the button in the top left of the screen).


Kathryn’s Biography

I graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in the summer of 2010, with a joint honours degree in Music and Psychology. This degree gave me a broad knowledge of undergraduate psychology (developmental, social and cognitive psychology, learning and memory, personality and individual differences, neuropsychology, statistics and research methods), whilst also allowing me to further my education in music (history of music, music theory, composition, and modules studying Wagner’s Ring, and music, environment and ecology). I also focused on music performance, achieving a scholarship to receive bassoon lessons at the Royal College of Music with Nicholas Hunka. My dissertation, supervised by Dr Alison Woodcock, endeavored to combine the two sides of my degree by exploring personality differences between musicians who prefer to perform as soloists, chamber musicians or in large ensembles.

In 2012, I completed my Masters in Music, Mind and Brain, with distinction, at Goldsmiths, University of London. This course covered aspects of music psychology within music perception and the cognitive neuroscience of music. My dissertation, supervised by Dr Vicky Williamson, investigated the evolution of music through sexual selection theory.

Following my master’s degree I worked as a research assistant with Dr Marcus Pearce and Professor Geraint Wiggins on an EPSRC-funded project studying Information and Neural Dynamics in the Perception of Musical Structure, where I helped examine preferences and expectations in an unfamiliar music genre (Turkish) using the computational modelling programme IDyOM (Information Dynamics Of Music).

I have now taken up a teaching assistantship in the Department of Human Communication Sciences at the University of Sheffield, where I am studying for my PhD investigating the interaction between choirs and conductors, and how we talk and gesture about music.

Research interests

How choirs and conductors interact
How people talk about music
Use of interactive gesture in music and speech
Evolution of music and language
Conversation Analysis