Researcher partners with British Museum to save endangered musical traditions

Dr Catherine Grant at the British Museum in London.
Dr Catherine Grant was one of 16 researchers from around the world selected to join the inaugural Endangered Material Knowledge Program.

Music researcher Dr Catherine Grant recently spent a week behind the scenes at the British Museum as part of a new program to document endangered cultural practices.

Dr Grant is one of 16 researchers from around the world selected to participate in the inaugural Endangered Material Knowledge Program (EMKP) at the British Museum. The diverse projects cover a range of traditional practices in danger of dying out, from glass bead-making in Nigeria to shell money in Vanuatu and traditional beekeeping in Kenya.

Researchers spent a week at the world-renowned institution, working with conservators, curators and the broadcast team.

One of Cambodia’s few remaining angkuoch makers at work.

“Instead of collecting objects from around the world and displaying them in glass cases, it is about providing a cultural context and preserving that knowledge for future generations,” Dr Grant said.

Dr Grant received funding for a 12-month project to document a traditional Cambodian instrument called the angkuoch. There are only a handful of people left in Cambodia who still know how to make the instrument, and the process has never been properly documented.

Dr Grant goes behind the scenes at the British Museum with researchers, curators and conservators.

In January, Dr Grant will embark on a three-week field trip to remote villages in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province to document three of these instrument makers and local musicians. She will work with a local NGO, Cambodian Living Arts to create a series of documentaries for the British Museum.

Dr Grant is a senior lecturer at the Queensland Conservatorium, and the project is part of her research into music sustainability.

“All of us should care about the loss of cultural traditions and cultural diversity globally, not just those directly affected,” she said.

Much of Dr Grant’s research has focused on endangered musical traditions in Cambodia, where it is estimated that 9 in 10 musicians were killed under the Khmer Rouge regime.

“Cambodia is a beautiful country, and I find the immense commitment of both young and old to protect and revitalise their cultural heritage extraordinary,” she said.

“Many of their musical traditions are in danger of dying out. I hope my research makes a contribution to the efforts of those communities who are trying to keep their cultures strong.”