Introducing Fiona Ross

Meet Fiona Ross, a PhD student in Music whose research topic is "The Sang's still the thing: Ballad singing as embodied experience".

Fiona Ross joins the Contemplative Studies Centre as a PhD student after a long and varied career: she is a certified InterPlay Leader and Deep Coaching Practitioner, and in a former life was Manager of the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne. Originally from Scotland, she completed her higher education at the University of Glasgow and has lived in seven different countries across five continents.

Fiona’s PhD thesis explores ballad singing as embodied experience. It is set within the context of the Scots song tradition, drawing on her background as a singer and established performer of Scots song. Her research interweaves practice-led autoethnography, ethnographic fieldwork data from interviews with tradition bearer singers in Scotland, and historical evidence. The project first set out to explore singing style and how the Scots song tradition is understood by its esteemed exponents in a contemporary context. Data from interviews conducted in the early stages of research documents singers’ personal histories of engagement with the tradition. It affirms that within the traditional singing community, the aesthetics of narrative singing that were prevalent in the early years of the 1950s folk music revival in Scotland still apply. Within this aesthetic framework, ‘commitment to the song’ is paramount, the singer’s role being to convey the narrative without the intrusion of the personality.

The data collected so far also provides a basis for comparing Fiona’s own performance experience and motivation with that of other singers in the tradition. Consequently, she has sought to engage with her practice in new ways, and this has shaped the unfolding of her research. The research trajectory has also been influenced by existing scholarship which identifies ‘presence’ as a mark of exemplary ballad singing performance. The emerging thesis explores the cultivation of ‘presence’, through somatic practice, as a means of supporting performativity and the realisation of artistic intentions that are aligned with the aesthetics of the Scots song tradition. This emphasis on somatic practice and embodied self-awareness makes Fiona’s research an excellent fit for the Contemplative Studies Centre.

Conducting research during lockdown was challenging, but it gave Fiona the chance to develop new skills: she has engaged in the world of virtual performance, presenting online concerts and taking part in virtual singing sessions along with other traditional singers and folk enthusiasts located across the globe. These virtual performance environments have also added an interesting dimension to her research.

When she’s not studying, Fiona enjoys spending time in nature. She lives in the bush and loves walking her two rescue dogs, Vinnie and Ness. Although she has lived in Australia for more than ten years now, she never fails to be in awe of the amazing wildlife she is lucky enough to encounter every day, such as king parrots, wombats, kangaroos and wallabies, gang-gang and yellow-tailed black cockatoos, and echidnas. During lockdown, Fiona also discovered a passion for finding and photographing fungi. She showcases the incredible variety of mushrooms in and around her garden to her almost 22,000 Instagram followers (@fungi_fee). However, she is not so keen on the blood-sucking leeches that often latch on to her when out fungi-hunting!