Edinburgh Napier University

I was delighted in autumn of last year to receive an invitation to give a handful of guest lectures at Edinburgh Napier University. The request came from fellow drummer, lecturer, and music education researcher, Bryden Stillie, Senior Lecturer in the Schools of Arts and Creative Industries. I had met Bryden when introduced by mutual colleague and Napier employee, Zack Moir, and had the privilege of watching Bryden give a master class for students at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, on his cutting-edge work with drums and technology. Two days ago he met me in the cold rain outside Glasgow’s Buchanan Street station and welcomed me warmly with a meal at a local Vietnamese eatery, followed by quite a few beers.

I took a bracing run the following morning along (some of) the longest road in Scotland, followed by a short train ride with Bryden to Scotland’s capital city where I was shown around the music department at Edinburgh Napier University. The tour took longer than anticipated because my host kept stopping to talk cheerfully and animatedly with colleagues and students. The conversations revolved around individual students, the curriculum, and assessment design. Everyone we encountered seemed upbeat and excited to be working here; I sensed a strong mood of collegiality and mutual goodwill from among the team, who were eager to complement and support one another with resources and lighthearted banter.

The rooms and connectivity of the bespoke music facility had been designed in-house by music, engineering, and information technology guru, Dr. Paul Ferguson in close collaboration with legendary music producer, Calum Malcolm. I was shown into several practice rooms, all of which could connect to any of the recording studios. Each of the live and control rooms were separated by floor-to-ceiling windows to enhance performer /engineer connectivity and collaboration. The facility also featured next-generation fibre connections throughout, waiting for the software and hardware to catch up. My hosts were clearly excited about the spaces.

The first lecture I gave was to a mixed group of popular music students (and one attendee from the classical music programme), about being true to oneself in making life and career choices, while considering responsibilities to others. The second talk – mostly to drummers – focused on musical theatre work and how to manage life, sanity, and relationships on a show. In both sessions, the attentiveness of the students and their insightful questions demonstrated the young musicians’ developing worldliness and openness to diverse musical futures. The depth of engagement was marvellous. I was motivated by the engagement of the students with the topics, and from the insightful, focused questions they asked – the more extroverted individuals during the sessions, and the quieter students after the classes. These were both optional extra classes, and took place in front of packed rooms. I even ran out of handouts!

The day concluded with the School’s first ever Music Research Symposium for staff and students, replete with three-camera film and sound crews comprised of students from the Film and Television programmes and their lecturer Dr Kirsten MacLeod. My talk on “Embodiment and Drumming Eudaimonia” (in which I also got to play drums along with a killing track by my longtime alt-rock collaborator, Stephen Wheel, pumping through the PA system) was well received. This was followed by a marvellous paper from Zack Moir and Bryden Stillie, in which they are articulated and discussed some of the problems facing musicians seeking to enter higher music education in Scotland and England. Free wine and beer for all during the short break lubricated conversations all-round, before Renée Stefanie gave a brilliant and inspiring presentation about her work, teaching singers. She danced, sang, emoted, explained, and empowered. Her compassionate performance was breathtaking, and among the very best conference presentations I have seen. I took part in the final talk of the night with Zack Moir and Paul Ferguson, in which we discussed a current research project where we are working with LOLA and (shortly) LOLA 2internet systems, performing and recording live jazz-rock music and video across distances of hundreds of miles. After the research event, I was buzzing, and delighted to take in a local ale with colleagues.

This visit reaffirmed my conviction that one can be serious about music, teaching, and research, and that it’s possible to be relevant in all three. I saw how this can all be achieved with alacrity and with mutual respect for colleagues and students. What a joyous learning experience the day was. Thank you to the Ian Tomlin Academy of Music in the School of Arts and Creative Industries at Edinburgh Napier University.




%d bloggers like this: