Tell us about your background
I’m a highlander, originally from a small village called Avoch (pronounced ‘och’!) on the Black Isle, just north of Inverness – a beautiful part of the world!
I was very fortunate to attend Avoch Primary School and Fortrose Academy where the arts and especially music were highly valued and well catered for, with free instrumental tuition in all orchestral and traditional instruments.
What sparked your love of the arts?
I grew up in a musical family – my mother’s side of the family all played piano or guitar or sang. I remember my granny, in particular, playing Scottish dance tunes and hymns on the piano.
After some recorder lessons at primary school, I progressed to learning piano and I remember writing a song for my primary school’s production of The Tempest.
My first memorable encounters with classical music were at secondary school. I especially remember a class on music for Halloween where we listened to Danse macabre by Saint-Saëns; and regular visits to Eden Court Theatre in Inverness to hear the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
What did you enjoy most about your studies at RSAMD?
I studied on the BEd (Music) programme at RSAMD from 1990-1994. I loved the intensity and breadth of study – one day learning about music history and harmony, the next child development and educational psychology, and then putting everything together in the music classroom. Highlights of the course were our 3rd year recording project (I arranged ‘Smoke gets in your eyes’), our 3rd year external concert, and my Honours piano recital (Poulenc’s Les soirées de Nazelles).
Who was your most inspirational teacher?
I owe a huge debt to Aileen Fraser, Head of Music at Fortrose Academy, and to my piano teacher, Evelyn McDougall (also a graduate of RSAMD). They both inspired me to take my music further, and my interest in teaching. Of my teachers at RSAMD, I have great memories of Peter Inness, Bob Inglis, Myra Soutar (of course!) and Roger Jacob, who supervised my Honours dissertation which led to my PhD studies at Glasgow University; and the late, great Jack Keaney, my hugely inspirational piano teacher.
What was it like to return to RCS as a teacher?
Walter Blair gave me my first job at RSAMD in 1993, teaching theory and musicianship at the Junior Academy. I loved teaching there – and have many happy memories of the basement ‘organ room’ before I eventually moved to room 2.48!
I also taught Music History at the Music School of Douglas Academy around this time. In 1997, Peter Inness got me teaching part-time in ‘seniors’ in the Department of Academic Studies. It was slightly strange to be working alongside such highly respected former teachers as Eric Rice, Stanley Thomson, George Taylor, Bob Inglis and Myra Soutar. That role expanded, in time, and I eventually became Head of Academic Studies in 2005, following Peter Inness’s retirement.
In 2012, I moved to Dublin to become Head of the Conservatory of Music and Drama at Dublin Institute of Technology (now TUDublin) – a richly rewarding role where I made many friends. I returned to RCS as Director of Music in 2015.
What do you love most about your job?
I love attending student performances – that has to be, absolutely, the best part of my job: seeing students on stage, hearing them, and observing their development over time. Covid certainly interrupted that! I’m only now beginning to get to know and recognise our students once again! The next best part is working with such amazing colleagues. People make Glasgow, and people make the RCS.
Any tips or words of wisdom for those ready to embark on their training?
Practise. Turn up on time. Listen to others, even if you don’t like what they say – and always take the next step!