Tell us about your background
I was born in Edinburgh and lived there until I moved to Glasgow to study at The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD), now known as RCS.
I was fortunate enough to benefit from a wonderful musical education both at primary and secondary level in Edinburgh. Music was an important part of my life, and I enjoyed immensely the varied activities organised at school. We were very lucky to have The Edinburgh Primary School’s Orchestra, which allowed so many players to gain orchestral experience at such a young age.
At secondary school I began timpani and percussion lessons which opened a whole new range of playing possibilities. Apart from orchestral playing, we had a brilliant school wind band which competed and toured regularly. Without realising it, those school years were great preparation for what was to follow.
I have such fond memories of the Head of Music, Mr. Peter Douglas. He went above and beyond to facilitate our practise and would stay behind after school to rehearse with us, listen to our group rehearsals or organise staged musicals, choir etc he was such an inspirational teacher.
Describe a typical day at the Royal Seville Symphony Orchestra
I joined the Real Orquesta de Sevilla in January 1991, I had just started my postgraduate year at the RSMAD but decided to leave, move to Spain and take up a percussion post there. Percussion jobs are few and far between, so it wasn’t a hard decision to make!
As the only professional orchestra in the city, we cover many musical activities. We have a regular season that runs from September to July, but also do four operas and two ballets a year.
Our educational programmes are constantly developing and our involvement with primary and secondary school activities ever increasing. Percussion is an easy language with which to communicate, and I’m forever loading my car with instruments to give masterclasses or workshops to children of all ages and abilities.
Despite the varied schedule, I can honestly say that after more than 30 years in the job I still absolutely love it!
What was it like studying in Glasgow?
Studying in Glasgow was FANTASTIC, there are no words to describe how wonderful those years were.
Typically, the brass and percussion grouped together, as did the strings, woodwind, pianists and harpists, singers being a whole world apart. However, we all came together like one big family and the union felt wasn’t just musical, there was a silent support network between us that helped us conquer the successes and failures that came as part of training to be a professional musician.
I was so fortunate to have the absolute best teaching during those years. My percussion teacher Pamella Dow has been a huge influence in my life. She gave me my first opportunity to step into the professional world playing with the RSNO, I’ll never forget it, surrounded by so many wonderful players, I was simply starstruck.
Martin Gibbson, my timpani teacher and timpanist with the RSNO literally “drummed” (excuse the pun) the orchestral timpani repertoire into me, I remember he could play tunes on his drums, his nimble feet enabling him to pedal and retune at lightening speed. Even 30+ years down the line I can still tell you how many bars rest there are in just about every timpani part of Beethoven’s symphonies thanks to his teaching.
What has been your most memorable moment from your career so far?
Performing Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet Suites on a European tour with the European Union Youth Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado.
A short rehearsal prior to an evening concert had been a bit shaky, I was playing the snare drum which has an important part and the ensemble hadn’t been together. I remember playing too far ahead of the beat in a very exposed section but was more worried about sounding late which frequently happens in the percussion section!
Mº Abbado sent his assistant to speak to me afterwards and apart from telling me I wasn’t playing in time, suggested that perhaps another percussionist substituted me that night. I was mortified, completely taken aback and of course terrified. Breathing deeply, I bravely assured his assistant that ‘it would be all right on the night’ and I would hold back in the shaky section! Come the concert I was more than nervous but quite determined that I could do the job.
So off we went, baton down at lightning speed, sailing through tricky passages intricately in time and as tight and together as we had ever played. I was brimming with pride when Mº Abbado stood me up at the end and climbed up to the percussion section to shake my hand and congratulate me!
What did you learn that has been most useful in your career?
Without a doubt the RCS prepares young players for life in the profession. On the Music Performance course there we so many repertoire classes, orchestras, and masterclasses apart from individual tutoring.
There were numerous opportunities to learn orchestral works inside out, not just standard repertoire either, contemporary pieces, music by Scottish composers and student composers too. There was always a group to play in or an orchestra to perform with daily which allowed us to learn the art of performing.