Ryan Sullivan graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2015 with a first class honours degree in music performance, having been awarded the Leverhulme Trust Scholarship and several major prizes.
The 26-year-old has since embarked upon an international teaching career in Spain and Qatar, currently teaching at Doha College, one of the leading British international schools in the world.
Read on to find out more about our Graduate of the Month for April.
Tell me about your teaching position in Doha.
RS: I work at Doha College, where I teach primary and secondary music. I’m incredibly lucky to get to work with the wee babies in early years all the way up to the teenagers for GCSE exams. I also lead much of the enrichment programme in the college with choirs and orchestras.
As well as this, I’m leading an Action Research project assessing the impact of music on literacy and creative writing – it’s really interesting stuff. Doha College leads the way with high performance learning, which is a philosophy woven into every fibre of teaching and learning so being part of that journey in education is exciting!
How did the position come upon your radar?
RS: I had been working at another school in Doha for two years when the job came up at Doha College, and before that at a dual curriculum school in Spain. The landscape of teaching internationally is surprisingly close-knit and everyone has their eye on the top schools. The job was advertised on TES (a great tool for teachers) and the minute I read the job description I knew it was for me.
How does teaching in Doha differ from working in Scotland?
RS: That’s a two part answer – work life and lifestyle. The working week in the Middle East is Sunday to Thursday to observe the holy day in Islam which is a Friday. The working hours are very different – we start at 6.30am and finish at around 2pm.
The mentality in international schools is also different – there’s a transient nature to it all so everyone is looking to make the most of it. Lifestyle is very much ‘work hard, play hard’.
What was it that attracted you to studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland?
RS: I studied at what was then the RSAMD Junior Academy for four years so I knew the lie of the land very well. I had always studied bassoon and voice so I wanted to continue with that into my degree and it was made possible for me at RCS.
My teachers were also a big factor – at Juniors I studied bassoon with Janet Bloxwich and singing with Iain Paton. In my first year I started studying bassoon with Peter Whelan and singing with Kath Ferguson. They are all top flight performers and teachers and I incorporate many of their teaching techniques and musical ideas into my own practice nowadays.
How do you look back on your studies at the Royal Conservatoire?
I had four great years at RCS and the holistic experience was very positive. I was lucky to win a lot of big prizes and awards – the RSNO Concerto Prize, a place in the London Symphony Orchestra Academy, finalist in the Yamaha Music Foundation of Europe Scholarship, Highly Commended in the Governors’ Prize and I even performed Michael Daughtery’s Dead Elvis in a full Elvis costume!
Some of my best memories are from playing in the orchestra for the Mozart operas – it doesn’t get better than that.
How did those years prepare you for the career which has followed?
RS: My journey has been quite different to that which I originally anticipated when I started studying. I wanted to play in orchestras and I was a choral singer; everything was performing. The big curriculum changes that were taking place at RCS provoked me into thinking outside the box. I was a student representative on the validation panels so I had a really good insight into the process and its rationale. I took modules in things like arts leadership and fundraising, piano accompaniment and conducting. It was around the beginning of my final year that I started to consider doing something other than performing. Nonetheless, I blasted my final year to make sure my CV was as solid as it could be, won a lot of prizes and graduated with a First. All of these experiences have contributed to where I am now.
How important is the work being done by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in teaching the teachers of the future?
RS: I was delighted to read recently that RCS is introducing a PGDE programme within its postgraduate portfolio. I think this has been a long time coming and the value of a specialist institution offering a teaching qualification like this is unparalleled.
At RCS we were exposed to outstanding teaching and pedagogy, and to many students the art of teaching comes naturally.
Formalising that to actually get a job in a school or within certain organisations after graduation is quite different. I think this new PGDE programme will attract a healthy intake.
What was Glasgow like as a place to study?
RS: Vibrant. Diverse. Never without something to do. The artistic landscape of Glasgow is a chapter in itself. The character of its people is another. It’s all of these things that make Glasgow stand out from the crowd compared to any major European city.
What advice would you have for someone considering following in your footsteps and studying at the Royal Conservatoire?
RS: Don’t let a single opportunity pass you by. Flood your time at RCS with variety, new experiences; something that will set you apart from the crowd.
Share your alumni story! Contact Mark Good, Communications Officer (Alumni): M.Good@rcs.ac.uk