Recordings are bringing to life the music of their studies for Isles students unable to get-together for a public event.

Like almost all areas of life, Coronavirus has affected the final year honours students enrolled on the BA (Hons) Applied Music with the University of the Highlands and Islands who have had the disappointment of their end of year live recitals being cancelled. 

Each April, the Applied Music students congregate in Stornoway on the Island of Lewis for the final residency of the academic year. 

This week of performances and workshops at Lews Castle College UHI and An Lanntair arts centre is a crucial point in the calendar for assessment and for the celebration of achievement at the end of the academic year.  The residency programme had been curated in partnership with XpoNorth to deliver an industry conference – and this aspect was successfully transferred online.

However, the 45 min honours recitals are the culmination of years of practice and it was an obvious disappointment to students when they had to be cancelled. 

There are still no easily accessible technological solutions to performing live online with musicians in simultaneous different locations.  Programme leader BA  (Hons) Applied Music Anna-Wendy Stevenson quickly contacted each student individually to explore options of how they could still complete in time to graduate through alternative means - submitting evidence - recordings, filmed previous concerts and combinations thereof.   Students were given the option to submit after the summer – but more than 50% have submitted and every student who submitted achieved A grades in their final projects.

Student Chloe Steele put together an impressive portfolio of recordings including her album ‘Uibhist mo Rùin’ and projects which highlighted her community engagement over the past four years - her community teaching, and her curation and delivery of the monthly Kildonan Ceilidhs.  Chloe provided context for her own practice with the inclusion of a professional documentary film which she presented and produced: ‘Bann nam Baghasdal’  which explored the connections between her home village of Boisdale in South Uist and Boisdale in Cape Breton. The film was to be showcased in An Lanntair as part of the residency – and instead was showcased by the University of the Highlands and Islands on Facebook Live as the residency moved online.  

Chloe: “The residencies are such a special part of our studies – where we meet up at the beginning and end of each semester.   I think we all missed the excitement of performing in front of a ‘live’ audience in a fully equipped public venue working under professional conditions in Stornoway.  I’ve made some friends for life on this course and I missed seeing them this time – especially to celebrate the completion of our studies. I still feel very fortunate that we were able to still be assessed by portfolio and complete our degrees.”

Programme leader Anna-Wendy Stevenson said:  “Many of our students have been affected by the impact of Covid and it is a testament to students’ adaptability, and solution focused approaches as well as to the support of a solid programme team, that students have managed to submit and to such a high level under difficult circumstances.”

“Before Covid, I would have to explain to applicants what a blended learning approach to teaching was.  When we first developed this degree in 2012, we were ahead of the curve – though so many people at the time were highly sceptical about how you can teach and study music using blended learning. We make sure time is well spent when we are together face to face, and pack a lot in.  There is a lot of flexibility around this learning model, and as a result the programme attracts a wide demographic from school leavers to professional musicians and those coming to music education later in life. Students find the Applied Music degree empowering and student centred as evidenced by last year’s 100% result in the National Student Survey”. 

“There are many applications for music skills and knowledge – establishing and tapping into these is the focus of the degree, why it is successful and why there is every indication that Applied Music will continue to thrive during challenging times.”   

Since completing her studies, Chloe Steele has been collaborating online with musicians in Ireland, and presented the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar online E-Ceilidh in June and continues to be employed in her Uist community teaching local children Gaelic song, piping and chanter with Fèis Tìr a' Mhurain. 

The Applied Music degree will launch the 2020-21 academic year with new accreditation from the Scottish Music Industry Association and a series of virtual residencies which will see students exploring new avenues for income generation through composing new music for sync and working remotely with a university in Finland on online collaboration.

Lews Castle College UHI offer a range of music courses including HNC Music as a foundation to the BA (Hons) Applied Music.  The MA Music and the Environment and the MRes Creative Practice are some of the progression opportunities available from BA Applied Music.  A student on any music course who decides to base themselves in Uist for the study of any of these courses is eligible to apply for the £1,000 annual scholarship scheme. https://www.lews.uhi.ac.uk/about-us/find-us/benbecula-campus/music-courses/