A “virtual residency” involving music students from around has been world has been running at Mareel arts centre for the last couple of weeks.
The residency, the first of its kind, makes full use of modern internet connections and online technology and means students can join in composing music whether they are in a world-class recording venue like Mareel or sitting in a kitchen with a laptop in the Australian outback.
According to Bryan Peterson, one of four arts development officers at Mareel, the BA course in applied music gives students, regardless of whether they are in full-time employment or can devote all their time to learning, unprecedented access to high-level, flexible and practically-orientated teaching that would simply not have been possible even a few years ago.
Mr Peterson is working along with music lecturer Fraser Moat to deliver Mareel’s part of the project under an agreement with Shetland College, which is part of the UHI. The residency was designed by UHI BA course leader and musician Anna Wendy Stevenson, based in Benbecula, and senior course leader for music and sound Peter Noble.
The virtual residency has involved the five Shetland students – two of whom are full time music teachers – composing music along with students in Melbourne, throughout the Highlands and Islands. They even worked with a professional performer on a cruise ship collaborating in near real-time, to come up with original pieces of music.
It has been an interesting project even those with plenty of musical experience. Margaret Scollay said of the virtual residency: “It’s been a real challenge to bridge the geographic boundaries through the use of technology but it has encouraged us to compose in new and interesting ways”
Peter Wood added: “It was great to hear what other people from all around the world were sending our way. We never knew what to expect which kept us on our toes.”
The residency is just one way in which technology is being used to broaden the appeal, and effectiveness of courses, said Mr Peterson. “The basis of the BA Applied Music course is that it is delivered across all the campuses of the UHI and there are lot of remote students as well.
“The idea is that geography is not a barrier, additionally, by the nature of everything being delivered by video conference, time is not really a problem either.
“It’s good if you can log into the VCs (video conferences) as they happen but you can watch them at a later date and still join in with the online discussion groups and forums.”
Mr Peterson added: “It’s enabled folk that are working full time to study at degree level that never thought it would have been possible, and technology had not allowed it to be possible until reasonably recently. There have always been correspondence courses but not anything with this kind of level of interaction, that technology has allowed.”
On the other hand, many of the students undertaking the BA course at Mareel have progressed through courses available at the arts centre. One student started off doing a vocational sound engineering course while still at school, then progressed through his NC to the HNC and now is in the third year of his degree. “Something that was just not possible until now,” according to Mr Peterson.
Last year’s physical residency (one of three per year run by the UHI) saw 70 students from all around the world congregate in Mareel. Another was held earlier this year in Inverness.
In the virtual residency, Mr Peterson explained, the melody of a tune might be recorded in Inverness, uploaded and then downloaded by students in Australia who would put chords to it, the next group of students, in Perth, might add the bass line.
“The course is non-genre specific so you might get someone coming with a folk-based melody and someone adding some rock guitar and then someone adding jazz bass,” said Mr Peterson. “It’s really exciting so see what’s going to appear in your Dropbox [online file sharing] folder next.”
• More in The Shetland Times, 5th December