What defines ‘The Edge’ to a diverse group of music students currently studying BA(Hons) Applied Music with the University of the Highlands and Islands from their homes across the world?*
The Edge, a word which can have many different meanings.
On the one hand, it is described as the farthest point away from the centre – the periphery, implying that if we venture beyond that point the consequences may be irreversibly disastrous.
Periphery, a key term of the Dependency Theory developed in the 1960s and ‘70s to define places which are not as developed as others (Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020). These places can never achieve the same heights as the supported centres. The edge is not in the line of focus and can easily be forgotten.
On the other hand, the edge is used to describe a decision situation with two equally likely results. In German these situations are described as standing on the cutting edge of a knife, still in balance, but, inevitably likely to fall down one way or the other.
The edge seems to be a place which is not desirable. It seems that its meanings have negative connotations and nothing positive can be developed from these places and spaces. We grow up being constantly warned “stay away from the edge”, “Don’t live life on the edge”, this boundary encircling our traditional comfort zone. One of our students, Barry, says “Writing from my home village of Cullivoe, in the remote northern part of Shetland, I am aware that these concepts have been with me for most of my life.
To travel from Cullivoe to Lerwick, the main hub of Shetland, is a journey of over two hours, including a ferry crossing – beyond the range of a comfortable commute. This fact means that the village has always had to forge its own identity: rather than existing on ‘the edge’, Cullivoe must be the centre of its own world. Growing up here, its culture, community and music scene was the centre of mine.” Robert concurs. “Everything we do and see is perceived by us, from the viewpoint of where we are. Every creative idea we have, although influenced by the outside, happens within us”.
Studying on the geographical edge of a unique musical community, grown from the nucleus of the UHI BA Applied music degree has been a life changing experience for many. In 2012 it began an innovative combination of online teaching and discussion, supported by face to face residencies, to deliver its modular degree. This model is now known by the pedagogical term ‘blended learning’ (Campbell and Simco 2011). In 2014, the transfer in delivery of half of these residencies to an online format, reducing travelling and accommodation costs for students, transformed this edge into a relative and moveable phenomenon, a centre of all peripheries, the edges forming a centre, a centre with lots of community, possibilities and open doors.
According to Barry, “Since 2017, I have been a part of another community – a network of students working remotely, often on a common musical project. We ‘meet’ regularly online, having face to face chats via Webex Teams, Zoom, or whichever platform-du-jour is in vogue. We share musical ideas and recordings, emailing pdfs of sheet music, or wav files of recordings we have made in our own homes.
Often these recordings will be to a professional standard as the democratization of recording continues and better-quality equipment becomes more affordable. We chat on a daily basis via Whatsapp or Facebook groups, planning and discussing our projects. Marit, one of our students based in Germany, adds, “The applied music course is a course which is created by people living on the edge. People from all over Scotland and different countries have the possibility to come together and they do not have to live in the centre. Because of the structure and conduction of the course, it is possible to include everyone, no matter if they are living on the geographical edge”.
Described by Robert ,“That’s where the magic happens: that’s where communication and collaboration happen: the spaces between us. When we create a community, or when we co-create musically, we are meeting each other at all of our respective edges and finding that they overlap”.
This model of study has been successful in integrating students from not only the farthest corners of the Highlands and Islands, but also internationally from the likes of America, Spain, Germany and roaming cruise ships.
With technological advances, our centre of learning has become virtual, and consequently the edge is no longer a physical thing, restricting students from participating in musical studies and collaborations. Students and staff support each other in addressing common problems encountered and this concept of facing a common enemy (usually IT based) has the effect of creating a strong unified community, all of whom are prepared to support and help each other, day or night.
This community includes, not only current students, but also staff and Alumni, extending to life beyond the confines of academia with BA Applied Music social, online events such as our weekly Desert Highlands and Islands discs. The importance of this is highlighted by Jamie “A challenge we have all faced during this difficult time has been the feeling of isolation and destitution……our tutors support us in hosting an informal, weekly, video-conference based on the well-known radio programme, Desert Island Discs (BBC 2021) which has helped us to keep in touch socially.”
Evidence of our lifetime connection is that the mystery guests are predominantly BA Applied Music Alumni, exhibiting that once you are a part of this community – you can never leave!”
Demonstrating feelings that we all share, he continues “ The magic that you feel from the minute you begin the course, sitting in a room of strangers in Inverness during your first residency, listening to exciting new prospects, to your final year with a group of the best friends you will ever make, graduating with tremendous pride and feeling of accomplishment.
The Coronavirus Pandemic has had a profound impact on our residencies this year, we are all in our bedrooms, spending eight hours each day of the residency staring at a screen. But you know what? That magic hasn’t left – not even slightly!” Eilidh agrees “From the very first day, I have felt like I had a place within the uni group and, along with learning about the course content, came an immense sense of belonging”. Ellen has enjoyed it so much that she has been a student on the course since the first day in 2012!
As BAAMS (BA Applied Music Students), we are as proud as the course staff to recognise our 100% student satisfaction result in the annual NSS student survey (Discover Uni 2020).
With this strong foundation, the students and staff have adapted to the impact of the global pandemic almost seamlessly. Missing the creative inspiration generated when musicians congregate in person, but, learning new skills in performing, recording and collaborating to reach similar goals. Working together, utilising individual strengths, everyone encouraging and helping each other to the benefit of the group as a whole, epitomising the basic principles of a thriving community.
At the first residency of the academic year 2020-21, we were set a task to compose some music for Community Land Scotland (Community Land Scotland 2021); we were asked to consider community, and the concept of being on ‘the edge’. Students were allocated into groups and quickly settled, making musical bonds with our extended communities, encompassing different genres, skill levels, instruments, backgrounds and characters, united by our participation in the same degree course.
The essential skills that we used, were the same skills that the Scottish communities used when they fought for and reclaimed their land and recognising this connection inspired creativity within our groups. An inspirational empathy between two very different communities, both on the edge, both using their combined strengths to achieve common goals to thrive and develop. We worked hard for two months from our own communities, doing what we have done since 2012, collaborating remotely and producing core musical ideas for all students to work on at the November residency.
There, our groups and musical creations were shuffled about and the creative process repeated, effectively creating a musical version of Chinese whispers. As artists, we can be protective over our creations, but in learning to let them go, to let others use and change them, we are experiencing one of the fundamental ideas of a Community i.e. To sacrifice the needs of the individual for the greater good of the whole group. By the end of day three we were ready to showcase small samples of our varied collaborations to the Community Land Scotland representatives. The final unveiling of this work took place on Burns Day, 25th January 2021.
We have long known the value of community, but the events of 2020 and the Covid crisis has reinforced and underlined its importance. Online communities are no substitute for the community that surrounds us physically; however, they can strengthen those ‘real world’ communities, allowing us to make lasting connections with others who face the same challenges we do, to the benefit of all.
Eilidh concludes “no matter how long we are all sitting in our own homes, staring at each other on a screen, the connection is just as strong. We have all been working together to finish the residency tasks over the internet, but in the same sense, throughout this pandemic, this sense of comradery and teamwork can be felt and seen across the whole country. I just hope and look forward to that feeling continuing into the future”.
The Edge can be seen as a stagnant place, but, when we are experiencing these edges, we are able to shift our narrative and push them forward. We are leaving the centre of our comfort zone, stretching out with our ideas to travel to our own edge. When we work together our edges overlap, harmonically supporting each other to thrive and grow. Experiencing and getting to know these edges will develop and strengthen us… The Edge shows us how to widen our view of the world… The Edge helps define our future…
The Edge is what we, ourselves, make of it.
All six contributors are students currently studying with the University of the Highlands and Islands on the BA(Hons) Applied Music course.
Jamie Anderson is fourth year accordionist, drummer and piano player from Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders. His first and second year were spent studying in Orkney before moving to Glasgow for the last leg of his UHI Applied Music journey. Jamie spends his time playing Rugby, playing his Accordion, teaching accordion, drums and piano and playing as part of a trad trio named Reidhle.
Ellen Grieve is an accordionist from the Island of Rousay in Orkney. A full-time Hospital Pharmacy Technician and part-time student in her final year on the BA Applied Music course, she combines studying with playing and teaching accordion, playing football, serving as an Island Special Constable and not forgetting cleaning public toilets which pays for her tuition fees and residency travels!
Robert King is a singer-songwriter in second year, currently living in Invergordon in the Highlands. He spent several years busking and travelling on-and-off around Europe before deciding to “settle down” to study. He’s also an afficionado of world music and loves spending time being in nature.
Eilidh Macintyre is a 4th year student on the BA Applied music course. She is studying Gaelic song for her final project. She has recently released her first single with her band – Madderam. They are looking forward to releasing their album next month
Marit Schöpel is studying in first year from Göttingen in Germany due to the pandemic. Trumpet is her main instrument and the Genre she is studying is traditional music. Her aim is to find her own style to play traditional music in the context of today.
Barry Nisbet is a 4th year student on the UHI’s BA Applied Music course; as well as being a songwriter and Shetland fiddler, he is also a ship captain who runs the ‘Sessions and Sail’ tall ship voyages on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland.
BBC (2021) Desert Island Discs [online]. Available from https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnmr [5th January 2021]
Campbell, G. and Simco N. (2011) ‘Developing Blended Learning in Higher Education- A Case Study of the University of the Highlands and Islands’. Practitioner Research in Higher Education, v5 n1 p3-8
Community Land Scotland (2021) About Community Land Scotland [online]. Available from <https://www.communitylandscotland.org.uk/> [5th January 2021]
Discover Uni (2020) BA(Hons)Applied Music [online]. Available from <https://discoveruni.gov.uk/course-details/10007114/UW301/Full-time/ > [5th January 2021]
Shetland Amenity Trust (2021) Eshaness [online]. Available from <https://www.shetland-heritage.co.uk/eshaness> [5th January 2021]
Springer Nature Switzerland AG (2020) Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology. Centre and Periphery [online]. Available from <https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-1-4614-5583-7_37> [03 January 2021]