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North university’s music pioneers will strike a chord at international conference

Remote musicians will come together to perform live in Stornoway.

Anna-Wendy Stevenson will give a keynote speech on UHI's open learning approach.
Anna-Wendy Stevenson will give a keynote speech on UHI's open learning approach.

During lockdown, online collaborations became a popular and necessary way for musicians to remain creative.

From Elton John to Foo Fighters and Nick Cave to Taylor Swift, the pandemic brought together artists on a number of remote virtual sessions.

But the idea was being applied years before Covid by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) which linked students in different locations on its BA (Hons) applied music course.

Live concert and keynote address

Later this month, the results of this year’s collaboration will be seen and heard live when the students meet face-to-face for a concert in Stornoway.

The success of the course will also be outlined to an international audience in Inverness on Wednesday.

Senior lecturer and programme leader Anna-Wendy Stevenson will deliver a keynote address to an open education conference organised by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), hosted by UHI.

Based at UHI Outer Hebrides, Anna-Wendy led the team that developed the applied music degree in 2012. It was pioneering in the UK.

The course design includes four residencies per year where students collaborate for intensive weeks of music-making face-to-face.

The 2022 concert can be seen here:

The course promotes accessibility and inclusion for students and provides career opportunities. Many musicians go on to star in events such as HebCelt and Celtic Connections.

Past students include Shetland fiddler Margaret Robertson MBE, musicians Joseph Peach and Chloe Steele, and singer-songwriter Rhona Stevens.

The roll call also includes members of bands Elephant Sessions, Heisk and Eabhal.

In her conference address, entitled ‘Setting the tone: The democratisation of music education in the Highlands and Islands and beyond’, Anna-Wendy will outline how the course embodies open education and accessible approaches.

She will tell around 150 delegates, and others online, UHI was leading the way on remote collaborations when lockdown hit.

“We were well placed because of the university’s distributed nature and its work on inclusion.

UHI music students’ international collaborations

“It allows students to be connected in different locations rather than forcing them to travel to a single location.

“In 2014, this was radical, but since Covid people have become used to it.

“However, when the pandemic came along, we already had our framework and we have since been able to share that framework with the higher education community internationally.”

This has included a collaboration with student musicians at Box Hill Institute in Melbourne.

In 2019 and 2020 virtual residencies with universities in Senegal also led to the exchange project African Digital Academy.

UHI has also worked with Scottish charity Fischy Music, to compose songs with primary school children. It also teamed up with Score Draw Music in Belfast which creates music for films, TV, radio, animations and games.

Other work includes helping produce music for an early years Gaelic language app and a composition commissioned by Community Land Scotland to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

UHI music students contribute remotely to new music to mark Community Land Scotland’s 10th anniversary in 2020.

The live performance residency, from April 17, will be held at An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway and feature the work of students from across the Highlands, Uist, Orkney and the Central Belt.

Free concerts are being held over a week in the run up to a showcase concert night on April 20. 

Anna-Wendy says the event in a professional venue provides the students with an authentic setting with a live audience, while performances are all also live-streamed.

“It’s presenting themselves to the professional world where the feedback will be authentic. This is a profound opportunity for the students.

“It’s wonderful how the students who have not met each other already are deeply connected.

Awards nomination

“It’s great to see friendships and connections that are lifelong being formed.

“Not exactly like a dating app, but there are some parallels.”

In 2021, the applied music team was one of only three in Scotland to win the Advance Higher Education’s collaborative award in teaching excellence.

This year, Anna-Wendy is one of three UHI staff put forward for the National Teaching Fellow Award and Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence.

This is in recognition of not only her years of work developing opportunities for students, but also helping attracting people to study in Uist.

“It’s great recognition for what I am passionate about – developing courses and celebrating the students’ success.”

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