Category Archives: Transition

The sun sets on another session…

This is a time of year I enjoy greatly – and not only because the opportunity to bolster one of Europe’s sun-drenched but struggling economies approaches. There are performances aplenty. In the secondary sector there was MGS Summer Concert – and then a smaller contingent of the Guitar Ensemble played at the MGS Prize Giving last night. It always amazes me how the smaller group (8 members) sounds louder than the full ensemble (20+) – there’s a psychology/physics PhD in there, I’m sure.

In the purely primary zone, there are two nights of Annie at Wallyford PS. My colleague, Ewan Armstong, is the MD for this and puts in the spade work over many weeks. I simply swan in with a bass guitar on the night(s) and join in. On a personal level, this is one of the year’s most enjoyable musical challenges. There is no written part. The trick is to watch what Ewan is playing and decide, on the hoof, the best thing to compliment it. While it’s important that young people grasp the value of rehearsal – of preparing the music as carefully as possible – I think it’s also important for those hoping to pursue the art, that they see other ways of operating – some of which are thrust upon us from time to time. The closing night is this evening. If it’s anything like the miraculous opening night then it will be great.

My final visit to Campie for this session ended with a concert by guitarists in P5-P7 for the P4s – from whose ranks next year’s guitarists will emerge.  I was really thrilled by this event. The pupils played excellently and we were able to squeeze in a few more courageous soloists than was the case during the school’s Musical Evening a couple of weeks earlier. Especially promising was the rapt attention of the P4 pupils and their intelligent questions and observations.

Transition is often where the fun is. Pupils from Campie PS and Wallyford PS joined the MGS Guitar Ensemble in the Summer Concert. Tomorrow, former pupils from Wallyford – currently at MGS –  will visit the school to join with departing P7s in a performance at the Leavers’ Assembly. I’m always touched by the affectionate regard in which the pupils hold their former school, and with the warm reception they receive from their former teachers. It really is the best way to end the year and helps keep a sense of the big picture.

Have an excellent summer, one and all!


Always a nice end of term event – a trip to Law PS with a troupe of NBHS guitarists to play for P7s. Normally seniors fulfill this role but as many are out of school at the moment on trips, a group of S1/S2 pupils took on the job. Three of these pupils were in the audience last session, when in P7. With the younger pupils we were able to demonstrate some of the pieces and techniques that new pupils will meet in a few months. At the end of the gig, the pupils huddled together for a group photo:

Super troupers

This has been quite a performance-heavy week. Mon – Wed saw three evangelising concerts, where guitarists performed to younger pupils who will be eligible for guitar instruction next session.

On Monday, P5 – P7 pupils from Campie PS played a short concert for the current P4s. The repertoire was a mix of group items and solos, the latter of which would give them some idea of what they might be doing next year. The atmosphere was great and there were some very interesting questions for the pupils from the audience. Recordings from this event can be found on the Campie PS page.

In a similar vein, Tuesday saw a visit of NBHS guitarists to Law PS and Wednesday, a visit of Knox guitarists to King’s Meadow PS. Technical glitches e.g. batteries running out during performances, resulted in their being fewer recordings than I’d hoped, but there are enough to give some idea of the day. The explosive applause of P7 pupils should also convey how much the pupils enjoyed the visit. (NBHS page; Knox page).

Thursday evening was the Musselburgh Grammar School Summer Concert in which the school’s Guitar Group played two items – a Scottish Medley and a Brazilian Choro. You can hear these items on the MGS page.

Many thanks to all the pupils concerned for the hard work, joie de vivre and savoir faire.

David Byrne on the future of the recording industry

David Byrne writes eloquently, resonantly and, in one sense, optimistically about the future of the recording industry in the indented paragraph contained here.

If I feel as nimble as he appears to when I’m 56, I’ll be chuffed: [kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Twilight Associations

Spontaneity and inspections rarely appear in the same sentence but yesterday afternoon proved the exception. Upon arrival an mid-inspection NBHS, I overheard mention of voluntary meetings with members of the inspection team and NBHS staff with the intention of discussing ACfE and AIFL. I took the liberty of inviting myself along and was welcomed with open arms.

For obvious reasons I cannot divulge names and details but suffice to say it was the first time I’ve sat round a table with colleagues from such diverse disciplines – and that the debate was very lively. The magnitude of current curricular reform and seems to encourage – in fact, requires – thinking out of the box and I found myself questioning aloud the automatic faculty grouping of Music with its traditional bedfellows. I would describe music as a language with an unmistakable numerical component, yet we rarely pursue these associations.

Music in prisons

One of the thorniest questions in any justice debate is “what is prison for?” Punishment? Rehabilitation? The protection of society? A mixture of the above and more? As far as punishment goes, the debate continues. Is simply being there the punishment? Is the prison simply the location where punishments (imposition of this – denial of that) are administered? The perspective of the victims of crime are often brought into the debate. Such a conversation recently unfolded on Radio 4’s Today on the subject of music in prisons (scroll down to 0743 – the time this item was broadcast).

The discussion was prompted by the installation of listening posts in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall where visitors can hear the compositions of offenders. Reporter, Nicola Stanbridge, discussed the varying points of view with Sara Lee (Projects Coordinator, Irene Taylor Trust “Music In Prisons”), Dr Loraine Gelsthorpe (University of Cambridge, Institute of Criminology) and a former prisoner. Needless to say, the conversations were punctuated by recordings of Johnny Cash from Folsom Prison.

Dr Gelsthorpe listed the rehabilitative benefits of involvement as including: “well-being, relatedness, confidence & learning.” These terms will surely resonate with anyone connected to the changes currently being wrought in Scottish education by A Curriculum for Excellence. Particularly withdrawn or troublesome prisoners, who had not previously taken part in education (in any sense that mainstream teaching would imply) were often targeted for this programme.

I looked in vain on the website of the Royal Festival Hall for a link to this project – but did stumble upon Art by Offenders (Koestler Exhibition).

I taught a guitar class in HM Prison Edinburgh (Saughton) in the late 80s. As far as I could make out (I was only there one evening per week) the most popular classes were Art, Music, Maths (numeracy) & Chess. These relatively informal classes ran alongside a more formal Open University programme.


Ann Cruickshank

This Friday sees the retirement of Ann Cruickshank after 33 years of service to Musselburgh Grammar School’s Music Department. As this coincides with the beginning of the October holiday, Ann decided to throw a retirement ceilidh/party last night in Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange. It was a fantastic occasion and Ann was clearly over the moon to be sharing the evening with so many friends and colleagues, past and present.

The ceilidh music was provided by Laurie Crump and friends. Laurie is the husband of MGS’s universally popular, and boundlessly talented Woodwind Instructor, Juliet Aspley. Between ceilidh sets, there were sessions of lovely solo jazz guitar by Robin Robertson.

Lifelong friend and guitar predecessor at MGS, Mike McGeary and I also performed a short, affectionate send-off to Ann. Between us, Mike and I represent 26 years of collegiality with Ann and it’s always nice when a send-off takes the form of the activity that brought us together.

Always one of the first in the building each morning and with barely a day’s absence since 1975, Ann will be a much missed member of staff.

Thanks for everything, Ann, and don’t be a stranger now.

Mary Vevers

After 17 years’ service to Wallyford PS, Mary Vevers was honoured with a retirement assembly. Part of this included a performance by a guitar group featuring current and former pupils. After playing a few tunes, we were joined by the Staff Choir who, with minimal rehearsal, sang a reworded version of Richard Rogers’ Happy Talk as a send-off for Mary. Among the lines describing the freedoms afforded by retirement was “…..even have your lunch before the bell.” With an irony that you could plan, the bell chimed in as this line approached. Personnel details and mp3s are available on the Wallyford PS page.

Loose is not the same as slack

At this time of year the formal timetable often yields to entertainment, liaison and evangelism. Apart from the obvious benefits, this removes the incongruity of final lessons where no homework is given and no sense of urgency obtains.

Here are a few examples of recent and pending events:

Fri 13th

The Big Gig @ MGS. This event always involves self-taught pupil bands, dance groups, staff performances (usually comical) and a staff-student band. This year a new element was included in the staff-student House Band which had interesting consequences – a horn section. As the horn parts had to be arranged and written out, this meant that the band had to adhere to and memorise the structure. The rehearsals were definitely a little more fraught than usual as there was clearly more discipline than some would have liked in their spare time, but the results made it all worthwhile and I feel sure that all involved felt that they’d raised their game.

Mon 16th

Campie PS – guitarists from P5-P7 put on a concert of ensemble and solo music for P4 pupils. The audience contained next years new guitar players, and I was bowled over by their rapt attention. The situation also includes an opportunity for the P4s to question the existing players about what is involved in learning an instrument at school.

Tue 17th

Four S3 guitar pupils from NBHS will accompany me on a trip to Law PS to play for the P7s. This coincides with the eve of the P7 pupils’ visit to the High School and so there should be an extra edge to the transitional feel of things. The P7s eduBuzzers plan to podcast the event so keep an eye on the Law PS blog. There will also be time for questions at this event.

Thu 19th

MGS Summer Concert. There should be a doubly transitional feel to our Guitar Group this year. We are to be joined by two extremely enthusiastic P7 pupils from Wallyford PS and also by two former pupils who, as they are coming in to lend a hand with sound-mixing, will no doubt join the ensemble. This means the age gap between youngest and eldest will be 8 years (I’m not including myself in this equation). In addition to playing in our own ensemble, some of the pupils play in the orchestra, jazz band and a new traditional music ensemble.

Wed 25th

P7 Leaving Assembly @ Wallyford. I can’t be at this event as I’ll be in another school but will be present in digital form – on a CD to accompany the pupils. This will be a new discipline for them as a CD can’t jump to their aid like a teacher.

Fri 27th

Retirement Assembly @ Wallyford for a much loved member of staff. The plan is to bring six former pupils across from MGS so that, along with the P7s we can play, for the pupils and staff at this send-off. I can’t think of a nicer way to end the school year.