Programme: Music - BMus (Hons)

Year: 2017

Having previously been told that University was solely for the "academic" study of music, Jack discovered that the BMus (Hons) at Edinburgh College of Art would allow him to specialise in performance, with a focus on piano and traditional Scottish fiddle.

The different elements of the BMus programme contributed to his development as a performer and prepared him with the depth of knowledge for his postgraduate studies at London's Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

Tell us about your time at the University

At school, I was given the impression that if you want to do music performance then you should go to a Conservatoire and if you want to be more “academic” then go to University.  However, after speaking with one of the tutors on the course, I discovered that it was possible to study at Edinburgh University and to concentrate on performance because of the range of options available – Performance/Recital, Composition, Keyboard Skills, Counterpoint, Improvisation, Kodály method, Harmony etc... and all of these elements contributed to my development as a performer.

It was also exciting to have the opportunity to choose subjects outside of the department and after looking at the vast range of options, I rather curiously chose Russian. This gave me the opportunity to meet other people outside of music and develop a completely new skill.

Something that Edinburgh offers is the opportunity to study with a teacher of your choice. This means that you have the ability to find a teacher who you can relate to. For me, this was hugely important and allowed me to study both piano and traditional Scottish fiddle with fantastic teachers.

Of course, the most important thing about an institution is the people. I found all of the staff at the Reid School of Music to be helpful and professional and I had a supportive and friendly year group. My tutor was especially kind when I misread my exam timetable!

Much as I enjoyed term time in the music department, I think my favourite memories are probably all in the summer holidays – each summer, with the help of The Principal’s Go Abroad Fund and The Gwen Clutterbuck & Leighton Scholarship, I attended the Music at Albignac Piano Summer School in the South of France. It was the internationally-renowned teachers and performers on these courses that ultimately directed me towards Guildhall.

Part of a concert given in the Queens Hall Edinburgh by the Meadows Chamber Orchestra in June 2017.
Video by 'MrCoranglais'

""Of course, the most important thing about an institution is the people. I found all of the staff at the Reid School of Music to be helpful and professional and I had a supportive and friendly year group.""

Jack Tait Westwell, 2017 BMus (Hons) graduate

Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University

One of the highlights since graduating was performing the Poulenc Piano Concerto with the Meadows Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh's Queen's Hall shortly after completing my programmes. This was the perfect way to end what had been a fantastic experience of studying under the tutelage of the Orchestra's Peter Evans.

I think it’s always sad when something ends and there is perhaps always the feeling that you could have made more of the opportunities – joined a few societies or gone to a few more parties. However, I think partly due to the fact I had stayed close to home (or to be more precise, in it) during my undergraduate years, I was excited about the move to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

I had a very busy first year at Guildhall, but I felt well prepared for the course with the depth of knowledge I had gained during my time at Edinburgh College of Art. I am now in my second year at Guildhall and am excited for the year ahead with concerts in London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Orkney in the diary. I am also collaborating with Australian clarinettist Craig McLaren and continuing to work with the Żyniewicz Quintet.

Living in London is expensive. I am staying in reasonably-priced accommodation at the strangely named Goodenough College and surviving on scholarships (The Bucher Fraser Trust, The McGlashan Charitable Trust, The Caird Trust, The Argyll Educational Trust and a Goodenough College Bursary), parental support and on my own income as a piano teacher playing for weekly ballet classes at the Royal Academy of Dance.

Alumni wisdom

A career in the music industry today requires versatility. I know that many of the best-performing musicians in the country are unable to sustain an adequate income from concerts alone. With this in mind, it is incredibly important to be open and willing to try various different opportunities that might come your way.

Never turn down an opportunity, whether this is a concert or attending a dinner. You never know what will come of it.

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