Ever wondered what the reality is being a young aspiring musician? Here, Joseph Peach gives us a wee glimpse into his hectic (but rewarding) lifestyle.
I’m Joe, a writer and musician from Achiltibuie and currently based in Glasgow: I teach in a range of settings, play in bands and write about music for The West Highland Free Press, Living Tradition Magazine and Folk Radio UK.
My earliest musical experiences come from contact with people deeply connected to their tradition in every sense: The language, people, music and landscape of my home town of Achiltibuie. From family members, neighbours and friends I learned the Highland bagpipes and accordion. It is these experiences which underpin all I do musically. 6th year of secondary school was spent at Sgoil Chiùil na Gàidhealtachd, (The National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music). Here was where I first encountered and fell in love with the piano. This, and my peers at NCETM: A hugely diverse group of fantastic musicians and now, great friends, from all over Scotland are what led me to studying a degree in music.
Three years later, I’m entering 3rd year of University of the Highlands and Islands’ Applied Music degree. Over the course of my studies, I’ve been able to access some of the best piano tuition available in Scotland and really broaden my musical horizons. The fact the degree is not specific to a genre of music, and my tutor- Mary McCarthy- has a diverse and varied range of musical interests has meant that I’ve had the chance to explore different genres, using them to inform my primary interest in Scottish music.
It’s only been possible to specialise in Scottish Traditional music at University since the mid 1990’s, with the inception of the RCS (Formerly RSAMD) BA Scottish Music. The UHI degree, is the most recent way in which it’s possible to do this, (it’s only 4 years old). The degree is innovative in it’s multi-genre approach, and in the fact that it’s taught by distance learning.
For people like myself, looking to leave education and enter a full time freelance career in music, the flexibility offered by the distance learning aspect of the UHI degree is very useful useful, making it possible, whilst studying, to pursue a range of other professional development and career opportunities.
The career opportunities I’ve encountered have been varied, reflecting a wide range of interests. I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to write features for various publications about what’s happening in Scottish Music: New bands, albums, gigs and such like, whilst reflecting on wider trends within this exciting area. I hope in writing about this that I can, in some small way aid the proliferation of this wonderful culture.
I play regularly with different bands, playing a diverse body of music on a range of instruments: Piano, accordion, harmonium, fender rhodes and the Highland Bagpipes. These endeavours have taken me as far afield as festivals in Australia and Norway. Closer to home, I’ve recorded for BBC radio and television as well as performing in a range of settings nationwide. As a teacher I work for two different fèisean, teaching piano and accordion. I’m also a teaching assistant with the Gordon Duncan Experience and have a small group of private piano pupils. I’ve been lucky to draw upon a range of funding bodies, including: The Abbado Trust, The Agar Trust, Creative Scotland, The Cross Trust, Summer Isles Festival Fund, the Nurturing Talent Fund, and the UHI Student Development Fund, in support of these activities.
The musical education I’ve had through UHI is only a small part of what I’ve needed to learn as I’ve progressed as a musician. In this respect, time at NCETM and involvement with Fèis Rois cèilidh trails was tremendously useful: Through these organisations I was able to experience performing in settings ranging from pubs to festival main stages, touring, operating sound equipment, and admin- invoicing, gig booking and promotion. All of these left me well equipped to deal with similar situations as a professional in my own right.
The Highland Youth Arts Hub have provided even more opportunities. I was lucky enough to be involved in the multi-media composition project “Kin in the community”, which was directed by Duncan Chisholm, a fantastic musician and great hero to many musicians, myself included. This project was run in partnership between the Hub and Fèis Rois. From it I learned a massive amount about how to approach projects of this nature, which again in future I’d hope to be involved in as a professional in my own right.
I’ve also been able to develop my writing though a mentorship scheme run in partnership between the hub and Moniack Mhor. Through this, I’ve been having regular sessions with Jean Rafferty- a prolific journalist and author, who has been a total inspiration, giving me a huge amount of guidance in terms of how to improve my writing and progress professionally.
People like me, who are trying to make a freelance career in this competitive, diverse industry are, I think, luckier than we’ve ever been. Last week I was interviewing Freeland Barbour for a feature I’ve been writing about his new book. (He was in Silly Wizard before Phil Cunningham and has since been very successful in a range of the creative industries). He told me that 40 years ago, when he was at the stage in his career that I’m at now, things were much more difficult, the educational opportunities provided by NCETM, RCS and UHI weren’t available, nor were the professional development opportunities offered by organisations such as Fèis Rois and the Highland Youth Arts Hub and neither were the range of funding and career opportunities which are now available to musicians. Indeed, more than ever, it’s a path which with is incredibly possible. I think it’s really about devotion, organisation and constantly looking out for opportunities. It’s also so much fun! I definitely wouldn’t change what I do for anything.
Check out Joe’s music here: