We caught up with musician Suzanne Briggs about her experiences of studying at Mareel.

What first drew you to study at Mareel?

The BA Hons in Applied music offered through UHI/Mareel gave me the opportunity to undertake a full-time music degree while remaining in Shetland. Moving away when you have family and work commitments is not an option so this was an ideal opportunity for me to pursue my goals of gaining some formal music education. The facilities at Mareel were fantastic to use during our Shetland residency weeks and we were able to collaborate with the film students based at Mareel in writing soundtracks.

What are you up to these days?

I have just finished the first year of a part time MEd in Learning and Teaching in the Performing Arts. This is a three-year course with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland which is really helping me reflect upon and develop my educational practice as well as pushing me on to break more boundaries in my musicianship. It’s a challenging course involving a great deal of practice-based research and my hope is that I can research and develop new interventions to benefit both learners and teachers.

I am currently working as a voice and flute instructor for Shetland Islands Council and have a number of private pupils also. I really enjoyed doing some associate tutor work for UHI over the past year. I lead the Wellbeing Choir for Shetland Arts and have taken this online through Facebook Live during the period of Lockdown. I’m currently working on a project with Shetland Arts making a series of short films to take wellbeing singing into care homes and to those who are more isolated in our community. I also devise and deliver pre-school music sessions for children aged 2-4 years, which is a total joy.

I am involved with a Glasgow-based contemporary music collective called CoMA (Contemporary music for all) and have been fortunate to work alongside professional players and composers as part of this. I’m delighted to have been invited to join their committee and will be taking up this role from August. CoMA has started a whole new adventure for me in music-making, exploring experimental and exciting ways to score and make music as an ensemble. Our most recent project resulted in a brand new co-composed piece, recording entirely online over video conference. It was so refreshing to use an online platform as part of the composition and performance process rather than it imposing the limits we normally associate with latency issues. I continue to compose new (mostly orchestral) music.

Is there one bit of knowledge you gained from your time with us that you'll always remember?

How to be adaptable – throughout my course I worked with musicians from different backgrounds and genres in a variety of settings (both online and face-to-face). Many positive experiences come out of developing that level of adaptability.

What advice would you give to people looking to start their careers in music?

I am passionate about everyone having access to the arts and so have been careful to look out for what skills are required for community arts contracts and educational work. If you don’t yet have the skills that are seen as essential then you absolutely have to find a way to acquire those skills, which might mean thinking carefully about your module choices throughout your studies for example or taking extra lessons in a particular skill. I would also say that you should be aware of your rights: you should never be out of pocket to gain experience. Having a mixture of employed and self-employed has worked for me. My part-time employment gives me a great deal of security while I still have time to pursue community projects, to continue my studies, to compose new music and enjoy some ensemble playing.

When you're not making music, who are you listening to right now?

This afternoon I’m listening to a piece called “The Dreaming Tree” by Ewan MacKay – a wonderfully talented, young composer. It’s for solo flute – the solo is played by the fabulous Jillian Hunter. Both are fellow UHI Applied Music graduates who I am fortunate enough to count among my friends.

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