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MAKING A JUMP INTO THE UNKNOWN – by Claire Gullan

MAKING A JUMP INTO THE UNKNOWN – by Claire Gullan

Photos of Claire by Paul Jennings.

Eek, I’ve been asked to write a blog! What a compliment – but what on earth am I going to write about?? Surely most reading this will be in the same boat – life as a musician? The only advice I could give myself was to write about what you know – so here is my account of leaving a secure full time, so-called “proper” job to live the dream of being a self-employed musician.

I’ve had my fingers in lots of pies! After graduating from the BA Scottish Music course at the RSAMD (now RCS) sometime, light years ago, and failing to enjoy a single second of working in a call centre, I retrained and worked as an Orthodontic Dental Nurse for ten years. That’s the longest I’ve done anything! I stopped playing music for a while. I fell completely out of love with it. When I reflect back, I find it strange how I let that happen, but that was the fact. However, I was contacted by a family who were enquiring if I would give their six year old daughter violin lessons. I was delighted! This (then) little girl filled me with inspiration as I saw her delight at being able to create music with her beautiful instrument!

My pupil base of fiddle and violin students grew and for a few years I was juggling working at the Orthodontists from 8.45am – 5.30pm Monday to Friday with music lessons in the evenings and gigs at the weekend. Most of the time my head was spinning and I was generally quite unhappy, but my parents were very keen for me to keep my “secure” job as they wanted the best for me. As I began to be asked to do more gigs, I had to find space in the schedule to practice, so I used to arrive at work an hour early and practice my fiddle in the stock cupboard at the Orthodontists – can I just say, the acoustics were awesome!

After appearing in a few “Take the Floor” radio broadcasts, I was really enthused to make music my life again. Although my boss was extremely encouraging and supportive (by weird coincidence, his sons received bagpipe lessons from my old flat mate), it wasn’t practical to have his Dental Nurse swanning off all the time. The final straw came when I received a phone call asking me if I wanted to be in a Radio Scotland live broadcast the following day – the excitement of that was just too much, but I had to turn it down, disappointed.

I decided to enter the Niel Gow Fiddle Awards in 2017, by way of getting my name out there on the scene again. Although I was in “the also rans” as my Dad would say (you’ve got to love my Dad’s way with words!), it had the desired effect.

Just over two years ago, I made the quite frankly outrages decision to leave the security of my full-time, mortgage and car paying, pensioned, sensible job in Dentistry and make the leap to freelancedom! My Mam would have been nervous about that, but so far, thankfully, I’m still swimming!

More than two years later, I am still overjoyed to be able to describe myself as a freelance musician, music instructor, Scottish composer and maker of art. Slightly less concise than saying I was an Orthodontic Dental Nurse, but that’s what I like about it – I can do lots of different things, but most importantly, I can live a creative life, and that makes me happy!

My biggest love is music tutoring! This coming December, I am ecstatic to have been nominated for Music Tutor of The Year at the 2019 MG Alba Trad Awards. Woohoo!

I have a diverse range of violin and fiddle students (to me they’re the same thing but you know what I mean). I soon realised I wanted to write a violin/fiddle tutor book that included all the information I wanted together. I felt I needed to have more descriptions of musical theory, definitions and musical symbols in one place, so I put together “A Guide To Learning The Fiddle, book 1”, which is stocked by several fabulous independent music shops throughout Scotland and the Shetland Isles. I plan to do more music tutor books. I love making resources that have a Scottish twist for learning. I love it more when other people use them!

I was delighted this year to take on two different term-time community music groups – The Cowal Fiddle Workshop in Dunoon, and The Lochgoildhead Fiddle Workshop in Strachur. Both are very different. The Cowal Fiddle workshop were formed in 1998 to promote the playing of Scottish traditional music. They work from a large repertoire of notated music, which I arrange to include different levels of players, which they receive in advance. The group classes are split into juniors (smaller groups and larger groupwork), intermediate level and everyone together, and are an enjoyable mix of many different styles of Scottish music. I enjoy this environment very much.

The Lochgoildhead Fiddle Workshop proudly has their own tune book, which they gave me a copy, and it is fabulous! The workshop is similar to Cowal in that they have group classes at different levels, but they learn by ear, and I provide the music after the classes. There are lovely folk who attend both workshops, so I try not to duplicate the tunes at both places. This requires forward planning, so I find it helpful to keep a close track of the repertoire.

This year, after a surprise and quickly acted upon creative burst, I launched the community workshop HOW TO… CEILIDH! I had wanted to create a two-day workshop that could appeal to the likes of my pupils and involved ceilidh music. As a child learner, I had gone to only a few workshops. They were by ear and I felt very uncomfortable. I wanted to create an experience where several kinds of learners would be comfortable, so I decided I would provide the notated music and audio recording of the tunes, in advance. I thought back to when I started playing at ceilidhs and I recalled the things I did know how to do – how to make up sets for dancing and understanding how the music correlated with the dances; how to set up a PA; how to call the dances and finally having that initial experience of playing through a PA at a ceilidh with actual people dancing! The workshop was devised and this year I held HOW TO CEILIDH 1! and HOW TO CEILIDH 2! So. Much. Fun.

In addition to the above, I squeeze in some tune writing, drawing and podcasting (Claire’s Ceilidh Podcast, the title is very descriptive – check it out!), I have decided to embark on a three-year adventure of continuing professional development (CPD). I have just started a Masters in Education: Teaching and Learning in the Performing Arts at RCS. This is full on academic course where I’m hoping to explore working alongside people with learning difficulties and autism, as well has improving my Sibelius software skills and my conducting skills. I’m very excited to have been given this opportunity to study music again, funded by our lovely Scottish Government.

I love to learn, and if I love it, others must too. Let’s share our experience and spread the music love, because creativity is life. I have never looked back since I left my routine, weekday 9am – 5.30pm job. Be unsure sometimes. Keep working at it – it’ll happen. And consider getting a dog. Dogs are life.

Now, to start getting creative for work next summer…

www.clairegullanmusic.co.uk