Co-authored by Brian and Katie
The idea for this article stemmed from a request from Brian’s luthier Zebulon Turrentine to write about his experience in Scotland. Brian was delighted of course and accepted. But although he has done quite a few solo projects, perhaps many of the most significant projects he’s pursued in Scotland have been as part of the Okapi Duo, so we decided to co-write this one to share about our experiences in Scotland as a duo. So let’s get to it!
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
We came to Scotland because we both were accepted to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to pursue a masters degree in performance, and we’re glad to say that RCS has offered a great learning environment. Brian’s guitar instructors Matthew McAllister and Allan Neave have been instrumental in our duo’s improvement. Katie very much enjoyed learning from some of Scotland’s top-tier flutists, including Ruth Morley of the Red Note Contemporary Music Ensemble and Richard Blake of the Scottish Opera. The great thing about studying together as a duo means that we oftentimes shared teachers, and we each learned a lot from each other’s respective teachers.
Among the numerous performances we’ve given at RCS there have been a few notable projects that we’ve tackled here, both as a duo and individually. Brian presented a lecture recital on the development of technique through the Villa-Lobos Etudes, performing six of them. Katie gave a lecture recital on Balkan music in flute and guitar repertoire, which Brian also performed in. We also gave a joint final recital including a piece by Assad and Brian’s arrangement of a Mozart Piano Sonata.
Working with Live Music Now
One of the most influential opportunities we had was being a part of Live Music Now Scotland. LMNS is an organization founded by the 20th century violinist Yehudi Menuhin that strives to bring music to people who don’t always get the opportunity to hear live music. We both have a desire to bring music beyond the concert hall, so we decided to audition for them and were ecstatic when we were accepted onto their scheme! Since then, the opportunities we’ve had through LMNS have been indispensable to our growth. We are thankful that Live Music Now not only cares about its mission to reach underserved audiences but also about the well-being of its musicians. Along with the many performance opportunities, LMNS also offers many training sessions, ranging from topics of “How to book gigs” to “Working with people with dementia,” which helped us become well-rounded musicians. Being on the LMN scheme has also allowed us to explore Scotland. Our performances have taken us to Fife, Dundee, Glenfinnan, and many other beautiful places that we otherwise may never have seen.
One of Katie’s favorite performances for LMNS took place at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. The Palace serves as the Queen’s official residence when she is in Scotland. We performed a varied programme of pre-19th century music to complement the history of the palace. Before the concert started, we even got our own private tour of the palace.
Brian’s favorite performance took place at an elderly community center in Edinburgh. We were going to be artists in residence here for two months starting in March, and this was our first performance with them. We wanted to make it special, so we decided to try something we call a “musical menu.” We put together a list, or “menu,” of pieces in a number of different genres and then handed out the menus with numbers to our audience. When an audience member’s number was randomly picked they would be able to call what piece we would play next. This performance couldn’t have gone any better: the audience was delighted to have a chance to contribute to our programme, and we had a ton of fun performing for such a jovial bunch.
Some of the most difficult performances for us took place at schools for children with additional support needs. These performances challenged us to find simple, engaging ways to connect with our young audiences and encouraged us to develop basic classroom management skills. We’re grateful we had the chance to hone our interactive performance skills, and now we feel comfortable that we can tailor our performances to virtually any audience.
The Governor’s Competition
Perhaps the pinnacle of our musical endeavours in Scotland was winning the Governor’s Recital prize in Chamber Music at RCS. Our program included selections from Robert Beaser’s “Mountain Songs,” “Toward the Sea” for alto flute and guitar by Toru Takemitsu, and three selections from “The Balkan Songbook” by Alan Thomas, and we competed against some stellar ensembles including a string quartet and wind quintet. We were the only duo to have ever won this competition (and to have competed), and Brian was the only classical guitarist to have been a part of a winning ensemble. Naturally, Brian’s professor Matthew McAllister made quite a big deal of our victory. The competition was the culmination of all that we’ve learned in Scotland and we are so honored to have won this award.
The start of the new year promised many exciting opportunities for our duo, including the Edinburgh community center residency, many RCS recitals to be prepared, and a recording project approaching. Then the COVID pandemic hit. All of our plans were cancelled: our recording project was no more, and our beloved residency was scrapped along with our other gigs. Thus our time in Scotland ended prematurely. Katie returned home to California, and Brian will be heading to New Orleans soon. Most of our musical endeavors remain unfulfilled, but we look forward to making music together once again and we are grateful for the incredible experiences and opportunities we’ve had here in Scotland!
To close, we’d like to share a video of a beautiful piece that often served as our concert closer: “Hamnataing” by Christopher Stout. It’s a fitting closer to this article and our final farewell to Scotland.