This interview took place online on 15 August 2020 between City’s Head of the Department of Music, Dr Ian Pace, and BMus graduate Eloise Ruth Garland.
Ian Pace: Hello again, all! I’d like to introduce you to another graduate of City’s BMus who has kindly agreed to do an interview, Eloise Ruth Garland, who graduated in 2016. Eloise is a professional musician, teacher, producer, and Deaf awareness campaigner based in London. She works alongside a number of charities and organisations to promote full inclusion and access to music for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. She is also Associate Director of Audiovisability, a professional music and arts platform for Deaf and hearing professionals to showcase their work. In 2017, Eloise presented the radio documentary Listening Without Ears, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as part of the station’s The Art of Living series (see the link below). The documentary explored ways in which people with hearing loss engage with music and sound, and challenged listeners to consider music appreciation from another perspective.
Eloise, you came to City from Chetham’s School of Music. What made you choose us, and how did the nature of your music study at university differ from what you had previously experienced?
Eloise Garland: Hi Ian – hi everyone! Thanks for having me today.
That’s right; I was a student at Chetham’s before coming to City in 2013. One of the primary reasons I chose City was because it seemed to offer the best of both worlds; I knew I didn’t want to pursue an undergraduate degree at a conservatoire, but equally I wanted the opportunity to continue developing my performance skills to a high level. City’s BMus course offered the environment and resources to take performance to the next level in more academic surroundings without the intense pressures I had felt previously at a primarily performance-based school.
IP: And as the course progressed, did you find it was as you expected, or different in some ways?
EG: The course exceeded my expectations – not least due to the wide variety of modules to choose from, spanning all areas of music.
The first year offered a range of core modules designed to widen students’ perspectives and experiences of music as a whole. The musicianship classes were something I hadn’t quite experienced before – they were very challenging at first, but helped me to get a grasp on some of the areas of music that, as a violinist and singer, I hadn’t had the opportunity to develop previously (for example, complex rhythms!). The whole year stretched my knowledge and understanding of music around the world, and I was challenged to engage in activities such as composition – something that I had previously avoided! At the time I’m not sure I appreciated the impact that these modules would have, but looking back I can see how fundamental they were in furthering my learning and adjusting to higher education.
The second and third years of the course offered the opportunity to hone in on my interests and skills – and again, the modules on offer were always wide-ranging and interesting.
IP: What were some of the modules you took in your second and third years? I certainly remember you taking several of the ones I taught then.
EG: Yes, I took several of your modules, including ‘Music, Fascism and Communism’, ‘Debussy’, and ‘Nineteenth Century Opera’. I really valued the discussions we had as a group each week, fuelled of course by the additional reading materials and recordings. These discussions would cover all aspects of the music, such as score analysis, performance interpretation, and the social and political landscapes that influenced composers. This really developed my independent critical thinking which has had a lasting impact on many aspects of my career.
I also took a variety of other modules such as ‘Sound, Music and the Moving Image’, ‘Professional Development’, and ‘Music, Sound and the Environment’. The former and latter both offered the opportunity to consider how music is applied to our lifestyles and environments, while the Professional Development module allowed me to explore my interests as an emerging young musician. As students we were able to meet professional musicians working in the music industry and embark on work placements – a great opportunity to start building early networks!
IP: Fantastic – so have you been able to build upon some of the networks which began to form then?
EG: Absolutely – these networks have grown from very small roots to large branches over the last four or five years! I am still in touch with some of the professional contacts I made at City and they have all been incredibly supportive, offering guidance and moral support throughout my own journey.
IP: Since graduating, you have gone on to do a large amount of vital activity, teaching, broadcasting, campaigning, relating to deafness and hearing issues. May I ask how such issues affected your own study, and what sorts of measures institutions can best take to help those in a similar situation?
EG: Of course! I am particularly passionate about this area of work because I am deaf myself and wear two hearing aids. I also have severe tinnitus in both ears. As a musician I was faced with a unique set of challenges – for example, hearing aids often distort sounds, changing the pitch or volume of sound. Listening can be hard work and would often leave me absolutely exhausted at the end of the day.
While I did receive some support, at the time I was far less confident about advocating for myself and my needs – something I wish I could go back and change. That’s why I feel it is very important that new students who are deaf or have a disability are aware of the support that the university and faculty can offer. It may take the form of extra equipment (specialist microphones or a laptop), communication support (interpreters, note takers), or increased support in other areas (e.g. additional meetings with a mentor). I would urge any student who has any form of disability to talk to City’s Disability Support service and their lecturers during the very first week – it really will make things a lot easier!
IP: I know you have spoken about such things as the difficulties when lecturers move around frequently when they speak. Are there particular things like this you would recommend all those who teach think about?
I also imagine in this age, with facemasks, there are a new set of difficulties?
EG: Yes, there are a variety of simple techniques that make listening and watching far easier for deaf or hard of hearing students like myself. A few of my top tips are:
– Limit moving around the room too much or turning your back to the students as this makes it difficult to lipread.
– Avoid standing in front of windows as this casts your body and face into a silhouette (again, difficult for lipreading!).
– Repeat any questions or answers from other students before continuing with the discussion.
– If a student has one, use a special microphone which sends your voice directly to their hearing devices.
– If possible, set the room up so that everybody can be seen clearly.
Facemasks are also a bit of a nightmare! There are masks available with clear panels on the front – while not perfect, they do make the lips more visible and communication a little easier. If a student is struggling to hear you the first time, do repeat and rephrase what you’re saying, or discuss other ways of aiding communication.
IP: How about musicians themselves? What can they do, not least when playing with others who have hearing difficulties?
EG: Many of the same tips apply. For me, one of the most helpful things a conductor or director can do is to show bar numbers visually using their hands – this stops the old ‘is it bar 15 or 50?’ confusion creeping in! It isn’t hard to do and really does make the rehearsal process much smoother! Again, making sure that your face is clearly visible is key.
IP: Can you tell me some more about your educational work since leaving City?
EG: Sure – I work primarily with charities including Music of Life, Decibels, and Yorkshire Youth and Music to bring accessible music making opportunities to deaf and hard of hearing children and adults. People often assume that music needs to be simplified for deaf children – especially if they are British Sign Language users – but this isn’t the case. I am lucky to work alongside other deaf musicians such as flautist Ruth Montgomery to bring high-quality music education to all children, with a focus on general musicianship, reading notation, learning instruments, working in ensembles, and learning about music from around the world.
IP: You mentioned about multiple traditions of music from around the world earlier as well. Could you tell me of some which you have found especially interesting or captivating, and which you employ in your teaching nowadays?
EG: I am particularly attracted to music from the Middle East – an interest which was sparked during my second year at City whilst on Laudan Nooshin’s ‘Music Traditions of the Middle East’ module. I have since gone on to work with Laudan on a project with Tiny Owl Publishing, in which Laudan came to Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children to deliver a workshop about Iranian music. The children got the opportunity to see and hear a qanun – a plucked Iranian zither – and create their own rhythms using daf drums. I am still using these rhythms in my teaching to this day!
IP: I know you also have some thoughts on the opportunities for music study amongst those from less privileged or monied backgrounds. Would you like to share any reflections on this issue?
EG: I think it is a complex issue but, as someone from a working-class (and non-musical) background, I am very passionate about spreading the word that music can and should be accessible to all. Many local authorities, especially in London and other large cities, offer brilliant ‘wider ops’ classes for school children – often for free – so I would urge parents to take every opportunity available to them and their children. There were no such schemes where I grew up (North Wales), so I first picked a violin up aged 9 when the school decided to hire a teacher.
Importantly, just like I mentioned with deaf and hard of hearing students, I believe that music needn’t be simplified because of a person’s background – everyone is capable of achieving in music, and we all benefit from having hundreds of thousands of fantastic resources at our fingertips these days!
IP: My parents both came from working-class backgrounds, though by the time I came along, they could be said to have belonged to the lower middle class. They just got a piano into the house as a piece of furniture and apparently I asked about having lessons. But nowadays there are many who say classical music is a purely ‘middle class’ thing, of no ‘relevance’ to those from other backgrounds. Have you come across such views, and do you have any responses to them?
EG: I come across these views on an almost daily basis, and it shows just how much work there is left to do. I believe role models one of the most effective ways to show children and young people that classical music is relevant to everyone. Both Chetham’s and City were very good at this type of outreach work when I was studying!
IP: On a lighter note, do you have any particular abiding memories (not necessarily directly about study) from your time at City?
EG: I think one of my favourite memories from City was at the 2013 Christmas Cabaret. I distinctly remember 10 of us gathered around the piano (including one person lying on top!), each playing with one finger. I can’t remember what we were playing – but it was an awful lot of fun!
IP: The ‘Restrictive Practices Suite’! Transcribed from here. (It was Chris Wiley laying on the top of the piano). You must come back and we should do it again sometime!
Eloise, thank you so much for your time and fascinating thoughts. Do you have any further links you would like to share?
EG: That’s it – what a brilliant time!
I’d like to share the link to the recent Music of Life online conference where you can find out a bit more about the work I have been focusing on since 2017. We are just about to take on 4 new trainees for the 2020/21 academic year and there will be other opportunities in future to get involved. Do reach out to me if you would like to find out more.
Thanks for having me this evening – it has been great!