Laureation address: Dame Evelyn Glennie CH DBE

Lauren Sykes
Tuesday 28 November 2023

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Music
Laureation by Dr Bede Williams, Deputy Director of Music

Tuesday 28 November 2023 – morning ceremony

Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa, Dame Evelyn Glennie.

You could say that Evelyn’s career has been all about sculpting, shaping, and unfolding sound. As the first ever percussionist in the world to step out from behind the orchestra and make a full-time career as a soloist and collaborative artist, she performs on a collection of close to 4000 instruments. Each of those instruments in her hands becomes an animate object, a resonator of sound. But to speak only of how Evelyn creates sound would be to miss half the story. What is just as interesting is how she listens to sound, indeed how she listens full stop. As a child she was told by an audiologist that she was never going to be able to play music because she was deaf.

Evelyn was raised on a farm in Aberdeenshire where she was influenced by Scottish traditional music and the sounds she could create in the natural environment. As a student of Ellon Academy, a peripatetic music teacher by the name of Ron Forbes asked her a question that would change her life: “Evelyn, where can you feel that sound in your body?”

I will now read the answer to that question as it appears in a beautiful newly published children’s book about Evelyn’s life: ‘Evelyn’s whole body resonated – her belly, her back, her legs, her feet! She kicked off her shoes. Her heart raced. WHUM! Vibrations moved through her fingertips, her hand, her arm, then crossed her chest and tickled her other arm. Her heart answered, wha-WHUM! wha-WHUM! She had found a sea of sound that belonged only to her! In that moment, every other sense intensified, as if Evelyn’s whole body had become one giant ear.’

Evelyn has completely revolutionised percussion performance. She has commissioned and premiered more than 200 pieces from eminent composers, including those who know St Andrews well, such as Thea Musgrave and Sir James MacMillan. Evelyn was the first percussionist to perform as a concerto soloist at the Proms with MacMillan’s Veni, Veni Emmanuel accompanied by the University’s orchestra in residence, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Her list of achievements and awards is impossible to summarise, and saying she is a double GRAMMY winner and that she led 1000 drummers in the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games is just the tip of the iceberg.

Her discography of more than 40 CDs moves fluidly between all number of genres and her collaborators come from the classical, popular, and improvised music worlds. Touch the Sound, her feature-length film available to watch on Netflix is completely absorbing. Listen World, her most recent book, is a collection of essays and speeches which together are a tightly argued thesis on listening in the 21st century.

In addition to inspiring countless young musicians across the world she has been selflessly dedicated to advocating for access to music education. She has led campaigns resulting in hundreds of millions of pounds being invested in music education in the United Kingdom and is currently an Ambassador of Sistema Scotland, an immersive music programme working with 3500 children every week.

Earlier this year she founded the Evelyn Glennie Foundation with the aim of ‘helping to create a society where communication and social cohesion are improved by the act of listening’. Her teaching practice now extends beyond musicians and audiences to embrace us all.

Chancellor, in recognition of her major contribution to performance, composition, and listening, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Music honoris causa on Dame Evelyn Glennie.

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