All posts by Daniel Harding

Deputy Director of Music, University of Kent: pianist, accompanist and conductor: jazz enthusiast.

Music and science meet in the laboratory

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before , but music and science came together in a highly unusual way earlier today, when a set of bagpipes were introduced into the environment of the science laboratory here at the University.

First-year Scholar, Eloise, rehearsing in Colyer-Fergusson Hall

Be not alarmed, Gentle Reader: there was no experiment being performed on either instrument or player, who in this instance was second-year Music Performance Scholar and Biochemistry student, Eloise Jack. In her capacity as a student of Biosciences at Kent also involved in extra-curricular music-making, Eloise neatly brings together the elements of both academic study and extra-curricular enhancement of the student experience – by day, she can be found working in the laboratory or in the lecture-theatre; at weekends and during the vacations, she is busy wielding her bagpipes either around the campus or as part of the piping-community somewhere (you can read more about Eloise’s experience over the summer at the National Piping Centre on the blog here).

Representing two aspects of university life coming together, Eloise will be the focus of a feature in next month’s University magazine, and this morning’s photoshoot drew her away from the concert-hall and into the scientific enviroment. We’re looking forward to reading the feature next month.

My thanks to colleagues in the School of Biosciences, Professor Dan Lloyd and Ian Brown, for opening up various venues in the Stacey Building to help with this morning’s shoot.

Filling the concert-hall with birdsong: Thurs 10 October

I’ve just come from a trial session in the concert-hall in preparation for a unique event as part of University activities for World Mental Health Day 2019.

At lunchtime on Thursday 10 October, we’ll be turning the concert-hall into a tranquil forest environment, bathing the hall in birdsong and the sounds of a natural forest alongside beautiful photographic images of forest views.

Image: Johannes Plenio via Unsplash

Sitting in the midst of Colyer-Fergusson Hall, it was possible to lose yourself in the audio and visual environment to the point where it almost felt as though you were actually outside; the dimly-lit hall was transformed into a haven of tranquility, a welcome respite from the frantic activity and the demands of the Digital World at the start of a new academic year.

Next Thursday, we’ll open the doors of the concert-hall and people are invited simply to come for as long or as short a time as they wish, to sit in stillness and enjoy a meditative environment which (if the trial session proves anything to go by) promises to be a wonderfully relaxing experience.

The event starts at 1.10pm and admission is free; the doors will be left open for visitors to come and go whenever the wish. Come and experience the outdoors indoors…

Find out more: Weds 18 September

With Welcome Week about to burst into vibrant activity here at the University, make sure you come along to Colyer-Fergusson on Wednesday 18 September to find out about getting involved in extra-curricular music, whatever you are studying.

Between 11am and 3pm, members of the music staff and the various Music Societies will be on hand to enthuse about the many opportunities to get involved in music as part of student life at Kent. Visitors can look round the award-winning Colyer-Ferguson concert hall, practice rooms and band room, as well as learn about the differing ways in which to become a part of music: whether it’s singing with Chorus, Chamber Choir, Cecilian Choir or the upper-voice choir, Minerva Voices; instrumentalists can join the Symphony Orchestra, Concert Band or Big Band, and there are other music societies active during the year including the Musical Theatre Society.

Plans for the Wednesday event include live music on the foyer-stage throughout the day, and there’s the possibility of a Scratch Orchestra play-through of popular film scores, and even choruses from Messiah.

We look forward to welcoming you through the doors of Colyer-Fergusson during Welcome Week, and especially next Wednesday – come and find out how to make rehearsing and performing a part of your university experience, whatever course you may be studying!

Piping hot: first-year Scholar Eloise at the National Piping Centre

As part of her Music Performance Scholarship, first-year Biochemistry student and highland bagpiper, Eloise Jack, recently took part in a piping course at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow. Here, Eloise reflects on her experience.


Thanks to the music scholarship I received from the University, I was able to attend an intensive piping course from the 24th-28th of June at The National Piping Centre in Glasgow. Each day consisted of three one-to-one sessions, with time between the lessons to practice in one of the centre’s practice rooms. Throughout the week I had lessons with four different instructors, covering different styles and playing techniques, and also tuning the pipes and general maintenance.

First-year Scholar, Eloise, rehearsing in Colyer-Fergusson Hall

In the first lesson I set my goals for the week with Finlay MacDonald, head of piping studies at the National Piping Centre. These included: –
• Expanding my musical repertoire and learning new styles of tunes.
• Learning the correct technique to tune my bagpipes myself, by ear (Usually someone else tunes my pipes for me using an electronic tuner.)
• Developing my embellishment techniques and overall piping technique.
Each further lesson was different and tailored to my needs, and depending on what instructor I had depended on what we worked on in the lessons.

I usually play marching tunes as I play with a marching band, however I wanted to expand my solo music repertoire. During the course, I was introduced to and started learning music in four different styles, including a jig, a reel, a strathspey and a four-part 2/4 march.

Eloise in full dress uniform to perform in the Music Scholars’ Lunchtime Recital during Summer Music Week at the University of Kent.

Tuning my pipes by ear was something that I was very keen to learn, as I normally have to rely on someone else to tune them for me. It is a difficult technique to master because you have to keep a steady pressure whilst trying to tune the drones so that the reeds in the drones and in the chanter vibrate steadily.

In completing this course, I managed to achieve all the goals I initially set. I also completed some much-needed maintenance on my pipes which was an unexpected expense, but the results in terms of the sound I can now achieve made it well worth it. They not only sound better when played, but the adjustments make it easier for me to practice tuning as make it easier to hear when they are in tune.

I really enjoyed the course. Being able to focus on just bagpiping really helped and I would definitely attend another intensive course in the future so that I can continue to develop my overall technique and repertoire.

Kent-Calais Connections: exploring a musical entente cordiale

During last week’s heatwave, the Music department found itself walking the streets of Calais, exploring various cultural venues throughout the city as part of a planned collaborative partnership in the forthcoming academic year.

From its humble beginning as a fishermen’s village, recorded as early as the eighth century, Calais rose to become the Gateway to France. The cities of Calais and Canterbury are united by the former’s history as a trading-port with England, with Calais having been a part of the diocese of Canterbury following the seizure of the throne of France by Edward III in 1347. The damage suffered by Calais during the Second World War laid the way for major rebuilding projects, leading to the creation of several striking venues and a city endowed with exciting creative spaces. The shared history between Kent and Calais is something which the Music department and the Calais city council will be looking to explore and celebrate.

Following an approach earlier this year from the city council about a shared endeavour, we found ourselves boarding the Eurotunnel early on Wednesday morning, travelling to meet the representatives from Calais at the historic L’Église Notre-Dame de Calais, the first stop on our tour of the plethora of cultural venues threaded throughout the city.

After the city was retaken by the French from the English in 1558,  L’Église Notre-Dame became its most important church. A majestic altar-piece of marble and alabaster presides over a large church currently undergoing restoration, which began in 2009 and which are bringing the vanished magnificence to life once more. Once a year, the church is filled with over 4,000 candles for the Festival of Light, which attracts visitors from all over France.

Our next stop was La Halle, a flexible space on the Place d’Armes which can open its striking concertina-door, which occupies one entire side of the covered hall,  onto the plaza. The space hosts outdoor and indoor performances as well as festivals throughout the year.

Next on our cultural odyssey was the Museum of Lace and Fashion, housed inside an original lace factory from the nineteenth century, with vast echoing galleries and an auditorium.

The Forum Gambetta is a bright, modern venue that would be ideal for a bustling big band set; its jazz atmosphere has seen its stage graced by legendary French jazz violinist Didier Lockwood.

The next venue was, fittingly, L’Ecole Nationale de Musique de Calais, of which Lockwood is a former student commemorated in the Studio Didier Lockwood.

Our steps then led us to the Musee des Beaux-Arts, which houses artwork from the sixteenth century to the present day.

The tour came to a magnificent conclusion at the city’s town hall, built in 1885 but harking back to the sixteenth century. The gardens adorning the museum’s grounds include one of the fourteen bronze casts throughout the world of Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais from 1889, and commissioned to commemorate the six residents who were prepared to sacrifice themselves to save the city during the Hundred Years War.

The town hall itself includes beautiful rooms, a wonderful Grand Salon just crying out for a string orchestra to perform the music of Lully, imperious marbled corridors, and a belfry 75 metres high which affords panoramic views across the city; across the Channel, we could see the cliffs of Dover looking towards the bustling port.

With such rich history rubbing shoulders with modern venues, artistic exhibitions, festivals and all within walking distance of each other, Calais offers fertile ground for some exciting artistic collaborations – we’re looking forward to building and developing ideas in the new academic year.


Mille remerciements to Philippe and the team from Calais City Council for making us so welcome, and for sharing the city’s vibrant artistic possibilities with us – we are looking forward to taking the first steps in a musical entente cordiale celebrating both sides of La Manche!

Sigrid at Glastonbury 2019: new-minted intensity on show in confident set from Scandi pop sensation

For anyone who watched Scandi pop-sensation Sigrid’s set at Glastonbury on Saturday, having also see her set two years ago, it was a momentous moment – we were witnessing (well, I was from the comfort of the sofa, anyway…) a real coming-of-age set delivered by someone empowered now with a confidence in both her performing and her material, as well the commercial success of March’s release of her album, Sucker Punch.

From the moment she strode out onto the Other Stage to audience cheers to launch into the album’s title track, it was clear that Sigrid had a new intent, a new drive and an assurance which has grown since she performed on the Park Stage at the festival in 2017. That time, she was clearly having fun but also slightly in awe of the occasion; at one point, she shared with the audience that she had been talking to a BBC producer earlier in the day, who has said that the size of her home town was “Glastonbury multiplied with SIX!” This year, she was back with a vengeance, and a clear sense of self-belief.

Musically, too, her act has developed along new lines; her songs abounded in new catches, pushes and syncopations to material we’ve heard before, and new harmonic progressions in songs such as Plot Twist; her musical language is maturing at the same time as her stage presence.

Sharing the stories behind her song-writing, she let the audience know that her first single, 2017’s Don’t Kill My Vibe, was written in difficult circumstances, and the fact that she could sing a song about respect at Glastonbury was something special. She then launched into a fierce rendition of the song, with a new-minted intensity, exhorting the audience with fierce gestures to clap along and showing a masterfully defiant side. There was a new-found swagger to her material as well; ‘Don’t stay if you don’t mean it, ‘Cos you f~cked me up again / Just walk away, and we’ll just leave it / ‘Cos I won’t give my heart in vain.’

There were several shots during the gig of a young girl in the audience who was clearly having the absolute time of her life, veering between being utterly carried away by the music and other times so overcome by the occasion that she was in tears; she broke all our hearts, and reminded us exactly what the power of live music can be. Sigrid brought her set to an end with the cheerful melancholia of Don’t Feel Like Crying, although, along with that audience member, the rest of us certainly felt as though we did. If Saturday’s vivacious performance was anything to go by, it’s clear that Sigrid’s vibe is going to endure for a while to come.


Tip o’ the hat to alumna and former Music Scholar, Carina Evans, for permission to use the three main photos, taken at this year’s festival; Carina was there over the weekend amongst the festival-goers…

Sailing topographical oceans: the absorbing pleasures of the gatefold album

Ah, the beguiling Elysian fields of the gatefold-album. The grand vistas which floated into view at the marvellously magical moment of opening the twin record-sleeves for the first time. There’s something almost awe-inspiring, a religiosity about opening up a gatefold LP album for it to occupy a space wider than your own head. It’s something of an immersive experience, allowing you to explore the fascinating, intricate details of the album cover (particularly important with, for instance, Roger Dean’s artwork for Yes albums, and a feature of prog-rock). In fact, the wider vistas which the gatefold created were perhaps integral to the nature of the concept album, and the mystical synergy which allowed partnerships like Yes and Dean to craft a product where the outside mirrored, nay, even enhanced the inside.

The gatefold packaging of rock music, and of prog-rock in particular, demanded that you gave yourself over entirely to listening to an album, and the information often packed into the densely-loaded inner vistas which gatefold packaging offered turned the consumption of an album into a total immersion-type experience; you submitted yourself entirely to the sonic, visual and textual odyssey, surrendering the senses in an entirely legal (though not necessarily non-addictive) way. I remember one of the earliest gatefold LPs I ever bought, Never for Ever by Kate Bush, which features a plethora of animals, both real and mythical, bursting unstoppably from beneath the songstress’ skirt.

Bats, birds and butterflies adorned the inner covers, either hovering above them or seeming to burst through from the other side (I loved the implied three-dimensionality there), and there was now the chance (as always) of pressing your nose up against the lyrics to try and decipher their meaning. Was it THAT Delius about whom she was singing ?

Jazz, too, embraced the gatefold packaging; who can forget the back cover of Weather Report’s 8.30 featuring the band casually sitting around engaged in a whose-shoes-are-the-longest competition, clearly won by Jaco Pastorius in those impossible, never-ending, glowing-white winkle-pickers ?

Or the mysterious, hallucinatory, swirling panorama (perfectly mirroring the music) that appeared when you opened up Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and saw front and back covers side-by-side, turning into a single yin-and-yang image,  featuring what seemed to be a high priestess and acolyte engaged some sombre ritual on the left, mirrored by a couple standing in the surging surf beneath an ominously-looming sky on the right ?

Contrastingly, there was African Sun by pianist Dollar Brand, that offered the opportunity to sink into the front cover’s warm, orange glow.

Rather than simply printing the lyrics to the songs and the band line-up, prog-rock positively luxuriated in the creative possibilities afforded by gatefold’s inner and outer covers, and it was also a way for puzzled fans to really scrutinise the mytho-poetic lyrics, and really get to grips with all the references and the pastoral imagery of something like Nursery Cryme, from Genesis in its early years. Following the magnificent perspective of a impossibly-well manicured lawn hosting a malevolent-looking game of croquet, you flipped over to the inside of the sleeves to reveal what looked like a collection of postcards, complete with chintzy illustrations, each as though tucked into a presentation portfolio by its corners. The bearded figure emerging on a current of notes escaping from ‘The Musical Box;’ the mock-Victorian image for ‘The Return of the Giant Hogweed’ showed an innocent young girl standing by a towering weed. And now you could follow the words to ‘The Fountains of Salamacis.’

Or Foxtrot, Genesis’ next album release; you could follow the complicated narrative of ‘Supper’s Ready’ by perusing the lyrics, which unfolded against a (deliberately misleading) background of blue skies and fluffy clouds. And as prog-rock sank beneath the weight of its own over-inflated self-aggrandisement, heavy metal came in to occupy the void that it left behind.

(A shameful admission here; I also had the double-LP Livin’ Inside Your Love by George Benson (I know, I know…), which I bought when I discovered that he was the guitarist on Miles Davis’ Miles in the Sky, and rushed out to find something else by him (I should have done some more research first, shouldn’t I…); the LP’s soft-focus cover should have been a clue, hinting at the soft-focus music contained therein…sigh… )

Prince, too, saw the potential for gatefold’s symbolist evangelising,  in his Around the World In a Day (although the album, like Never For Ever was only one LP, rather than two); the cover is packed with references to the songs in a slightly trippy evocation of the mythical Paisley Park itself.

There’s a fascinating quote by (if memory serves) keyboardist Nick Mason (in Dark Side of the Moon: the making of a Pink Floyd Masterpiece by John Harris), who observes that the publicity opportunity afforded by the album’s presentation was missed; you could open the album out and have it leading across front and back covers in continuous fashion, an effect that he says would have looked spectacular in record shops, only no-one noticed the potential to display it so. (My copy is currently in the loft, and I only have the one so sadly can’t endeavour to create this phenomenon for myself to see the effect…)

Regrettably, cassettes and, later, CD reissues couldn’t offer the same escapism; it was impossible to immerse yourself in liner notes from a CD jewel-case that, when opened out, barely covered both your hands. The printed lyrics were tiny, and the amount of detail in those prog-rock, symbol-saturated album covers was lost at so small an incarnation. I bought Miles Davis’ fearsome jazz-rock album, Live-Evil, on CD years later, which endeavoured to recreate the mystique of the gatefold LP with an unfolding four-sides cardboard presentation style, but it wasn’t the same; it lacked the imperiousness of the LP’s sheer physical presence. And don’t even get me started on the (literally) unfolding, multi-level misery of Prince’s Emancipation on cassette…

I’ve necessarily limited this to a discussion of some of the albums I have, or used to have (there’s also somewhere in my loft Queen’s A Night At The Opera and, I think, Sheer Heart Attack, and Tippett’s impenetrable opera, The Knot Garden, plus Joni Mitchell’s eminently forgettable Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, in gatefold format); a full examination of the Gatefold Phenomenon would take years, and embrace such thorny issues as what was the FIRST gatefold release (do you include 78s that were released in this way ?) – Bing Crosby, Elvis, Bob Dylan ? – what was the most controversial (Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, Black Sabbath’s self-titled album ?) – what about gatefold inner covers that just featured a nicely-pleasing photo of the band (Seargent Pepper ?) rather than going down the whole concept-art-tunnel ? Do you include albums that only had one LP rather than being a double LP release, the latter arguably a more justified reason to package with two sleeves ? You see what I mean…

These days, of course, streaming and digital platforms have all but rendered the physical presentation of an album obsolete, sacrificing (in my view) the ability to play whatever you want, whenever you want on your digital device for the sheer, tangible, pleasure of the impact of the album’s artwork. But vinyl is making a comeback – time for Gatefold Novices to get out there and experience the heady delights, that transcendent rapture, of unfolding a double LP on its first playing…

Summer Music Week: Saturday Gala concert

Congratulations to everyone involved in Saturday’s annual Music for a Summer’s Day Gala concert, the crowning event as part of Summer Music Week.

The University Chorus, Orchestra and Chamber Choir each gave a final, valedictory appearance in seasonal, summery music, whilst the members of the Limoncellos filled the foyer before the concert with stirring film tunes and pop music arrangements.

Assistant conductor Hannah Ost rehearsing the Chamber Choir ahead of the concert
The Limoncellos performing in the foyer ahead of the Gala concert

Final-year sopranos Helen Sotillo and Fleur Sumption brought a packed hall to tears with a rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone on the final occasion of their singing with the Music department in what has proved to be a memorable year for both ladies.

The incoming President of the Music Society, second-year Owen Kerry, provided some scene-stealing moments as he deftly wielded name-cards (and at one point a mobile phone for a couple of selfies…) as part of An Illustrated Guide to the History of the Symphony.

And final-year flautist Robert Loveless was handed the baton to conduct the traditional encore which brought the concert to a rousing conclusion.

Following the concert, audience, performers and guests spilled out into the marquee for the annual cream tea, for which the sun shone and blue skies bloomed overhead.

What becomes apparent at the end of the Gala concert is what a wonderful sense of community has been built up during the academic year by everyone involved in extra-curricular music-making at the University. It’s a real tribute to how committed everyone is, and how involved they have become, to see so many of those graduating so moved by the occasion of their final appearance; parents, friends and family all coming along to support throughout the series of events often remark on how much being a part of music at Kent has meant to the students involved throughout their time. There’s a lovely feeling of camaraderie throughout the entire week, as the various ensembles gather for a final musical hurrah before the academic year ends.

Our thanks to everyone who has been a part of the Music department across the year; undergraduate and post-graduate students, staff, members of the community and all the alumni who have returned at various points either to participate or to be part of the audience. To all those who are leaving this year: thanks for all your contribution – hail and farewell!