Hello to the Rhythm Box community. My name is Ewan Mackay, and I’ve recently joined the Tutoring team as a cello and composition tutor. I’ll be taking on the schools content creation for social media too. To properly introduce myself to the school, I thought it might be nice to write a little about myself so that you can get to know me a little bit more and what I do.
I began my musical journey when I was 8 years old when I began taking cello lessons. This was a big moment for two reasons 1) because it was my first real involvement with music in learning a musical instrument, 2) because I have Cerebral Palsy – a condition which effects my legs and my mobility. While my condition is modest, when I began playing the cello, I wasn’t even sure whether I would be able to play the instrument due to the complexity of my condition as a child. I also wasn’t sure if I would even enjoy learning music. However, I quickly became passionate about playing and learning music. On a physical level, my tutor and I explored different seating techniques and bow holds. We used sponges, wedges and different chairs to allow me to find a comfortable way to play the instrument. Now, an adult, my only difference in my performance style is my bow hold. I began playing in school Orchestras which increased my love of music even further and exposed me to working groups and playing as one big collective musical family. I have gone on to perform in numerous ensembles and orchestras and often performed as a soloist too.
Composition is another great passion of mines – perhaps even more so than playing these days. I first began composing at the age of 14, when I’d become fascinated with the idea of playing other peoples music. When I started writing music, I wrote many small pieces in a range of styles to help me find my own musical voice. My first performance was a piece called Goodnight Moon, written for String Ensemble. Looking back, it was an extremely simplistic piece in comparison to what I write now, but I at the time, it gave me the confidence to continue exploring my style.
In 2013 moved up to the North East Scotland College, I studied with Paul Tierney, who exposed me to atonal music for the first time. This was a huge discovery which would have a lasting impact on my compositional sound. Those two years taught me a lot more about the basics of being a good musician and composer. I later moved up to the University of the Highlands and Islands in 2015, where I continued to major in composition with Mark Sheridan while studying my BA in Applied Music and then my Masters in Music and the Environment.
Throughout my time at University, I composed pieces for soloists and ensembles, to larger orchestral work. In 2019, I was presented at the Barbican Centre as part of Drake Music – and organisation which works with Disabled composers and musicians. There I presented my Educational performance piece Something From Nothing, which was designed and based around random chance, pre-existing music and audience participation. The result is a constant premiere with the piece being different with each performance – to a point. Not only was it a big moment for my career it was also a big change in direction from my previous work. I believe that taking risks in music is an essential part of growing and becoming better at your craft. This single opportunity has provided me with further opportunities to work in music, so it just goes to show that being bold and stepping out into a different area of your musical expression can pay back 10-fold.
While working as part of the Rhythm Box team, I hope to share the knowledge I have gained but to also further myself through learning from others. Music is one of the greatest joys we have and share and I can’t think of a more important time to come together through music than now.