Yeoman of the Month April 2015 – Calum Huggan

The phrase ‘no pain, no gain’ sums up my early marimba experiences. I was 17 and studying for a BMus Timpani and Percussion at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland when I first started playing the marimba. Initially, the four-mallet technique was completely foreign to me!

As a percussionist I was used to having one stick in each hand, but holding two sticks in each hand was something else. It was slow beginnings grasping the four-mallet Stevens grip my tutor Jasmin Kolberg had taught us, and for months I suffered blisters and calluses as I learnt to rotate the sticks and painstakingly complete technical exercise after technical exercise.

That pain was nothing though to the disappointment I felt when my tutor invited her most promising students to an international marimba competition. So, determined to impress Jasmin and prove I could master the marimba, I practised my socks off, having fallen in love with Land by Takatsugu Muramatsu (possibly the cheesiest bit of music ever!) which I practised over and over again. This resulted in my late invitation to the competition that summer.

My latent skills quickly blossomed and although I continued to have a teacher for timpani and percussion, Jasmin pretty much became my principal teacher for the next four years. I even went to study solo marimba and chamber music under the direction of Jasmin and Dennis Kuhn at the Mannheim Musikhochschule for eight months – an environment that took me right out of my comfort zone – but which I was ready for, having exhausted many of the performance opportunities open to me at that stage in my career in the UK. Within weeks of arriving I got to perform at the Mannheim National Theatre – Germany’s oldest local theatre.

After Mannheim, I returned to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and studied for a post-graduate diploma under the watchful eye of virtuosic marimbist and composer Eric Sammut. Jasmin had given me a solid grounding in fundamental marimba technique and introduced me to a lot of repertoire, but Eric was all about harmony and stylistic analysis. Through him my understanding of harmony and improvisation developed.

Upon graduating, I played in orchestras and did lots of performance work but I was itching to try something new. I wasn’t sure whether to stay in Glasgow or to move to the Continent. In the end I applied for the Advanced Solo Marimba course at the Royal College of Music and became the first British person to be accepted on the course. The course was an excellent platform for taking my career to the next level, and I made a lot of new contacts. David Hockings, the college’s head of percussion and principal percussionist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, was particularly helpful in helping me promote my career, resulting in many solo debuts in some of London’s finest concert venues. That same year (2012) I also got to perform with the Scottish Ensemble, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and be both an actor and percussionist in the Reeling & Writhing with The Presents Opera.

Right now, I’m doing some cross-arts collaboration work – a particular passion of mine that’s seen me work with talented creatives such as Marc Brew and Rachel Gadsden – and of course teaching, which I’m so passionate about. I’ve also just finished a tour of South West England with Flercussion, a collaborative project with flautist Jo Ashcroft. Flercussion brings the repertoire and sound-world of our instruments with a bang, a crash and a flutter into the chamber music scene. We have had incredible support since forming in 2008 and have Live Music Now (LMN) Scotland  to thank for giving us so many opportunities to become the duo we are today. Through LMN Scotland we got to work with a diverse range of people and even hosted a week of workshops and performances for special needs pupils in Abu Dhabi, which culminated in the children putting together a performance for the culture Sheikh. I also do a lot of workshops with pupils in London schools via the Worshipful Company of Musicians.

This Summer I’ll be involved in summer music schools for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and performing at the Musique Cordiale International Festival in Provence, South West France. After that, it’ll be straight back to the UK for several solo recitals, to teach, which I thoroughly enjoy, and to plot, plan and prepare for more Flercussion and cross-collaborative events.

For more information on Calum, visit calumhuggan.com .