Dr Peter Meechan
For those of us who have tried (in vain) to learn an instrument or read notation, the actual creation of music is a magical thing: fascinating and unfathomable. But for musician and composer Dr Peter Meechan composition is much more akin to research, which is why he choose a doctoral path, and in 2010 graduated from Salford with a PhD based on his Portfolio of Compositions. Since then he’s completed residencies with some of the world’s leading brass bands, and performed his PhD pieces internationally; leading to a move to Sakatoon, Canada, where we find him today…
Peter’s family background is not one of academia, but of music, as he explains “I come from a working class family. My dad worked in the public sector as a trainer and my mum was a librarian. They are both clever people, but neither have a degree. However, they were both amateur musicians and both effectively worked 6 days a week in order to pay for music lessons for both myself and my sister Kathryn.” The dedication of Peter’s parents to his musical education obviously paid off as by his early teens, he was writing his own compositions.
After completing his undergraduate degree at the Royal Northern College of Music, Peter came to the University of Salford for his Master’s degree, but what was it that made him want to stay for his PhD? “As a composer the relationship between tutor and student is critical, and Prof Peter Graham
was someone I knew I wanted to work with”. So with his ideal supervisory team in place Peter began his PhD, but he found the most challenging aspect of his studies was actually challenging himself “I have always been used to looking for new solutions to problems, considering the paths not taken etc., and so I felt this was an opportunity to really explore. So, for me, it was a case of looking for more extreme problems - which often leads to needing more extreme solutions. It really fine-tuned my thought processes and decision making to the nth degree.” One of the compositions born of Peter’s doctoral studies was his trumpet concerto 'Apophenia
', which refers to the jazz influences in his music, and it was a performance of this piece that triggered his move across the Atlantic. “I certainly wouldn’t be here without the studying… On the back of that I was asked back twice more, the third visit led to me meeting my partner Michelle, and so I moved over.”
With everything going so smoothly one wonders if Peter had a career plan on finishing his PhD? “I was very lucky that through the course of my PhD that I was being commissioned to write music, and that continued after that - so I guess the dream (not too sure you can call it a plan!) was to be a composer (or at least, a better composer), and so it was a pretty straightforward transition back in to the real world!” And in the real world, some highly prestigious residencies followed with stints as ‘Composer in Residence’ at HM Band of the Coldstream Guards
and ‘Musical Associate’ of the Fodens Brass Band
helping Peter to gain international recognition. Working with bands of such stature has also led to his music being performed by the likes of the BBC Concert Orchestra
, the Black Dyke Band
and Jens Lindemann
, amongst others.
For students just embarking on a PhD in the area of composition, Peter’s guidance is both heartfelt and direct: “I think the most important advice I could give would be to be completely honest with yourself. Not the kind of honesty you have when talking to others, but the kind of honesty that only really confronts you when you are looking in the bathroom mirror in the morning. If you do this, it will generate belief, and therefore confidence, both of which are critical to writing music.” Such honesty has obviously worked for Dr Meechan, but what are his plans for the future? “To keep doing what I am doing. I am lucky that I do a job that allows me to do something that I have loved doing since I was a teenager, it facilitates me travelling to many brilliant places around the world that I would maybe not have had the opportunity to visit otherwise, and make friends and meet colleagues from many different backgrounds. It really is a very privileged life.”