Heriot Watt University (UK) Director of Music to step down

For almost 25 years, Dr Steve King has been at the forefront of Heriot-Watt University’s musical activities.

From conducting choirs during lockdown to performing in venues around Scotland, Steve has established a rich musical heritage for the University.

Based at the Edinburgh campus, Steve has been with the University since 1998 when he joined as its first Director of Music.

But later this month, on Friday December 16, he will take to the stage to deliver the Christmas Carol Celebration one last time before stepping down.

Reflecting on his time at the University, Steve said: “I’ve had a ball during my time here. What I have enjoyed the most is the music making and I’m going to miss that aspect of my work at the university.

“When I arrived, I had a completely blank sheet to work with. On my first day, I thought ’let’s hit the ground running’ and we managed to pull together a choir and an orchestra in just a few months.

“The other fundamental question I was faced with when I joined was, ‘what does the university need?’

“This question led eventually to the creation of a contemporary music project called the ‘Inchcolm New Music Ensemble’, holding a week-long music course each June. We commission Scottish based composers to write for this group and we also have a composers competition. This has resulted in more than 50 pieces having been written specifically for the University, which is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”

A passion for music started early for Steve. Aged just seven, he began learning the violin. He would later go on to study viola at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester before working for the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra for three years.

In 1984, he joined the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) as a viola player. As a composer, Steve has had his works played throughout the country, on television and radio and has won various awards to further his research into the link between composition, education and the community.

It was through his role at the SCO that Steve began working closely with education institutions as he helped promote music to young and not so young people across the UK. An opportunity arose at Heriot-Watt which, up until that point, had no music department. Steve took on the role and immediately went about setting up a music scholarship scheme, which exists to this day and helps gifted students study for a degree while pursuing their passion for music.

He said: “We’ve had some fantastic students over the years. A previous principal wanted live music at all our graduations. We decided on a choir of 12 and nearly all of them are singing scholars. It is one of the things I have enjoyed the most here, working with this excellent choir.

“The idea was to perform interesting arrangements of good pop songs that everyone knows and the choir does it so well.”

Steve is sought after throughout Scotland as a conductor, exploring both contemporary and mainstream repertoire. As a music educationalist and facilitator, he has led numerous creative music projects, successfully raising the profile of music as a tool for teambuilding and organisational development skills, including with high profile businesses.

In 2005, Steve was awarded an MBE for services to music and in 2009 received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University.

In more recent times, Steve and the ‘One Watt Voices’ provided some musical cheer in the midst of the UK lockdown.

The group recorded individually from home from as far away as Australia and Malaysia. This was mixed together and shared across Heriot-Watt’s social media channels and enjoyed by viewers around the world.

Steve continues: “What we did in lockdown is something I’m really proud of. When we entered lockdown I, like many others, thought ‘what are we going to do?’

“But we managed to go global by using technology to allow student members of the choir who are based all over the world to record and to send over their individual parts, and my nephew was able to skilfully mix them together.

“I remember having a zoom session with a Malaysian member of the choir and spent around an hour from my home training her through the music. It was great that we could still do this even with the challenges of the lockdown.

“Various other music projects during lockdown engaged our community of over 2000. It really brought Heriot-Watt’s musical family together.”

With a well-earned rest on the horizon, Steve and wife Anne, plan to spend more time around Scotland’s west coast where they have a small cottage, although he will still be playing with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Ruth Moir, University Secretary, said: “Steve has achieved so much since he joined Heriot-Watt in 1998, and he has made a huge contribution to the cultural life of the university.

“His passion for making and sharing music, his commitment to education and his inclusive approach have combined to make a remarkable and positive impact.  I’m sure we all join together in thanking Steve – he will always be a dear friend to Heriot-Watt.”

Heriot-Watt’s new Director of Music, Matthew Brown, begins in January 2023.