Norman Mitchell by yaofenji


									                                  Norman Mitchell

Chancellor, I have the honour and the pleasure to present to you for the award of
Doctor of the University, Norman James Brodie Mitchell.

It has often been said of children that they should be seen and not heard. As far as the
University of Paisley is concerned, Norman Mitchell has been frequently heard, but
not seen, until today when we have brought him out, blinking under the unaccustomed
bright lights, to receive his due honour. For Norman Mitchell has been Organist to the
University of Paisley for twenty-five years. The adage about children, too, is one that
Norman himself has actively denied throughout his career, by giving children their
voices and both enabling and encouraging them to perform music to the highest

We are honouring Norman Mitchell for a far wider contribution to music in Scotland
than simply our parochial – if demanding and to us hugely important – needs. We are
celebrating a significant contribution to music in Scotland across thirty-five years: as
performer, administrator, and perhaps above all as teacher, a vocation he has shared
with his wife Helen, herself a fellow music teacher.

Norman Mitchell was born in Perth and educated at The Royal High School,
Edinburgh. The first five years of his career gave no clue to what was to follow, for he
began working in the Edinburgh Savings Bank. But he was already also taking music
and teaching qualifications, as a Licentiate (Teacher) at Trinity College of Music,
London, specialising in the organ. His formal educational qualifications continued
with a Certificate of Education at Edinburgh‟s Moray House College of Education, a
further Licentiate (Teacher) award from Trinity College of Music, London, this time
in School Music, and culminating in 1973 as a Fellow of Trinity College of Music,
London, again specialising in the organ.

Norman Mitchell had by then already begun his teaching career, where he was to
achieve such distinction: in 1967 he became Assistant Teacher of Music at
Gracemount Secondary School. Then from 1969 he was to spend ten years as
Principal Music Master at The Grammar School in Kirkwall, where he was to leave a
significant legacy to music in Orkney, far beyond the pupils who passed through his

During these ten years Norman Mitchell left his indelible mark on the musical life of
Orkney. As Organist and Master of the Music at St Magnus Cathedral he not only
performed as organist, but more especially is remembered as having laid the
foundation of the Cathedral‟s present music tradition: he revitalized the Cathedral
choir, including having them correctly robed for the first time since the Reformation;
he built a repertory of choral music, and was responsible, through his political and
diplomatic skills, for persuading the Burgh Council to have the Cathedral organ

Each summer Norman organised a series of Thursday evening concerts in the
Cathedral – “Music in St. Magnus” – drawing soloists from near and far, and
attracting as audience both local inhabitants and tourists. The success of this was to
lead to his co-founding with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies of the Orkney Islands St
Magnus Festival from 1976. This, in turn, led to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies composing
three works in honour of Norman Mitchell, and Norman himself commissioning
works for the Festival from Ian McQueen, Judith Weir, Martin Dalby and Eddie
McGuire. Further pieces in Norman Mitchell‟s honour were composed by Martin
Dalby and Howard Blake. Between them, Norman Mitchell and Sir Peter Maxwell
Davies left a notable legacy in Orkney, but a musical legacy, too, of wider
significance across Scotland.

That wider significance was furthered by Norman Mitchell‟s appointment as a
member of the Scottish Music Advisory Committee of the BBC, from 1978 to 1981,
also by recordings he made in St Magnus Cathedral, and by broadcasts on the BBC,
for both local, Scottish and United Kingdom national radio, and for the BBC World
Service, as well as television broadcasts by the BBC, Independent Television and
Norwegian Television. From 1977 to 1984 Norman Mitchell‟s music education
expertise was recognised by his appointment as Convenor of the Central Advisory
Committee for Music of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

Then, in 1979 he returned South, as Director of Music at the High School of Glasgow.
From 1983 to 1988 he was Director of Music at Hutchesons‟ Grammar School,
before, in 1988, he moved to George Watson‟s College, Edinburgh.

This move was perceived by the School as a major coup, for Norman already had an
outstanding musical and educational track record. He was charged with raising the
profile of music in George Watson‟s College in both curricular and extra-curricular
fields. And, surely, his appointment did transform the standing of music in the School
and introduce a new and vital era of music-making. By the time of his retirement from
the School in 2004, almost a thousand pupils were learning to play instruments, and
Norman had built the Music Department of George Watson‟s College into one of the
largest school music departments in the United Kingdom. To accommodate the
doubling of music staff and all this activity, the School governors approved the
complete refurbishment of the Music School, with an extension which effectively
doubled the size of the original building.

And his achievement encompasses not just instrumental music, for Norman Mitchell
has equally developed choral music, including an annual festival of nine lessons and
carols in St Giles Cathedral, where the first performance was given, under Norman‟s
meticulous direction, of John Taverner‟s Birthday Sleep, a piece commissioned by
George Watson‟s College to celebrate the millennium. Norman took the School
orchestra on playing visits abroad, to Italy and Holland, as well as to the Orkney
Festival he had co-founded. He has also encouraged variety in the School‟s music,
with a jazz band, chamber ensembles, a pipe band and regular performances of
musicals, including My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls and Fiddler on the Roof.

Then, taking music teaching wider still, he has been negotiating a partnership between
the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and George Watson‟s College to
establish an „outreach‟ school of music for the community, to be based in the School.

All this success is the result of intense and dedicated work by Norman, and not just in
the schools he has served, but more widely too. He has been organist and choirmaster
for many churches: Pilrig Dalmeny Street Parish Church, Bonnington Parish Church,
North Leith and Bonnington Parish Church, New Kilpatrick Parish Church in
Bearsden, and, since 2004 Director of the Erskine Stewart‟s Melville Community
Choir. Since 1995 he has been organist and master of the music at Dunfermline
Abbey. In a tribute to him by George Watson‟s College he is quoted as habitually
asking “Lunch? What‟s that?” The University of Paisley can claim at least to have
played its part in enlightening him in that matter.

So we return to Paisley to complete our tribute to Norman Mitchell. He has been our
organist for twenty-five years, overlapping for the first four years as assistant organist
at Paisley Abbey, where we used to assemble to process to the Town Hall for our
graduation ceremonies, before we moved to our present graduation venue, here in the
Coats Memorial Church. His tenure has been not entirely without incident: on one
occasion, perhaps “seated one day at the organ he was restless and ill at ease”, or
perhaps – as he tells it – he had some urgent shopping to do. Whatever, he left our
ceremonies for a short while. Whether we concluded our ceremonials more
expeditiously than normal, or he simply misjudged the time, Norman was alarmed on
returning to the church to hear the closing words of our ceremony and had to resume
his loft in some haste. Only Norman knows how close we were on that occasion to
leaving the hall not to the triumphal strains of processional music, but to the sound of
silence. But all was well, and, as ever, unseen - but not unheard. And, as at almost
every graduation ceremony throughout those twenty-five years, we processed in and
out of the hall to music played by Norman to his customary - that is the highest -

Musical educationalist, performer, conductor, administrator, and University organist
par excellence: Chancellor, I present to you for the award of Doctor of the University,
Norman James Brodie Mitchell.


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