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Spotlight On

Douglas Quin, Altyre 1975 - Sound Designer

Reflections from Across the Water, Part Two

As I reflect on the legacy of the arts in my life and the formative experiences at Gordonstoun, I realise that the influence has been profound and nuanced, ebbing and flowing through all that I have done professionally over the years.

What I both appreciated during my years at school, and what has coalesced in the fullness of time, is how creativity and discipline were fostered and threaded through our experience - and not solely in the arts. We certainly had some good teachers, including Mr Waddell. I can still smell the kilns firing and see his long graceful fingers turning pots on the wheels and getting slip on his jacket as he patiently instructed. He was a character, too - as were many of our teachers. Like Andrew McClellan, I appreciated the haven he provided, the value he placed on the arts as important and worthy of study, as well as inculcating aesthetic judgment and that illusive notion of good taste.

We both fondly remember Jim Wingate who instilled a sense of passion and excitement about literature and theatre. In addition to his teaching, Mr Wingate organised poetry and play readings, theatre improvisation games, and took a group of us to London for the university student theatre festival.

While the arts certainly provided a key foundation for me, the embrace of our education was holistic and reflected Kurt Hahn’s profound educational philosophy, which I have distilled to a valuing of the whole person. Studying the natural sciences with Bex Richter, Angus MacKnight - who worked directly with Hahn - Mary Byatt, Neil Cowx and Sheila Fraser-Moody instilled in me a sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world. This persists in my work and I continue to be fascinated by landscape, animals and the natural soundscape. The many expeditions we undertook were of tremendous value as were encounters outside of classes and sanctioned activities. Weekend naturalist jaunts along the Moray coast with Mr Richter and helping Ms Byatt in the biology lab were notable because these were teachers who cared to get to know me.

Likewise, the premium placed on service is something that was ingrained at school. I looked forward to spending an afternoon every week at the Junior or Senior Occupational Centre or at the pensioners' home in Elgin. It was important to connect with a community outside of school and to be made to feel that one could make a difference in the lives of others. I still undertake service - from volunteering with cultural and arts organisations to lending a hand with community-based environmental initiatives.

So, while the arts were an indispensible part of my education at Gordonstoun, it was their integration into a greater educational vision that has left the most enduring impression on me as an artist - and inspired me as a teacher. Let me share a few choice arts-related reminiscences from my school days; they remain vivid in my mind as affirming moments in what has become a wonderful adventure of a life in the arts.

Douglas Quin at school   Douglas Quin at school

I have a memory of rehearsing several scenes from Macbeth at Duffus Castle: I played McDuff and Andrew played Banquo. It was a beautiful summer evening and, as we wrapped up our final lines and collapsed, exhausted onto the grass, several swans flew overhead. It was so still that we could hear the edge tones from their wings. It was truly a magical moment; we all felt so alive, relishing in the fact that we were acting these scenes just miles from where the story took place in a motte-and-bailey castle that was built in the 12th century (thank you, Mr Waddell, for making sure we knew our architecture).

Another memory that I have is playing music with Jonathan Hill. One day, as we leafed through Melody Maker - a now-defunct music publication - we saw a call for a music competition. Successful bands would receive cash, gear and a possible recording contract. Our eyes grew large with excitement. The rub was that we had classes and little time to rehearse.  So, we made an appointment to see the Headmaster, John Kempe, to ask if we could miss some activities to practice and also a few days of school to travel to Glasgow for the competition.  Much to our delight (and surprise, I might add) he agreed and was keen. We didn't win anything, but being encouraged and supported meant the world to us.  Plus est en vous, indeed! Jonathan is a gifted songwriter and can be heard in pubs and at cèilidhs across the Highlands and islands of Scotland. 

Finally, I remember walking up the North Lawn to the cliffs talking with Andrew about where we might find ourselves as adults. Why I remember this, I am not sure, but the conversation had the import of a pact - we would go on to follow our bliss, to quote mythologist Joseph Campbell. Looking back on it, we were lucky: as 14-year olds we had a pretty clear sense of what we wanted to do. I knew I would be involved in something creative - art or music. Andrew was, and still is, the consummate scholar. So, here we are 40 years on and still doing what we love.

After leaving Gordonstoun, I returned to the US and went on to receive a BA in Art from Oberlin College, where I also studied electronic music. I continued my studies earning an MFA from the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University - where Andrew is currently a professor. There I continued my studies in music composition and sound art. 

After teaching Art and Art History at a Jesuit boys’ public school for 11 years, I returned to school and received my PhD in Acoustic Ecology from the Union Institute. All the while, I slowly built my career as a composer and sound artist, touring, performing and working variously in museum exhibit design, film sound, music composition, recording, and bioacoustics. Over the years, my work has been performed at numerous festivals and venues internationally and nationally including Merkin Hall at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Spoleto Festival USA. I am the grateful recipient of numerous awards and grants including the Ars Acustica International prize, Meet the Composer, multiple fellowships in music composition from the National Endowment for the Arts, and support from the National Science Foundation. Among other recent projects, I have composed music for the Kronos Quartet, created the sound design for and mixed Werner Herzog's Academy Award nominated film, Encounters At the End of the World and worked on exhibits for the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, American Museum of Natural History and the Polish Academy of Sciences, among others.

I continue to work professionally in music and sound and, after a 15-year hiatus, returned to teaching as an associate professor in the Television, Radio and Film Department of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. I love what I do in both the arts and education and have Gordonstoun to thank for a gift that keeps on giving. 


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