Catriona McDermid (2004-11) read Music at Lincoln College, Oxford (2011-14), and graduated with a Masters degree at the Royal College of Music (2014-16) where she studied Baroque bassoon alongside modern bassoon studies. In demand as an orchestral bassoonist, she plays with Ensemble Moliere, Magnard Ensemble and leads a varied career as a modern and period instrument bassoonist, keen educator and arranger.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think back to your years at The Mount?
There is no single specific thing, but lots of little instances. Memories of Morning Meetings pop up first, sitting in silence in School Hall. I did really enjoy having that moment of quiet at the beginning of the day. I’m not sure how many other people felt the same but I did genuinely value it. I remember half living in the Music department, which is where I spent a lot of my time. In College I loved doing cryptic crosswords in the Snug during breaks with a group of friends and our History teacher, Helen Snelson. (The snug was on the first floor of College studies just before you reach Biology, where they kept newspapers and cosy seats.) There are so many other memories over the years, firstly wandering down Tramlines in Year 7 with a rucksack that was nearly as big as me.
What’s your fondest memory of The Mount?
One memory that sums up some of the slight madness by which of course I mean the wonderfully independent learning of The Mount, is the College Panto. When I was in College we did Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Gnome. I remember dressing up as Neville Longbottom and running around the building with a frog in my pocket, making some completely mad video for a chase scene. Sitting in the Music Technology labs, which would be hilariously old-fashioned now, I composed a techno version of the Harry Potter theme music which became the background music for our chase scene. That little bit of techno Harry Potter music still gets revived occasionally on my iTunes, which always provides a lot of hilarity.
I also remember pranking Dr Chivers (then the Director of Music) at an orchestra rehearsal in School Hall. It took quite a lot of preparation, to be fair. We bought transparent fishing wire and tied it to Dr Chivers’ music stand, from which he would conduct, with lines going in various different directions to the people around it. As he conducted a piece, we would variously pull the lines to move his stand around, so that it looked like it was being moved by a ghost. It absolutely baffled him. It was very entertaining for us, and he took it very well in true Mountie spirit.
How important an influence has the Quaker ethos been to you?
The Quaker ethos is most definitely important. Certainly for me as a musician, peace and tranquillity are important. As I said before, I genuinely valued that silence during Meetings. It’s not always easy to find peace and tranquillity, stillness and calm when you’re a musician, but I still try to find those moments. The values which resonate most in what I do now are equality, social justice and finding ‘that of God’ in everyone.
My career is fundamentally an elitist career. To get into classical music especially playing the bassoon requires money, resource and all that they entail. The benefit of a Quaker education is that it helped spark an awareness of that kind of inequality and the drive to work to counteract it. Consequently, I make sure that even if I have a very busy performance schedule, I carve out enough time for my education and participation work as an animateur, running workshops and projects for a whole range of participants, from early years students, special educational needs or disability (SEND) students through to adults with dementia or head injuries. This work is so valuable to me, in making my own small contribution to giving back to the community and it’s a real privilege to have the chance to connect and work with people from so many different walks of life. I benefit and learn from this work as much if not more than the participants!
Through your years at university, did you feel conscious of any influences from your time at The Mount that helped you through your studies?
The Mount encouraged us to practise independent thinking, to question the status quo and question the surface reading of things. Learning this practice of independent thought was a massive help both in my degree and in life going forward!. During Finals, I went to Meeting a couple of times at the local Quaker Meeting House in Oxford. It was the perfect place to find stillness and calm in a very chaotic time and it was lovely to reconnect with that. I have been to Meeting a few times since then, but not in a long time.
Describe a moment in your career thus far (ie since having left university), which you feel was connected to your Mount education.
During lockdown I worked on a project with a chamber ensemble of mine, Magnard Ensemble, which is a self-managed wind quintet and this project was my little brainchild. Odd Dog Out is a lovely Early Years picture book by Rob Biddulph which celebrates individuality and diversity through the medium of sausage dogs. It’s an absolute dream. We took Rob’s story and his beautiful illustrations, which he kindly gave us permission to animate, and adapted the story into a short musical film. We provided the soundtrack to the film, through improvisation, arrangements and newly composed repertoire but also interacted on screen with the animations, through the total wizardry of being filmed in green screen. We popped up interacting with the animations, in many a ridiculous outfit, dancing and having a ball. A day where you get paid to “work” as a dancing bassoon playing giraffe is a good one in my books – you can see the connection to College Panto days! The project was obviously born out of the idea of promoting diversity, equality, and finding ‘that of god in everyone’, a message definitely connected to the values taught at the Mount. As a queer woman this project was especially dear to me and kept me very busy through the pandemic! You can find it on YouTube.
How and how often do you keep in touch with girls from your school cohort?
I feel very fortunate to have two very close friends from my year with whom I am constantly in touch, and I know will be lifelong friends! I also meet up with other friends from Mount days occasionally and recently saw an entire cohort of Mount people at Carmen and Pip Harland’s joint wedding party.
Looking ahead, what are your hopes for the future?
More cats and a vegetable patch. I guess we could just about pass the last one off as a love of sustainability inspired by the Mount!
Odd Dog Out has education resources for Early Years teachers to be able to teach around the material.