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Sam WillisFeb 22, 2024 8:41:51 AM5 min read

dBs Plymouth students 'meet the parents' for a unique recording experience

dBs Plymouth is a family - and nothing exhibits that sense of closeness quite like this project from last year, which involved the mum of one of our tutors - and a dBs alumna - working with a group of dBs Institute music production course students!

At dBs Institute in Plymouth, we like to think of ourselves and our student body as a family. Our students are always telling us how much they appreciate the tight-knit nature of the community, the small class sizes and how they see their tutors as mates and mentors rather than teachers.

Last year, a group of BA (Hons) Music Production & Sound Engineering students at dBs Plymouth got a chance to experience this ethos to a completely new degree as they were invited to the family home of an accomplished pianist and composer, an alumna of dBs and a person that happens to be our very own Phin Head’s mum - Marsha Head!

For the project, our music production course students visited Marsha’s home in Plymouth to learn techniques for recording out of the studio and in an environment that throws up different types of challenges.

Tony Macleod, a student involved in the project, said that the experience provided an “interesting opportunity to record a grand piano, implement new techniques and hear an accomplished pianist play, too.”

“Everything I have learnt from my time at dBs Institute has been really valuable, but opportunities like these where we can learn from industry professionals are priceless for the students. This project, in particular, really highlighted the need for sound engineers to be flexible and adaptable when undertaking recording sessions in an environment where you do not have as much control compared to a studio or live room.”

We caught up with Phin’s mum Marsha to chat about her love of music and her experience with our students during the recording session at her house.

Marsha Head Interview Featured Image

Hi Marsha! Please introduce yourself and your history as a composer and pianist.

Hello everyone! My name is Marsha Head. As a child, I always remember lots of music playing in the house and from a very early age, I used to sit at the piano and pick out tunes. 

Aged eighteen in 1962, I started the L.R.A.M. and G.R.S.M. courses at the Royal Academy of Music in London. I loved every minute of my time there and was so lucky to work with some famous musicians. After graduating, I stayed at the RAM for a while teaching piano to young people. Following that, I taught privately, gave piano recitals in various places, accompanied instrumentalists and then eventually began composing seriously. 

I love music from every age – Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern and later and I think that my compositions tend to reflect these various influences. My other passion is the natural world and the welfare of all sentient creatures. Combining this with music led me to record the sounds of birds and animals in their natural environment and compose pieces including The Conductus Song of the Snow Ass, and Alawa – Grey Wolf. Other compositions of mine often relate to a story or event and include Innocence Lost, based on The Turn of the Screw opera, Francis and Mary, inspired by Sir Francis Drake’s marriage, and Passacaglia, which is based on William Blake’s Cruelty Has a Human Heart poem. 

I understand you're a dBs alumna! What did you study and what was your experience like at dBs?

I studied and passed the Sound Engineering City and Guilds Course Parts 1 and 2 [Now defunct but replaced most closely by our Music Production Access to HE Diploma] at dBs, both back in 2003. All the tutors on the courses were really helpful and very patient. We carried out various projects set by the tutors and worked together in small groups. Certainly, learning about microphones and recording techniques at dBs has helped me a lot. Learning how to do fade-ins and fade-outs was very helpful, as was discovering how to edit recordings and add some enhancements when necessary. I will never have the ability or expertise which your current students have shown, but, nevertheless, I will always be extremely grateful to dBs for their excellent teaching, very friendly and patient staff and I thank them all so much for giving me such a good grounding and basic understanding of the recording process. This has enabled me to experiment with making my own recordings at home.

Marsha Head Article Image 2

For this project, a few of our students came to your house to record you playing. What was the process like and how was the day with them?

It was so enjoyable to meet Pete and his students. They were all so pleasant and friendly. Tony, my husband, and I loved meeting everyone. Setting up all the recording equipment was done with great attention to detail and very professionally. It was interesting to see how the students would move the mics around and I am so interested to hear how their recordings have turned out. I really hope that the session was helpful to them. I was very impressed by the conscientious approach to their recording and the meticulous care they were taking in preparing to record. As I mentioned to them, playing the piano was the easy part! Recording is difficult and requires much technical expertise and also a musical ear. 

I was extremely touched by Pete and the students’ great kindness in sending me their thanks and lovely cards. I didn’t deserve such praise – it was my real pleasure to be able to help in some way with their course. I wish them all success in their chosen career and also great fulfilment and happiness in pursuing it. Music and recording can embrace such a huge range of choices and opportunities and can be so rewarding whatever branch one wishes to explore.

Like the sound of the tight-knit community at dBs Plymouth? Want to start your journey with an Access to HE Diploma? Visit us to find out how we can help you take your next step towards a career in the music industry.