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It does exactly what it says on the box

An Edinburgh recording studio is bringing students, professionals and community groups together. Raymond Ross reports.

John Lennon bursts out laughing. "Aw sh**, I've just been singing the harmony! Give me that again."

We're sitting in a recording studio watching footage of Lennon in Phil Spector's recording studio. In both studios there's laughter at Lennon's mistake. The students I'm sitting with are clearly amused, and relieved, that even the most famous and most experienced of musicians can make mistakes.

The studio we're sitting in, in the new pound;5.1 million Music Box at Stevenson College in Edinburgh, is considered among the top three in Scotland. With an array of classic analogue hardware, students (and professionals who wish to hire it) can record, mix and overdub to produce soundtracks, voiceovers, TV jingles, radio programmes, and music for videogames and podcasts.

The live room can accommodate up to 20 players and has a separate drum and vocal room. This is as good as it gets. This is state-of-the-art.

But it's also connected to an adjacent 120-seat (300-standing), completely wire-free auditorium, meaning that live concerts and full orchestra sessions can be recorded.

To this, you can also add a high-tech digital audio suite (with 23 iMac workstations), a dance studio, three music rehearsal rooms (maximum occupancy 18), nine practice booths and a percussion room - all fully equipped and fully soundproofed - and three dedicated music classrooms.

It seems there's nothing missing for Stevenson's 300 full-time music students, who can spend up to four years at the college studying a choice of courses, including popular, classical, jazz and music theatre, from introductory level to Higher National Diploma.

The facilities and courses on offer are testament to the remarkable growth of music studies at the college, which began 10 years ago when the creative arts department began offering a degree foundation course in classical music.

"Like Topsy, we just growed and growed," says Morag Campbell, associate principal of creative arts. "Now we are regarded by BTEC (Business and Technical Education Council) as one of the top three in the UK for quality of teaching and student achievement."

The Music Box, which opened in September 2007, has been central to the expansion of courses - and to the musicians getting on better with the neighbours.

"Now that we have a dedicated building, there have been no more complaints from other departments about noise," says Ken Thomson, the head of music.

"The Music Box has also allowed us to expand courses and to cater for rock band rehearsals, for example, which are a noisy business.

"We can also now hold concerts and record in-house, whereas previously we had to bus students to other places, even as far as Livingston.

"But the new facilities have an added bonus, allowing for collaborative projects where students can come in, for instance, to light and film concerts, promoting cross-curricular activities."

At Stevenson, all prospective full-time music students are interviewed and auditioned to ensure they are choosing the right courses at the right level; and while it attracts students from as far as Japan and Hong Kong, such is the college's reputation that some Scottish students make a daily commute from as far as Selkirk and Paisley.

There are also 200 evening-class students, and the college hopes the Music Box will soon be used by community groups as well as professionals. "The aim is to get that mix of students, professionals and community groups using our facilities. Creative arts can be a way into education for a lot of people, so the more the local interest, the better," says Ms Campbell.

"We hope people coming in to use the Music Box will learn about the whole college and the different courses it offers."

STUDENTS SAY

Nora Holden

HND final-year student in classical music performance

"The computer suite, the practice booths - the whole thing is really good. It's made a great difference to my practice and performance as a singer. I certainly practise more and the auditorium allows us to perform regularly and to do lunchtime concerts every two weeks, which are open to all students and draw good audiences.

"We have two Yamaha concert pianos now, so I get a lot of opportunity to work on voice and piano. We can also use the iMacs to compose on, to sample all the different instruments and experiment with different sounds. It's great. I'm hoping to go on to Napier or Glasgow in the autumn to pursue my music performance studies."

Abi Thomson

HND first-year student in popular music - saxophone

"I love it and am specially impressed with the recording studio. It's exciting to be around all that equipment. If and when I make my first professional recording, it'll be here.

"The teaching here is top class, especially the one-to-one saxophone tuition. All students get one-to-one tuition and the standards are really high. That's why I came here, because of Stevenson's reputation for performance music.

"My aim is to study at university level and go on to be a professional musician."

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