RGU appoints Dame Evelyn Glennie as its new chancellor

The world-renowned percussionist will serve as chancellor of Robert Gordon University for an initial term of four years

A university in Aberdeen has appointed a globally renowned local native as its new chancellor.

Multi-garlanded musician, Dame Evelyn Glennie, will serve as the titular head of Robert Gordon University (RGU) for an initial term of four years.

Glennie, the first person to successfully create and sustain a full-time career as a solo percussionist, will take up the role in July.

“It has been my life’s mission to widen access to music and use it as a medium to build social cohesion,” she said. “I also know that listening is the key to inclusion and collaboration.

“RGU shares these values and I support the university’s ambition to eliminating barriers to higher education and widening participation among underrepresented groups.”

Glennie knows more than a little about having to overcome hurdles – chiefly, other people’s expectations – after beginning to lose her hearing at the age of eight and becoming profoundly deaf within four years.

The two-time Grammy winner taught herself to hear with body parts other than her ears and contends that deafness is substantially misunderstood.

‘For some reason we tend to make a distinction between hearing a sound and feeling a vibration,’ she wrote in ‘Hearing Essay’. ‘In reality, they are the same thing.’

Glennie was born and raised in Aberdeenshire, the daughter of an accordionist in a Scottish country dance band. Besides percussion she also plays the Great Highland bagpipes, and in 1998 designed her own registered tartan, ‘The Rhythms of Evelyn Glennie’.

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“Her story is remarkable, but more than that she is an exceptional human being and will be an inspiration to our students and staff,” said chair of the board of governors at RGU, Colin Hunter, on the decision to appoint Glennie as chancellor.

“I have had the pleasure of sharing a number of conversations with Evelyn over the past few months. Her values and her priorities chime absolutely with those of Robert Gordon University.”

Glennie, who received an Honorary Doctor of Music Degree from the institution in 2016, will follow Sir Ian Wood as chancellor.

“I am very happy to be stepping down, particularly as my successor is to be Evelyn Glennie,” he said.

“I am absolutely delighted at her appointment.  She will do it very differently from me, but I know she will do it superbly and be very popular with the students.”

It is hoped that Glennie’s fame, and the regard in which she is so widely held, will help raise RGU’s profile both at home and abroad.

“I intend to build on the work done by Sir Ian Wood to enhance RGU’s reputation,” she said. “I recognise this is a great privilege and I am proud to represent the university not just nationally but on an international stage.

“The role of universities and higher education has never been more important as we recover [from] the devastating impacts of the pandemic. RGU will have an important part to play in ensuring that society has the skills and learning necessary to enable it to thrive despite current challenges.”

From the archive: In 2018, we reported on how RGU had outlined its commitment to student mental health

Pic credit: Caroline Purday

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