Exchange Student Stories, Part 1: Max McWhirter

With this post, we begin our Exchange Student Stories series: a window into the lives of former iCLA exchange students who are just about to graduate, or have recently graduated from their respective home institutions, and are preparing for the next phase…whatever that may be. 

Max McWhirter spent the Fall 2015 and Spring 2016 semesters at iCLA, on exchange from Edinburgh Napier University. As he approaches graduation, he reflects upon the impact of his year at iCLA on his educational experience and global outlook on music and life.

First, a brief introduction:

What motivated you to come to Japan for a year to study at iCLA? 

I’ve generally never been the sort of person to move too far from my comfort zone. I wouldn’t even say I was too actively engaged in organizing the trip; I registered interest after receiving notice of the exchange via presentation. I then sort of wandered into the application process half thinking that it wouldn’t actually happen. But, gladly it did. I came to Japan only by some sort of lazy albeit interested accident, or to put it another way; some inevitable act of fate fueled by desire for personal growth and a fair heaping of curiosity.

How have the courses and workshops taken at iCLA enriched your musical knowledge and experience?

The courses I took intensely broadened my musical worldview, making me aware of a great deal of new music and composers. The interdisciplinary content and style of the classes allowed me to place these discoveries into a frame of reference that was inclusive of some bigger picture; names learned in one class were referenced in others which tied things together and further cemented concepts learned in both. I noticed crossover moments like this in all the music classes as well as classes on art, architecture, film, and theatre.

What are your most memorable experiences at iCLA and in Japan? How will have an impact upon your future studies and career? 

Among my memorable experiences is my time spent with the improvisation ensemble. It not only redefined what I understood improvisation to be but how I approached performance and composition generally. Spontaneity has been central in my musical thinking ever since, and I’ve gone on to do improvisation work with multiple groups of musicians and even start an ensemble concerned with composition and performance in the area of improv. This and the long exposure to contemporary/experimental music I received are probably the two most important aspects of my time at iCLA musically speaking. Since leaving Japan I’ve been steadily consuming and considering more and more contemporary and improvised music.

What are your plans for the near future? 

Moving forward, I see study and practice in these musical areas as being fundamental to my focus as I approach graduation, whether it be in further study or employment. I’m grateful I was exposed to them in the way I was at iCLA. I view them as holding much more potential for me personally than the mainstream classical music industry.

I am currently considering postgraduate study, apprenticeships, and possible employment opportunities with a long term goal of engaging with music directly as an occupation, or at least to be able to earn enough money in a non-musical job while pursuing musical interests in my own time.

Check out Max’s compositions and performances on SoundCloud