Ben Evans

Ben Evans

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background

OK, so I’ve studied music since that first piano lesson, aged four years. Godfather Paul introduced an archaic 486 computer into our home approximately twenty-four years ago. It ran Windows 3.1 and output to a monochrome display. A year later, a state of the art Pentium 90 computer appeared. We were one of the first families to have a computer with a CD drive and soundcard. The story of its arrival has since merged into family folklore. The ‘P.90’ was soon in use composing music and helping to cement a lifelong interest in technology and music. Such interest has led to a career teaching music and researching technology-enhanced musical interaction.

Brief snapshot:

(2016 -) University of Leeds PhD Education (research into technology-mediated creative musical activity)
(2012-2015) Secondary Music Teacher
(2009-2011) University of Oxford M.Sc. Education (learning and technology)
(2008-2009) University of Cambridge PGCE Music Education
(2005 -2008) University of York B.A. (Hons) Music
(1996-2003) Birmingham Conservatoire Junior School (Grade 8 Piano/Voice/Theory)

What motivated you to undertake your PhD study and why did you choose the University of Leeds?

Undertaking high quality, postgraduate research requires comprehensive support in a number of areas. The support Leeds offers postgraduate researchers is outstanding. All staff harbour a strong moral desire to improve the world for the better. The libraries are inspirational places, each with their own distinctive history and yet standardised, easy to use systems prevail. Together with an e-journal package, researchers may access any paradigm’s most current thinking alongside its developmental trajectory. Recently, I was researching theories of creativity. A theory from 1926 was referenced in journals. It’s long out of print and somewhat out-of-step with modern thinking. Unsurprisingly, it transpired that the Brotherton library held a copy available for regular loan. Subsequent to a mesmerising wander around the basement, I discovered the first edition copy. It was likely acquired new for the library in the 1930s. Now I can connect the past and present first hand. That’s why I chose Leeds.

What is it that makes you passionate about this area of study?

Music has furnished me so much enjoyment. Now I want to make a small research contribution to ensure that future generations can enjoy creating music; culture, status or musical experience notwithstanding.

Please tell us about your research topic.

I spend time working with secondary school students in England to better understand their beliefs, opinions and experiences in relation to tablet computers and how they influence creative processes. A typical field activity consists of a student, their partner and a teacher/researcher interacting through and around a tablet computer. The goal is to create a piece of music over a reasonable period of time. Research questions include:

How, if at all, can tablet computers enhance or restrict creative musical and/or social development? How, if at all, are creative musical ideas initiated and developed during tablet-mediated activity?

Answers for research questions are sought from video-enhanced field notes, semi-structured group interviews and visual sketches depicting gesture-based interaction. Sampling is small scale to ensure that a feasible level of deep understanding can be achieved. Ethical, credibility and transferability procedures are also essential to the methodological framework.

How has your experience been at the University so far?

Postgraduate research is challenging. The university maintains high standards which can be challenging to surpass. However, it is that challenge that makes research exciting.  

What would you say about the learning and research facilities in the School and at the University in general?

As above, outstanding.

What would you say about the support you receive?

I am fortunate to work with two supervisors. They are very well suited to my research area and also care deeply about better understanding music composition, music technology and music education.

Do you take part in any activities outside of your study?

‘Get Out Get Active’ is an excellent student-run society who organise walks and other mindful activities in the local area. Additionally, the student union has an amazing building, bar and food. However, I feel a little ‘long in the tooth’ to ‘get down and boogie’.

What do you like to do outside of studying?

So, I 3D print and design objects for laser cutting in wood and steel. This is very therapeutic and a great way to unwind after a long day. I collect miniature railway equipment and take great pleasure in designing railway-related products to negate the necessity to spend money! I also listen to and attend early music concerts. Orlando Gibbons, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis come to mind at the present moment. 

What do you think of Leeds as a city?

Leeds is a really great place. It’s not too ‘touristy’ or ‘chocolate box’ like other parts of Yorkshire. It’s super trendy. Amazing beer options and the best shopping. The bus station is a dream maker. You can go anywhere from that place. Is there anything better than a cheap day return to Wetherby?

What would you say to someone considering a research degree in the School?

Love your topic. It’s usually something you’ve thought about for a long time. It’s your research and your journey. Come and join us. 

What are your plans once you have completed your PhD?

I work at the School of Education and there, we share a desire to develop new knowledge and make a contribution to society. Therefore, I want to ‘make a difference’ after completion, be this in a school or university context.

Are there any other comments you would like to make?

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to postgraduate research!