Simon Roth


photo: Olesya Zdorovetska

Improvising drummer and composer Simon Roth writes about how his time studying at York set him up for a diverse career in composition, performance, and as founder of innovative contemporary arts group, Pop-Up Circus.

The music that I write and play is informed by the immersion in these subjects that I had at York, but also my whole approach to the arts was shaped during those three years.

"Studying at York is very much a microcosm of real life. There are many choices and directions that you can go in, and even if you want to take all of them, you can only choose one at a time. The modular system there means that you can construct your own educational path, and this undoubtedly shaped who I am as a musician, thinker and educator. Much of the onus is placed on the students to motivate themselves and fill in the gaps in their knowledge and experience, and there are ample opportunities to do so. A lot of what I studied did not relate directly to my instrument, and I underwent an enriching process to translate this information into what is, in essence, a personal musical language that I am still building today.

I thrived upon the exposure to so much diverse music and knowledge, and there is so much encouragement of this at York. I even received support from the university when a friend and I set up an early manifestation of what is now Pop-Up Circus: A Platform for Contemporary Activity – a grass roots arts organisation staging multi-disciplinary work and artistic collaborations. At York I came to understand the music industry from a different perspective too. I was on the concerts committee and helped organise and curate the week-long Spring Festival of New Music in the first year that it returned to being student-led, and this experience led to an appreciation of the industry from the point of view of the promoter and concert-organiser. I realised that no matter how incredible an artist is, they need to be courteous, patient and efficient in their correspondence.

I was taught by the country’s leading practitioners and scholars in areas of music that mean the most to me. I came to understand the music of Bartók, Stravinsky and Ligeti, and sought to incorporate their legacy and language into my own compositional and performance palette. I had the good fortune to work and study closely with jazz heavyweights: John Taylor, Julian Arguelles, Kenny Wheeler, Martin France, the list goes on. I got to grips with electroacoustic composition through the incredible Ambrose Field. These people taught me that it is the end result that matters, and the only route to personal success is in hard work, persistence and treating those around you with respect. The music that I write and play is informed by the immersion in these subjects that I had at York, but also my whole approach to the arts was shaped during those three years.

Studying at York is very similar to the real working world, where there is often no-one spoon feeding you and telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. It has taken me years to find a balance between study, work and play, but I am delighted with the decisions I made, and the more I progress, the more I value how unique and truly beautiful my time at York was."