Interview with QMU graduate, Jennifer Orr: Deputy Orchestra Manager at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO)

By Press Office

Jennifer completed her MA in Arts and Cultural Management at QMU in August 2014 and has been working full time in her role as the Deputy Orchestra Manager at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) since September 2013.

 Completing most of the course during the 2012/13 academic year, she then transferred to studying part time along side working for the RSNO to complete the final research module.

The RSNO is a professional symphony orchestra and as one of Scotland's National Performing Companies, it has a responsibility to reach, engage and inspire people with classical music throughout Scotland.

Jennifer is part of a small team at the RSNO whose main aim is to ensure the busy schedule of orchestra activities, such as rehearsals, concerts, tours, educational outreach programmes and recording sessions all run smoothly. This requires the thorough planning and executing of logistics to get the musicians, soloists, conductors and all the musical instruments and equipment to the right place at the right time.

Jennifer's main responsibility however is to recruit and manage the freelance musicians that are required for each project. These musicians might provide cover for vacant positions in the orchestra, or for reasons of contractual leave such as sickness or holiday entitlement, or they might be recruited to play a specialist instrument or to boost numbers of instruments if a certain piece of music requires it. There could be up to around 30 freelance musicians required each week so this is often a complex process which combines a number of different aspects of management which were all part of the course at QMU; namely people management, human resources management, project management and financial management.

Immediately before studying at QMU, Jennifer worked in the cultural sector at the National Museum of Scotland and had experience in high-end customer service and hospitality, having also briefly worked in the hotel and catering industries. However, with an undergraduate degree in music performance Jennifer was keen to find employment in the performing arts sector and hoped that further study would help make this transition between jobs possible.

What made you chose QMU?

I had been applying for work within the arts management sector but had little success as most jobs required relevant experience of working directly in the sector. The course at QMU offered a work placement module which allowed me to gain invaluable experience working for an arts organisation. The practical element to each of the modules appealed to me as the assignments were based on real, life-like tasks that you would find as part of a job in the arts. For example, completing a real funding application, putting together a marketing plan for a new arts event and analysing current arts policies or strategic plans.

The course covers such a variety of different topics that it gives you a thorough introduction to each key aspect of managing an arts organisation. My main interest was in the classical music industry and the flexible nature of the course allowed me to tailor my individual assignments to this area whilst still gaining a holistic understanding of the arts and cultural sector. I met the course leader and some of the teaching staff at an open evening and found they are all still actively involved in various areas of the arts and cultural sector which meant that the content of the course was current, relevant and forward thinking. During the course there was also valuable contact with arts management practitioners, some who led parts of the course or came in as guest speakers, as well as the personal experience and knowledge shared by the QMU Staff.

Has QMU degree been important in helping you get to where you are today?

My QMU degree has definitely helped me get to where I am today. First of all, the work placement module was key for me getting my current job with the RSNO. Whilst my placement was in a different department at the RSNO, I was able to become familiar with the organisation and its values which helped during the interview stages, not to mention I also had an in-house referee!

The style and thoroughness of the Masters course at QMU also appealed to my current employers; they liked the way the course trained me to think critically and question things, which they recognised as a quality I could bring to the job. For the RSNO, having someone with up to date teaching on current affairs in the sector was also attractive and the contacts that I had gained during the course could be potentially valuable to them also.

Tips for current QMU students?

The teaching staff on the course are very experienced and are extremely knowledgeable about their sectors so make the most of them; listen to the advice they give, ask for help if you need it and take opportunities to meet with your personal tutor. Some of the most valuable conversations I had were with my personal tutor, who helped me improve my CV and gave me advice on how to get a good work placement. But don't rely on the staff too much, be proactive, go to them with ideas and questions and the more effort you put in, the more you are likely to take from the course.

If you're a QMU graduate and have an interesting career story to tell, we're keen to hear from you. Please email

Notes to Editor

For further media information please contact Jonathan Perkins, Press and PR Officer, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 474 0000, Email:

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