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Tree Tordoff and the importance of independent mentors

Every student should have the chance to learn from someone like the late 'Tree' Tordoff, writes Jon Burton

It was with sad news that I discovered recently that a very old and dear friend of mine had passed away. David ‘Tree’ Tordoff had been a colleague of mine for many years, firstly in his role as an enthusiastic student at Oxford Polytechnic, running the union PA system, and then working together at a local rental company, Tiger Hire. In later years, it was as a teacher that I came across Tree more frequently.

When I parted company from Radiohead, it was Tree (pictured taking a class) who took over my role as monitor engineer, a job he did for many years. However, at some point the pressures of touring must have taken their toll, as he returned to education – a fact I only became aware of when I was giving a guest lecture with ‘Big’ Mick Hughes. We had been asked a particularly challenging question, to which I believe Mick had replied: “You would need to be a physics teacher to explain that!” “Which, luckily,” Tree announced, “I am!” He then proceeded to give a very thorough explanation of the relevant laws and theory, leaving Mick and I silent on the sidelines.

Tree later went on to work for Yamaha, providing technical support and, most importantly, teaching students and professionals how to use Yamaha products. I have attended several of his lectures and they were as entertaining as they were informative. His knowledge was huge, and because he had worked at the highest level, he could explain things in a relevant and practical way.

Having just completed a training course myself a few weeks ago, I have become increasingly aware of how much our industry relies on manufacturers. Most companies charge for training, but this rarely covers the cost. But this is not a charitable act. People use what they know, understand and are familiar with. If you have only been taught on one desk, that is likely to be the one you are happiest using. Educational establishments are happy with this arrangement as it is seen as an added bonus to their course. Manufacturers also help provide resources that are very valuable in this seemingly underfunded system. But is it a good thing?

From my experience, the level of teaching from companies like Yamaha and Martin Audio (whose course I attended) is excellent. What strikes me is that this should not be an add-on, available to just a few colleges that are lucky enough to get support. This should be a core part of any music technology course, be it in live sound, studio recording or any of the other disciplines. There should be much greater ties between the profession and the colleges. Students should be able to get the benefit of knowledge and experience of people like Tree Tordoff, who are experts in their field, can explain the latest technology and have worked at the highest level. This is not uncommon in other subjects where close links between educational establishments and colleges are made and maintained.

It would be great to see universities and colleges becoming more involved with not just manufacturers, but industry mentors, so that every student got a chance to learn from somebody like Tree Tordoff.

(Jon Burton)