‘What are they up to in there, those musos?’, I’m sure many outside the department must wonder.
You see, having a building all to ourselves, complete with practise rooms and concert halls, means we can sometimes end up a little isolated from the rest of university life. So here’s a snapshot of just some of what’s going on, from the perspective of a second year music student…
When all the music freshers arrive, the first module they take is always a large-scale performance of some sort. This year it is Paradise Moscow, an operetta by Dmitri Shostakovich (pictured above). The brilliant thing is that second and third years can also choose this module and work on the show in some leading capacity!
And so, most of Monday is taken up with rehearsals (6 hours’ worth!), in which I am usually alternately playing the piano in the orchestra and running through songs with soloists. This is show week, however, so we’re just adding the finishing touches, ready for the first performance on Wednesday.
In the afternoon, I attend a rehearsal with The 24 choir (which has, unsurprisingly, 24 singers). We have a concert of early music (c. 15th century) at the end of term and this is one of two weekly rehearsals. Morale is kept high with a strict baking rota which means there’s always cake to be had in the rehearsal break!
On Tuesdays I teach two singing lessons, one to a first year WDP (writing, direction and performing i.e. drama) student, and another to a third year English student. These are organised through the Music Society, which also puts on two lunchtime concerts a week (and holds fantastic end-of-term balls!).
That evening I lead a rehearsal for Vox, a contemporary a cappella choir that I arrange music for and direct. We also have a concert later this term (including songs by the likes of London Grammar, Fleet Foxes and Beyoncé), and another regular rehearsal on Thursdays.
Wednesday is usually quite free but this week I sit on the audition panel for an opera that is due to be performed in summer term, and which I am set to conduct! It’s called The Rape of Lucretia by Benjamin Britten, and we have 6 hours of auditions after which we have 8 singing parts to cast – it’s a tough decision!
In the evening we have our first performance of Paradise Moscow, which is a well-attended resounding success! The first night of any show is usually quite nervy but the first years showed the rest of the department what they are made of with a stellar performance.
In the usual morning module timeslot we look over things that need sorting from the performance the night before. There isn’t much to do, as it went so smoothly, but we polish off some small details.
Later on that day I do some piano practise before the second of Vox’s rehearsals. We add a new beatboxer into the mix and he has an awe-inspiring effect on the sound! This is followed by performance number 2 of the show!
In the morning I have a rehearsal with a quartet that I lead and play piano in. Last term we performed Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time for piano, violin, clarinet and cello. Next term we will play the lesser known quartet by Walter Rabl, but we have already started rehearsals as it’s a tough piece to get the fingers around!
In the afternoon it’s time for the second 24 rehearsal of the week. We tackle a piece that involves quite a lot of whistling, accompanied by a soundtrack full of recorded birdsong. It’s Per Nørgård’s D’monstrantz vöögeli (yep, me neither…). It’s incredibly hard music to read but should make for a great contrast with the other stuff in our concert.
In the evening we have our final performance of Paradise Moscow (see photo above). It has been the perfect way for all the first years to get to know each other and an excellent module to take for second and third years who are performance-minded.
The weekend that follows is made up of some much-needed rest after such a busy show week. The music never stops, however; on Sundays I play show tunes on the clarinet with the University Concert Orchestra!
If you’re also interested in throwing yourself into as much music as there is on offer, then York is the place to be. It’s worth noting that many of the groups I am involved with are optional extras and don’t contribute to my degree mark but my week would be so much more boring without them!