When people hear that you study music, they often don’t have much of an idea of what it actually means day – to – day. If you’re considering studying music at York, here’s a rough guide to how I spend the term:
Our course is amazing because you focus on just one project per term. Apart from first year, when you have a couple of small extra modules to help you adjust to university study, you’ll be working in a group of about 15 people with a single lecturer throughout term. “Lecturer” isn’t the best word though, as there are no normal lectures for us musical types! With such small group sizes, and with a subject which always has a practical element, modules are taught in a variety of ways but never in the kind of big-room-full-of-bored-students-being-talked-at way. (Feel free to breathe a sigh of relief. And we don’t have exams either. WIN) So far, I’ve had a module on Musical Analysis, where we focused on single pieces of music and went through them together to develop detailed analyses; on Eastern-European 20th-century composers, where we took turns presenting pieces of music and playing each other’s compositions based on those works; on 18th-century chamber music, where we had seminars on historical techniques and instruments and then lots of rehearsals for a final recital…You can find loads of details of past modules on the department website, but hopefully that gives you an idea of the various ways our projects get taught and assessed. Personally I love having one big module per term, as you really get to focus on something and immerse yourself in what you’re learning about. Also, as you always get to register your preferences for modules, you’re pretty likely to be studying something you’re really interested in!
There are some people on the course who focus on academic research, personal performance, or composition; but the majority of us are crazy-busy with lots of ensemble playing. Since we only have around 8 hours of lectures per week, we have lots of time to devote to private study but also practical study! The department has a dizzying array of ensembles to get involved in, no matter what kind of music you’re into. Seriously; there’s everything from Baroque Orchestra to Folk Group, from a capella choirs to Piano Ensemble. My favourite group, and probably my favourite thing about my course so far (although non-music students are also very welcome, and there are a fantastic number of them too!), has been Symphony Orchestra. Playing in such a large ensemble – one term we had so many players for Mahler’s 6th that we had to use Central Hall (MASSIVE) instead of the regular concert hall! – is truly an incredible experience, especially when the standard is so high. I’ve also been able to get great experience of leading a section, which is scary but also really fun! There’s such a sense of collaborative enthusiasm and hard work (rehearsals are three hours long – don’t worry, not for every ensemble!) and the concerts (followed by celebratory parties) are truly exhilarating.
If that’s not enough, there are also plenty of opportunities each term to get involved in an Opera, Musical Theatre, or chamber production. I’ve played in the pit orchestra for Sweet Charity, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore, Cosi Fan Tutte… And of course they don’t just need orchestras, they need singers, actors, producers, directors, publicity officers, choreographers…If you’re interested in putting on shows, there really is an enormous amount to get involved in.
Describing our degree to other students, and non-students, can be tricky because it’s so different from any other course. There’s a lot of practical elements, but also a different kind of academic study. There’s such a wide range of disciplines, and people with such diverse interests and aims for the future, that it’s hard to sum up the department to Outsiders… and you do get so immersed in the department that that feels like an appropriate word! The heart of the department, the Foyer (complete with comfy sofas and nearby kitchen), is always full of people chatting about what they’re studying, playing each other clips of music they’re into or practising, having lunch together between seminars… If you’re interested in studying here, I’d urge you to come to a Visit Day to get a taste of it all. There really is something for everyone, and even if you’re not sure what your focus is, there’s plenty of opportunities to try new things (I’ve discovered playing the viol!) and find things out about yourself, and the world of music.