Music at York: My Top 3 Aspects of Department Life

The close-knit environment

In department, everyone knows everyone. You will have made friends before even arriving, thanks to our ‘music families’. I was in contact with my ‘music parents’ (in older years) and ‘siblings’ (in my year) over Facebook in the weeks before I arrived. This was a great opportunity to ask my music parents any questions I had, and get to know someone joining at the same time as me!

The first project (our word for module) is the practical project, where all first years and some second and third years put on a production in six weeks. This is a really important time to bond with students across all three years, and throw yourself in musically as well.

It’s not unusual to have friends from all years at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. That’s the great thing about our projects; they’re open to all undergraduates, so you really get to know everyone. Talking to those around you will expand your interests. Whether you’re interested in Monteverdi, Gamelan or Meredith Monk, you will find like-minded people who want to explore this music too.

We definitely know how to have fun outside of hours as well – you can find most of us at Jazz Night in V-Bar every Monday.

Project choices

The enormous variety of projects at York really enables us to take our studies in the directions we are most interested in. Projects can focus more on performance, composition, or analysis, but often we have a choice of how to respond in our assessed work.

This term I am taking Instrumentation with Martin Suckling. For our assessments, we can arrange an orchestration, write an essay, or perform a reduction score of a large-scale work.

Even when a project is more specific in the way we are assessed, we are still free to choose our own essay titles or pieces to perform. Having this much freedom might sound daunting. But don’t worry, we’re supported by our project leaders in regular tutorials.

hamber music project

Last spring term, in a chamber music project, I was asked to join a quartet. This was in addition to the composition module I was already taking. Initially, I was worried that the workload and rehearsal schedule would be too much. But I’m so glad that I agreed to take part!

Both violinists in the quartet are in the year above the cellist and myself. It was a really great opportunity to make some great friends. As a group, we decided on Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2, and rehearsed all term, resulting in a performance in Week 10. As a quartet, we took part in two masterclasses and were guided by our project lecturer, John Stringer. Each week we would perform to the other groups taking the project and receive feedback from our peers. Since the project, we have continued to play as a quartet and even landed a gig in December!

This is a rehearsal for one of the pieces in The Chimera Ensemble’s spring term concert. I’m playing viola, but we’re also using groan tubes and whistle tubes!

Ensembles & related societies

There are a huge variety of ensembles that you can get involved with. There really is something for everyone. Ensembles are both auditioned and non-auditioned, ranging from the very competitive to the low pressure. With plenty of opportunities for vocalists and instrumentalists alike, we’re spoilt for choice! Most ensembles put on a concert each term, involving people from inside and outside of the department.

Since joining York, I’ve been involved with several department ensembles. These include the University Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Sinfonietta, and The Chimera Ensemble. I’d had very little exposure to contemporary classical music before coming to York; and I’ve now joined the Chimera committee as the Press and Publicity officer. Next term I want get involved with Zamar, the gospel choir, because all of their concerts have been such good fun!

A number of special opportunities are offered to us, such as auditioning to play a concerto in our third year, or The Chimera Ensemble’s termly call for scores.


Here’s me accompanying my friend Jakub for his concerto audition in January.

As well as department ensembles, there are a number of musical societies that have strong links to the department. These include the Central Hall Musical Society (CHMS), OperaSoc and the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. These all put on performances with auditioned singing parts. Plus, there are opportunities for instrumentalists to play in the orchestra. Last year, I played viola for Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado. I’d never played in an orchestra pit before and we had a blast!

The Music Society

The Music Society is absolutely brilliant and very present in department life. Their twice-weekly lunchtime concert series in the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall gives students the chance to put on their own concerts. This is a great performance platform. You can really go crazy with your creative choices.

A particularly memorable concert is Clark’s Dank Falsetto in which Clark, who is also a Bass lay clerk at Newcastle Cathedral, performed songs only in his falsetto range. He was joined by Rosa, who is usually a bassoonist, singing soprano. I accompanied on piano. Fizz, who graduated last year, put on another great concert. She sang folk songs, with a mostly improvised cello accompaniment from second-year Rebecca. Anything and everything goes at York. We embrace all kinds of music!

At York, we are encouraged to become well-rounded musicians and to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Take all the opportunities that come your way and enjoy the music you’re playing. You’ll meet so many incredible musicians and learn things from them that you can’t learn in a seminar.

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Hey! I’m Helen and I’m in my second year of studying Music at York, and I am a first study pianist, second study violist. I chose York for the freedom it gives you to take your studies in directions you’re most passionate about, and I haven’t been disappointed. I’m learning new things, hearing new music, and meeting new people everyday.

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