Why are we here? What’s life all about? Are we just YOLKS?
Sorry I’ll be serious. This isn’t frequently asked questions in life in general, nor is it just me copying out the lyrics of Monty Python’s wondrous Meaning of Life.
One reason I set up this blog (other than to avoid revising Schubert’s last decade, or rather the exam topic of that title) was to address questions regarding access, admissions and applications to Oxford. I’ve tried to address some questions I was asked recently in the comments on my ‘About’ page as well as some genuinely frequently asked questions here. If you do have any more, please do ask in the comments! If you notice I haven’t answered an exact question asked in the ‘About’ comments that isn’t because I’m trying to be evasive, just because I reckon I covered it in an answer elsewhere. Anyway, hope it’s illuminating, enlightening and…radiant. I hope it is really radiant.
Why did you want to do music at Oxford? (i.e. why academic music, why Oxford?)
About 4 years ago I didn’t realise that books about music existed. When I discovered this I promptly came to the conclusion that this was The Best Thing Ever. I really do enjoy the academic study of music. Furthermore I am not a performer. I love playing, don’t get me wrong, but I get terrible performance nerves which really are quite crippling. The fact that you could do the whole course at Oxford without performing sounding suspect to me, kind of unbelievable, but also amazing. Amazing may seem a strong word but performance in music has always been the thing that has knocked my grades right down. The fact that a degree existed which didn’t involve my Worst Bit in its assessment seemed most opportune! I looked into it a bit and discovered that at interview there is something like a 1 in 3 chance of getting an offer so I thought it was worth a shot and duly applied! The rest is not by any means history. Or is it?
Why Oxford not Cambridge?
Now, my original and genuine answer may shock you with its banality but fear not, it can be explained. I applied to Oxford because the website made more sense that Cambridge’s. This actually revealed a myriad of other reasons I didn’t apply to Cambridge as the difficult website layout was symptomatic of them. Cambridge’s website was non-sensical to me as you couldn’t simply find the music faculty page but first had to go to each college’s page, find out if they offered music and then look at their page. For each the admission requirements were different and I did not trust this. I had read that at Oxford if a college was full up but you were good enough for the course (for that is what one is assessed for) then a place would be found for you. At Cambridge if a college you applied to was full up then that was pretty much it. Since I have heard of many people being told they would be ‘pooled’ but none of them have actually got an offer from another college in the end. I also know now that the Cambridge course differs significantly in certain elements. Apparently there are some fairly hideous compulsory aural tests there and I certainly couldn’t deal with that!
Did you ever consider anything else?
Well, I sort of thought of Oxford as an off-chance thing. I thought it much more likely that I’d go to Manchester or York. I knew that music was what I loved most but I did love German too. However I couldn’t imagine actually abandoning music whereas I felt differently about German somehow. At times when stuff appeared to be going to pot I often thought about changing everything and training as a nurse and actually it is something I do still think about! There have been points this year where I’ve got very fed up and it crossed my mind that more or less all the ideas in musicology had already been had whereas with midwifery all the babies have never always been delivered… Fortunately I have remembered/realised that not all of the ideas have been had just yet, or presented in all the ways possible or achieved all the means possible etc etc!
How did it compare to what you were expecting/hoping for?
I must say I didn’t really know what to expect!
Would you do anything differently in hindsight?
Now that is hard/harsh! I guess worried less maybe? Said fewer potentially offensive things to people who annoyed me at interview because I presumed I wouldn’t get in then did as did they?
Do you think doing a degree in music is worthwhile if what you ultimately want a career in performance?
The amount I have learnt in just one year is kind of incredible. I reckon that you have nothing to lose by doing a degree (well, obviously money and time is invested in it but that’s a complicated and massive issue!) but so much to gain! Hopefully some of my other blog posts show that there is a lot of ‘worth’ in studying for the degree, but if you require more specific examples or whatever, do ask!
If you wanted to put in as much practice as those at conservatoire, would it be possible?
This is a hard question because it does really depend on the individual. Not everyone at a conservatoire puts in the same amount of practice, for example. In theory I suppose probably not because there is a lot of work for the course at Oxford that you wouldn’t have to do if at a conservatory, but actually I know a couple of amazing and very conscientious performers at Oxford of whom I could not imagine any more practice! Tough question though and I am not the best person to answer it as I don’t focus on performance, rather writing stuff, like this! I must say, writing this my skin crawls at the idea of studying at somewhere with the word ‘conserve’ in the name. I mean I’m all for jam and preserves but I’m not so sure about an educational establishment based around the notion of conserving. But that’s probably a discussion for elsewhere.
Would it be possible to graduate with the same technical proficiency as someone graduating from conservatoire?
Again this is a really hard question because of course it depends on the individual. For example, not all students will graduate from a conservatoire with the same level of technical proficiency. Once again I really suppose it is to do with the practice one puts in. For sure though there are some truly amazing instrumental teachers in Oxford and so many outstanding vocal teachers and the financial allowance given by the faculty for instrumental lessons is much higher than at most universities.
If someone has other considerable interests besides music would you advise to pursue them over music or not?
I don’t really feel like I can answer this question without a bit more info- what is a considerable interest? What is perusal in this context? If you like reading poetry but you also love music I would never say give up music so you can keep reading poetry or if you study music at uni you can never read poetry again! I must say at Oxford the rich and diverse academic environment means that I can dive right into things that aren’t even part of my course and learn more about them than I would have been able to anywhere else. I’m not trying to avoid the question at all, but some more details and context would be helpful to give a more helpful answer.