Claire is from Oxfordshire, in the South of England, and wrote this at the end of her second year studying Music here at Christ’s College, Cambridge. At school, Claire sat A-Levels in French, English, Latin and Music.
What aspects of your course attracted you to it specifically?
I liked that the Cambridge Music course covered a broad range of music history, starting right from the beginning of Western classical music, which I felt was important to learn about to put things I had learnt at school in context. I was also interested in the idea of music and science, and saw that Cambridge had the CMS (Centre for Music and Science) and options to learn about things like acoustics and music psychology.
Why did you apply to Christ's?
I met my Director of Studies (David Rowland at the time, although it is now David Trippett) at a Choral Award open day and thought he seemed friendly! I did look around some other Colleges but I think I liked that Christ’s seemed small and friendly, and had a good central location.
I have found the College really good for welfare, especially in first year when I had various things going on at home during exams. My tutor has been really kind and supportive throughout the last two years - it’s really nice to have someone who isn’t your Director of Studies looking out for you and for your welfare, and is something you don’t have at every other university.
The book grant was super useful in first year (my fellow music students at other Colleges were jealous!) as there are a few analysis set works and books that are helpful for papers like Keyboard Skills and Harmony. It means you don't have to worry about buying music in first year, which can otherwise be a big expense!
"I did look around some other Colleges but I liked that Christ’s seemed small and friendly, and had a good central location."
What do you think of the collegiate system in general?
I think the collegiate system can be really nice, especially as a fresher, because you feel less anonymous - you get to know a smaller cross section of the university, and can meet people on other courses without being too overwhelmed. It’s also fun to have many different Colleges so that you can visit other libraries and bars. For musicians it is great as most Colleges have a music society, so there are a ridiculous amount of concerts and music events! I spend quite a lot of time at other Colleges, often for music rehearsals but also to see friends on my course.
How did you find the application process?
I think someone had told me the interview would be a bit like a supervision, and that was probably quite accurate - my second interview in particular was mostly me responding to some written material and talking through some broad concepts which is often the form my supervisions will take! My other interview was more of a mixture and in my case included some questions based on things I'd mentioned in my personal statement, amongst other things.
I remember being told to listen to BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM, so I listened to a few of the ‘composer of the week’ podcasts. I did find them interesting and they probably gave me some more rounded knowledge, but I don’t think I actually used any of that material in my interview. My music teacher at school gave us some music magazines - again things like BBC Music, Gramophone etc. - but again I don’t think I used any of that! I had talked about symphonies in my personal statement so I read some of a book about symphonies that I actually found in a charity shop, which was definitely useful. In a way I don’t think it matters too much what you actually read or listen to, as long as you find something that gets you thinking and provides something you can discuss!
I actually specifically chose Christ’s because there was no written harmony exam, although I had a few very informal aural and harmony tests in the interview. I went through a few Bach chorales with my music teacher at school to prepare for that.
I would recommend having a broad overview of music history, and debates surrounding music (music in culture, music and language, the future of music, etc.) and a clear idea of why you want to study it! Try not to worry too much about the interview, as from my experience people make it sound worse than it actually is.
"I don’t think it matters too much what you actually read or listen to, as long as you find something that gets you thinking and provides something you can discuss!"
Did you find it easy to settle in?
I settled in really quickly with friends on my course, as I spent a lot of time doing extracurricular music with them. As music is quite a small subject (around 60 per year) you will get to know everyone on your course pretty well, not just in your year. Doing orchestras and concerts in first year definitely helped with this! Being in one of the organ scholar rooms (in First Court at Christ’s) in first year made it a bit different in College as I wasn’t near the other freshers, but the College family system and freshers events made it easy to meet and get to know people. I really enjoyed fresher’s week - from bop (a college-wide fancy-dress party) to (college) family dinner, everyone gets involved and by the end of the week you really do start to know everyone in the year!
Lectures are fine - you just turn up and take notes! The scariest part of first year was probably aural class, as my teacher made us pitch notes as he took the register, but we were all in the same boat, and by second term we had all got the hang of it. I think I was probably a bit nervous for my first supervision but my supervisors in both years have all been really friendly and helpful so there was nothing to worry about!
How does your teaching work?
My teaching is primarily lectures and supervisions. Usually we will learn about a topic in lectures, and then be given a choice of essay questions by our supervisor relating to the lecture content, with suggested reading. You write an essay or essay plan, hand it in to your supervisor, and discuss your essay along with a group of two or three other students. For Analysis supervisions that sometimes means analysing a piece and discussing it, while for Tonal Skills the content is coursework based, so it would involve either a composition exercise or adding to my submission piece, and talking through it in the supervision.
The amount of supervisions I have per week can vary, but it’s usually around three or four. In Michaelmas (first term) last year I had about three lectures a week, of which I sometimes only attended one, whereas in Lent (second term) I had four per week and I went to nearly all of them - it really depends on the weighting of courses, and what lectures they are - I personally found Tonal Skills much easier to learn in supervisions this year, so after the introductory ones I didn’t always go to them. I also have viola lessons every other week, usually on a Saturday, funded by the College.
Is the course what you expected it to be when you applied?
The course is pretty much what I expected - I knew there would be a lot of harmony in first year, and expected to find it difficult. For me the best thing about the course is the range of options - you can study early chant and pop music alongside each other!
I really enjoyed my course ‘Music in Jazz Age Paris’ this year, particularly the lecture about Princesse de Polignac and Nadia Boulanger, discussing how women acted as cultural gatekeepers during this period through their salons and teaching practice. I think it was interesting as it took a slightly different approach to typical music historiography which tends to focus on works and composers, and instead looked at money, power plays, and reception history as things that have shaped the ‘canon’.
"For me the best thing about the course is the range of options - you can study early chant and pop music alongside each other!"
How do you manage your workload?
I don’t have a particular strategy for managing my workload, apart from making lists and prioritising. Pretty much everyone will have a week where there is just physically too much work and in my experience supervisors are always super understanding of this and will usually let you extend the deadline, or bring a plan to the supervision rather than a full essay.
It can sometimes be challenging to balance social, academic and extracurricular commitments but it can be done, and everyone is juggling similar things. Because we are only assessed on exams, and not on weekly essays, I found that I had to stop being a perfectionist and sometimes just finish my essays even if they weren’t perfect, so that I could go out and have fun!
I have enjoyed living in a house on Jesus Lane this year, as it was fun living in an actual house and being with friends. I took on a lot of extracurricular roles in second year, in particular running a Female Composers Festival in Lent term along with some other Music students, which was both the best and worst part of the year - it was really rewarding and fun to put on, but also a lot of work and admin, which alongside extracurricular music and work was probably slightly too much to take on.
"It can sometimes be challenging to balance social, academic and extracurricular commitments but it can be done, and everyone is juggling similar things."
Are you involved with any student initiatives, societies or sports in Cambridge?
I was Vice President of the Cambridge University Orchestra (CUO) this year, which mostly involved helping with publicity and after parties, but was also a fun way of gaining a bit more insight into concert management while also continuing to play in the orchestra. I would really recommend it to any musical freshers and Music students who have enjoyed being in orchestras before, as it was a great way to get to know other music students in first year, and I made a lot of great friends.
I also sing in the College Choir, which does two services and three rehearsals per week. Although it is quite a time commitment, the two free formals per week and incredible (almost entirely subsidised) annual tours to places like Canada, America, Singapore and New Zealand definitely make up for it!
I also did a little bit of College sport when I had a spare moment, which was really fun. Things like mixed netball and lacrosse have no training sessions - you can just turn up and play, and they’re always grateful for extra people.
How do you spend your holidays?
I usually go home for the holidays, although sometimes I will stay on a little in Cambridge if I have choir concerts. I usually spend the first few weeks relaxing and recovering from a busy term. Sometimes there are choir commitments in the holidays - some concerts at Christmas and the three-week tour in July, which are always really fun. This year I went with some of my College friends to Prague at the end of Lent term, which was a nice way to relax at the end of a busy term.
What are you most looking forward to next year?
I’m really looking forward to going back for my final year - I’m doing slightly less extracurricular music and admin, so I’ll have a bit more down time to just relax with friends. I’m also excited to get started on my courses and dissertation!
I will be taking Music Psychology, Decolonising the Ear, Music after Napoleon, Dissertation, Tudor or Pop and Choral performance. I’ve chosen the history ones because I am interested in learning about them, and psychology because it follows on from the second year music and science paper.
I’m hoping to write a dissertation using the musical ‘London Road’ as a starting point. I was actually in a production of it at school, and remember finding it very weird and interesting, and since learning about minimalism and postmodernism in History 3 last year I found myself thinking back to it and wondering how it might fit into discussions of text setting, postmodernism and the history of the reception of musicals.
Please be aware if you're considering an application that our student writers describe their experiences. Although the majority of the information stays the same, some details may change from year to year. Do read the student profiles in combination with our undergraduate admissions pages for full information.