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Studying Music – Student Success Stories

Want to know what it's like to study this subject at university? Our success stories should be music to your ears.

Click on each name to read their story, or simply scroll through:

James – Durham

James Lay

James from Worcestershire, is studying music at Durham University.

What inspired you to study music?

I have always enjoyed playing music and being around musicians. Music at university allows me to explore what I enjoy about certain pieces and learn about their context. It also gives me the chance to learn about styles I had never come across, in particular the contemporary classical genres and world music.

What qualifications did you have for your course?

A Levels in Music, Maths, and Physics.

Why did you choose to study at Durham?

I chose to study at Durham because of the broad course. Whereas other institutions seem to focus on certain periods or even certain composers, Durham provides teaching on all the periods since the Medieval in reasonable depth.

What do you like about the course?

The other students are the course’s greatest assets. The course brings together many of the best young musicians from all over the world and gives me the opportunity to work alongside them. The course’s content is as broad as I had expected and the teaching staff are always approachable and supportive.

What learning methods does your department employ?

There is a mixture of learning methods. Lectures take up only a small part of the weekly schedule. There are smaller teaching groups scattered through the term, but a great deal of the learning is self-led. Thankfully the course eased me into this learning process in the first year.

What aspects of the course are you finding difficult? Does the department support you well?

Some aspects of the course do stretch my capabilities and understanding. However, I believe that I need to be stretched a little to learn. It is always daunting to be confronted by new ideas and new methods, but you have to overcome this. With a little regular additional reading, much of the course is easily understood.

Music is a huge area of study. Durham acknowledges this through its six path teaching system. Even so, there are so many more paths that music can take, for which Durham has student-led groups and books to read in the library.

How are you funding your studies?

My studies are funded by a student loan, by my parents and grandparents.

What about the social side of things at university, does a business student find much time for it?

The social side of Durham is very diverse. In keeping with typical student life, I have danced into the night in the nightclubs and I have had a few pints in a pub or student bar. Equally though I have been to barbeques and gone for a coffee with friends.

There are plenty of recreational societies in Durham. Some choose team sports, but for me I enjoy hill walking and musical groups. I have found the societies have been the source of the bulk of my social life.

What do you plan to do once you’ve graduated?

In short, I have not yet decided what I plan to do. I hope to get my foot through the door in a music-based workplace. I understand that this is very challenging, so I initially hope to gain some paid employment.

How has your university supported your career aspirations?

The university regularly provides career talks. These have given me ideas, but I shall not know how well the university has supported me until I get my first graduate level job.

Laura – Durham

Laura Erel

Laura completed her O levels in Singapore before moving to the UK. She is studying for a BA Music with Honours at Durham University.

What inspired you to study music?

I had always liked music, but it was my teacher at Stonyhurst who sparked my love affair with the subject. A most inspirational figure with a larger-than-life personality, he showed me what I had been missing: from minute phrasing details to large-scale forms, historical facts to musical jokes, cycle of fifths and juicy chords, we had them all. Working with him, I grew to see music as a way of life and not simply a profession or a degree.

What qualifications did you have for your course?

A levels.

Why did you choose to study at Durham?

It so happened that the teacher mentioned above read Music at university. I applied to Durham based on his recommendations, and also for the scenery.

What do you like about the course?

Its diversity, challenges, and the resourcefulness of the staff members.

What learning methods does your department employ?

Durham encourages independent study, however, staff members are always at hand for support and guidance. The vibrant Music Department with its many societies offers plenty of opportunities, and there are also jobs available in and around Durham which are often advertised in the weekly bulletin, or simply by recommendation.

I have been fortunate enough to have had some work experience which has helped greatly in my recent job application process.

What aspects of the course are you finding difficult? Does the department support you well?

Dissertation is a rather daunting prospect with it effectively being the first extended, independent project since starting at university. However, my supervisor has been most helpful and generous with his time and ideas.

How are you funding your studies?

As an international student, I fund my studies privately. However, my living expenses are roughly covered by the money I earn from my job as an organist at a local parish church.

What about the social side of things at university, does a business student find much time for it?

I go to socials and dinners organised by the Chapel Choir Social Secretaries and the customary post-Evensong pub session. That aside, there are the usual birthday do’s and late-night tea and biscuit club with close friends.

What do you plan to do once you’ve graduated?

I have been fortunate enough to have won the 2015–16 organ scholarship at Chichester Cathedral. I hope to be able to pursue a career as a church organist.

How has your university supported your career aspirations?

Being the senior organ scholar at Hatfield College has immensely helped develop my skills as an organist. 

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