Blogging team

Welcome to the official blog for the Department of Music at the University of Birmingham! The blog was named by our students and takes its name from two notable people from our past (Bantock and Raybould – read more about them below) and “me”, as it is written by current students and staff and alumni.

The blog was set up to provide an insight into what it’s actually like to study Music here at the University of Birmingham and create an online community for our students, applicants, staff, alumni and beyond.

Find out more about:

  • What our students get up to on a day-to-day basis
  • What modules they enjoy
  • What opportunities they get stuck in to at the university and further afield
  • What Birmingham is really like
  • And much more!

It is also intended to provide advice and guidance for potential students, provide a behind the scenes look at the Department, showcase the successes of our alumni, and the research being conducted by the Department’s staff and postgraduate researchers.

We are:

  • Charlotte, 3rd year BMus Music
  • Zoe, 1st year BA Music & Modern Languages (French and German)
  • Will, 2nd year BMus Music
  • Carolyn, 2nd year BMus Music
  • Heather, 2nd year BMus Music
  • Usha, 3rd year BMus Music
  • Sophie, 1st year BMus Music
  • Adele, 2nd year BMus Music
  • Beth & Libby, editors

We are also keen to feature guest contributors, such as other students and staff from the Department and across the University and graduates.  If you would like to contribute, please get in touch with Beth – e.a.astington@bhama.ac.uk

Who are Bantock and Raybould?


Sir Granville Bantock had considerable impact on the University of Birmingham’s Department of Music during his time here from 1908 to 1934, much of which can still be seen today. His role was that of Peyton Professor of Music – in fact he held this role immediately after Sir Edward Elgar, who had not enjoyed university life and resigned the position as soon as he could.

Generally, Sir Bantock is credited with founding a more holistic system of musical education, providing a broadly-based and enterprising programme of learning: students studied a variety of styles and periods, with a notable stress on ‘modern’ music.

He is also attributed with the responsibility for the links between UoB and the Birmingham Conservatoire. In 1900 he had become Principal of the Birmingham and Midland Institute School of Music (which later became the Birmingham Conservatoire) and on joining UoB he began intertwining the educational work of the two establishments.

Many notable musicians visited the university under Sir Bantock’s reign – at the Triennial Musical Festival of 1912, the Music Department welcomed and entertained none other than Jean Sibelius, whom Sir Bantock had first met in 1905. The two became great friends, and Sibelius even dedicated his Third Symphony to Sir Bantock. Another major dedication to Sir Bantock was when Edward Elgar dedicated the second of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches to him.

Another of Sir Bantock’s connections to Birmingham was his influence in the founding of the City of Birmingham orchestra (later the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra), whose first performance in September 1920 was of his overture Saul.

ClarenceClarence Raybould was the first person to receive a BMus degree at the University of Birmingham. He was born in Birmingham and was a student under Sir Bantock and graduated in 1912.

Raybould went on to become a conductor, composer and pianist. Among his notable achievements are that he was assistant conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1939 to 1945, after which he became the first conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales in 1945, and was its principal conductor until 1966. In 1951 he also he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in their first concert in the recently opened Royal Festival Hall.

Why did Usha choose Birmingham?

“Back home in India, music is considered an attractive hobby for girls, oriented to marriage […] I saw on the TV that there was a certain person – he was giving a concert, and was on a grand piano and it was on a stage, and I said, ‘that’s what I want to do'”.

From a inquisitive six-year-old tinkering on the organ in her  church in India, to performing at the BBC Proms with the University choir – Usha talks about why she chose Birmingham to study our BMus Music degree programme.

Year abroad part 2

The last installment finished at the point where I sent in the online application, so here is another update on my exciting Erasmus experience!

February 25th – Having spent the last month wondering when I’d hear more about Erasmus, I sent an (anxious) email to the study abroad office asking if my place is still confirmed.

February 26th – Got an email back, saying that I still have my place, and the email should have come through a month ago! It also included a list of the stages of Erasmus application, but I’m not sure which one I’m on (some are quite similar) so I will email again and ask.

March 1st – According to the study abroad office, I need to wait for the host university to send me their official application, so it seems that I still don’t actually have a definite place. Not going to lie, I’m really worried now, because if I don’t end up going, I will have nowhere to live in Birmingham next academic year, as all my friends have found houses. There are options in this situation (frantically posting on Facebook to see if anyone has any spare rooms, or applying for halls again), but obviously I don’t want to have to do either of these.

 March 15th – I have an email from Université Paul Valéry! It’s in French, which isn’t surprising, but I was kind of hoping it would be in English…

I have only skim-read it as yet, but the gist I got was that the ‘application’ is just admin, so I just need to send in some forms. Basically it looks like it isn’t a test, unlike UCAS applications. They also sent a link to their accommodation website, which was another thing I was concerned about, as it wasn’t clear whether I would get any help with this.

I need to read through the email and forms in more detail, but things seem to be looking up! Part three will probably be quite intense, as there will be forms galore, and student finance applications on top of this as well… oh and exam/recital prep and final projects due at the same time as all the forms. Don’t worry, university is fun really…

Bassoonist’s eye view – Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s ‘Patience’

Zoe Lumsden GS Blog photo

Last month I was lucky enough to play bassoon in the orchestra for the UoB Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of ‘Patience’.  With three performances from the 28th-30th January in the Deb Hall at the Guild of Students, both the chorus and orchestra entertained audiences with panache and humour.

The production follows the character Patience to whom love is simply a ‘closed book’.  This is problematic for Bunthorne, an aesthetic poet who only has eyes for Patience, despite the mass of admirers who incessantly pursue him.  Director Jessica Dalton developed an innovative modern interpretation of the traditional show, casting Patience as a waitress in a café surrounded by smart-phone fanatics glued to the internet and bearded hipsters complete with beanie hats and braces.  The modern twist alongside the the original Arthur Sullivan music and William Gilbert librettos gave the performance a sense of tradition and modernity, making the show relatable to all audience members from students to grandparents.

In a small orchestra of strings, wind and brass directed by third year music and maths student, Jamie Naylor, we rehearsed and performed alongside the singers.  One of the great things about any Gilbert and Sullivan show is that the entire cast can be involved and have a fair share in the performance.  This was definitely so for the orchestra, providing musical accompaniment but equally having more limelight moments in the overtures.

As orchestra members we positively felt like a part of the action on stage and the overall setting especially in our hipster concert dress.  We certainly enjoyed ‘hipstering up’ with the cast for the performances!

Playing in an orchestra or pit band for a show is a considerably different experience from playing in a traditional orchestra, requiring awareness of performers on stage as well as musicians around you.  Being in the orchestra for this production was a lot of fun and the musicians become a sort of pit orchestra family!  After the rehearsals and performances the entire orchestra are nearly word perfect in the songs and honestly would join in with the chorus numbers if we weren’t playing ourselves!

Being a part of this G&S production was really good fun and a great way to begin the second semester.  Involvement with a show is a nice way to meet new people and share a passion for music and performance.  I would encourage anyone to give it a try.  Productions such as this require huge amounts of creativity from casting, acting, singing, playing music, lighting, set design and many other factors, but are exciting opportunities to bring people together combining many skills to create memorable performances.

This production exemplified the abundance of creativity at UoB and the joy that students take in working together to create brilliant opportunities and events.

CBSO Concert Review


Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Sunday 10th January

Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune

Schumann Piano Concerto

Sibelius Lemminkäinen Suite

On a wintery Sunday afternoon this concert from the CBSO offered an inviting and warming programme of love and legend.  Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune was captivating and shimmering, exploring broad orchestral colours right from the exquisite flute opening.

Beatrice Rana’s performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto captured vitality and adoration, ideal for Schumann’s only completed piano concerto written for his wife Clara.  Rana and the CBSO presented this concerto with encompassing delight, exploring beautiful tones and cascades of chords.  Rana then enchanted the audience with a subtle and nuanced encore of Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s song, Widmung.

Bringing a rousing conclusion to the concert, the orchestra performed Sibelius’s Lemminkäinen Suite with drama and conviction.  With true heroic spectacle and boldness this piece offered an energised climax to this afternoon’s concert.

This stirring programme was performed under the baton of the young Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla who debuted with the CBSO last summer, and was invited back especially for this concert.  Together conductor and orchestra enthralled the audience, creating immense energy and enchantment on stage.

This concert offered true Sunday afternoon escapism with a magnificent programme in which even the quietest pianissimo and smallest musical gestures filled the stunning venue that is Symphony Hall.

As a student at the University of Birmingham it is consistently remarkable that concerts such as this, from a world class orchestra featuring renowned soloists and conductors, at a stunning venue are basically on your doorstep (or a seven minute train ride away…!).

So accessible, and too good to be missed!

Year Abroad – Part 1


Since I learned on a university open day that it was possible for non-language students to do a year abroad, I wanted to go and study in France. I was studying French at A-level, and I was so excited for the opportunity to study there (in fact, the option to do a year abroad was one of the reasons I applied to Birmingham). I will be keeping a diary of the year abroad application process on this blog, and this is the first instalment! Enjoy!

October 2015 – Received an email about a talk on applying for a year abroad. Unfortunately is at the same time as one of my lectures. Booked appointment with study abroad tutor to catch up.

Found out that the systems for doing a year in Europe and outside of it are different. To go within Europe (for music students this is a university in France or Germany) I have to apply through Erasmus, and to go outside Europe (numerous universities, mainly in North America and Australia), applications are through Study Abroad.

Wrote a 500-word personal statement about why I want to study in France, to determine whether or not I will be allocated a place. In this I talked about how living in France would improve my confidence and language speaking skills, as well as why I wanted to go to that particular university. Sent personal statement to year abroad tutor.

December 19th 2015 – Received an email saying that I’ve been allocated a place at Université Paul-Valéry in Montpellier! Now to start filling in the forms…

December 29th 2015 – Printed off the first study abroad form, to be handed in on the 15th of January. Most of it is tick-able, but I don’t know how much money I will be paying to UoB whilst abroad, or how the course will be assessed In Montpellier. The internet wasn’t very helpful on either of these topics so I emailed the study abroad office about it.

January 6th 2016 – Turns out I was filling in the wrong form; the one I described doesn’t have to be handed in until June. The right form was actually one to fill in and send off online (which I have now done). It was pretty easy, just had to put in contact details and other things like that.

So that was Part One of my Erasmus adventure! I wonder what will happen next… (Probably more admin)

Going to University


My name is Heather, I am nineteen years old, and I am just starting my second year of a music degree at the University of Birmingham. Hobbies include (and, to be honest, are basically limited to) baking, running, and playing board games. I also enjoy making puns about composers.*

Born and bred in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, I didn’t exactly have a wide array of musical experience. I’d studied only the bare minimum of repertoire in my 20-minute instrument lessons, and music was hardly encouraged as a career choice in my ‘Mathematics and Computing’ secondary school (particularly for the girl who won ‘Einsteinette’ at prom). That’s not to say I hadn’t done anything; for 3 years I played in the Sheffield Youth Orchestra which did some great repertoire, although this did mean travelling to Sheffield city centre at 9am every Saturday (my friend and I learnt that cellos don’t deserve ‘priority’ spaces on supertrams – a disappointing but valuable lesson). Nevertheless, I was excited to join a course where enjoying classical music wouldn’t put me in the minority, music was valued as a discipline, and there was a variety of ensembles right on my doorstep (or in fact, a twenty-minute walk away; Maple Bank is seriously mis-sold as being ‘very close to campus’).

However, there were nerves under the excitement. I don’t know if my list of hobbies told you this already, but I don’t get out much (there were fourteen composers in that footnote. FOURTEEN.), and so I was a bit worried that my aversion to clubbing would make me an outcast. However, there really was no need to be nervous; the university put on great sober events throughout welcome week, and while I am probably in the minority in my complete avoidance of the local nightlife, I soon developed a close group of friends with a similar lifestyle to mine. Obviously, if going to clubs and dancing all night is your idea of a good time, that’s fine too, but my point is that whatever you enjoy, it’s easy to find like-minded people to do it with. What I’m trying to say is, you’ll have a great time at university whatever you do with your Saturday nights, and who gets to say that Cranium is less fun than Snobs, anyway?

*Let me be Franck with you, music can be a Rimsky business to go into, but don’t go Haydn your talent. If you feel like Spontini-ously singing, or writing a symphony on the Spohr of the moment, go for it! It’s important to relax though, for example by going Chopin, watching a film (I recommend ‘Bax to the future’) or by drinking some Tchaik tea. And if someone’s losing sleep, try singing them a Lully-by, I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. Just don’t get too Strauss-ed out (for example by making too many to-do Liszts) or you’ll come out in Ives. I should get a Handel on these puns now or someone might put an em-Bach-o on them.

Reflections of a Second Year


My first term as a 2nd year Music student at the University of Birmingham has been absolutely great, and I also couldn’t have wished for a better first year at the university! I still can’t quite believe how fast time flies by and that I’m not a Fresher anymore… I’m actually nearly halfway through my degree now, which is pretty scary! There were so many great things that I experienced in my first year as a Music student, but I thought I’d pick some of my top highlights to share with you…

Getting dropped off in Birmingham in September was such an exciting/scary day. I’m not the type of person to get homesick at all, but it was definitely sad to think that I wouldn’t be seeing my Mom and Dad as often, now that I was starting uni. However… I was welcomed into a new ‘Music family’ straight away and the close-knit community atmosphere is one of the things that I love best about our awesome Music department.

Carolyn 2

I also literally mean that I had a ‘Music family’ as each Fresher gets paired up with someone from the year above who becomes your ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ and you may also have siblings. They helped look after us during the first few weeks of term and made us feel at home in the uni – many of them are now my closest friends. My ‘Music family’ gets along really well (I think!) and we’ve even had a ‘family dinner’ night, and a lovely day out at the Botanical gardens together at the end of last term. You may think that it’s a bit cheesy to have a ‘Music family’ but trust me, everyone loves it!

I’m really enjoying the course and looking forward to all this year’s new modules, but what I probably enjoy most outside of the academic course is performing. I play the violin and have had that chance to play in sooo many different things that I feel like I’ve been busy 24/7! Playing alongside talented musicians in the University Philharmonic Orchestra last year was absolutely fantastic – I had the chance to learn exciting new rep under the baton of an inspiring conductor and have tutoring from experienced members of the CBSO who coach us for some rehearsals.

Carolyn 3

As well as the various orchestras I really love chamber music and was so happy that I managed to form a string quartet with friends last year. We’ve done a couple of gigs so far, and hopefully will have many more this year – it’s great fun playing together and earning money while doing something you love is definitely a bonus!

Living in Birmingham over the last year has been lovely – it’s such a vibrant city with so much music-making going on. With so much to do in the city, Music department and Music society, there is never a dull moment. I know that I definitely made the right choice in coming to Birmingham and I’m currently having a great time getting stuck in to 2nd year!

Why is Music considered a ‘Soft’ subject?


Medicine, Veterinary Science, Dentistry, Law and Music. Which one of these degrees stands out to you as ‘the odd one out?’. I can bet you it was music.

But, why?

As stated by Friedrich Nietzsche ‘Without music, life would be a mistake.’- So why is it that music is considered ‘soft?’.
The main reason I have decided to write this post is after an incident I experienced at my school a few months back. A teacher, (who I shall not name) asked me what I wanted to study at university- naturally, I said Music. I received an odd glare and then later on in the conversation she stated that ‘if I wanted to do a degree that would mean I end up living in ‘poverty’ when I’m older, then I should ‘go ahead’ ‘.

First of all, really? Whatever ANYONE chooses to do with their life is their decision. It seems to me that at the school I attended, and other ‘private/public schools’ if the degree you wanted to study is not Medicine/Dentistry etc. you seem to get disregarded as somebody who is not worth taking an academic interest in- and I am sorry, but that is completely and utterly ridiculous.

But, back to Music…

Root position, Relative major, Con fuoco, Phrygian cadence, Neapolitan chord, Allargando, Tierce de Picardie (my personal favourite), Antiphony, Tonic pedal note, Diminished 7th…. Augmented 5th.

These, my friends, are many common terms that musicians come into contact with on a very frequent basis. If you don’t know what any of these mean- I think it’s a good indication to you that Music is not simply just listening& playing- it’s almost like a different language… a musical language!

Studying Music is not just as simple as ‘sitting around listening to piano music’ as I once heard someone say. Music is about practicing hard, immersing yourself in new music each and every single day, learning how to sight-read, learning music theory which is so complicated that it sometimes makes you want to pull your own hair out, composing pieces of music that actually have to come out of your own brain and much, much more.

All I’m trying to get across is that Music is so far from easy. Music is difficult- but if you have a passion for it- you’re set for life. I’ve had countless people come up to me and tell me to ‘do a proper degree at university and have music as a hobby‘. No. Why should I? Did anyone question you when you did your degree? Probably not, so why are you questioning mine? I think everyone deserves the right to study what they want to and I know that I cannot wait until 3 years time when I graduate as a bachelor of Music.

Finally- the job prospects of doing a music degree.. It certainly is not just a teacher.

-Music therapy -Private music teacher -Sound editor – A musician – Playing in an orchestra (BBC orchestra) -Working for a music company

… the list really is endless.

So to the teacher who told me I am going to ‘live in poverty’, and who then later told me that her niece who also did an ‘arty’ degree now ‘has a husband who can pay the bills whilst she pursues her dream’ can sincerely stop. I will most certainly not live in poverty, and I will most certainly be able to care for myself independently when I reach the age.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but, think before you speak- Music really is not as easy as it seems.

Why I like this module: Paper Composition

Why I like this module graphic

Although I tackled a variety of material during my first year at Birmingham, which ranged from Medieval music to Electroacoustic composition, my favorite module was by far Paper Composition.

The module is really challenging, which means working independently and proactively to produce interesting ideas, before hearing them played by other students during composition workshops. The composition tutors give you constructive feedback, which helps to shape and improve your initial ideas to create a cohesive and intelligent composition.

The module is structured through various assignments, which exercise and develop certain skills and techniques. For example, we received a melody assignment which encouraged us to approach melodic writing in a unique and interesting way, while taking influences from three different composers; Debussy, Berio and Varese. We could then apply what we learned to our final composition at the end of the module.

Hearing your ideas playing by a real ensemble rather than a computer running Sibelius is much more rewarding, and really helps to improve ideas, particularly when working on articulation and dynamics. Furthermore, the players in your ensemble immediately highlight technical difficulties, which might otherwise go unnoticed when writing for an unfamiliar instrument. I’ve found this to be particularly useful when writing compositions for competitions or in support of other applications, because its given my recent compositions a new found quality which I lacked before coming to University.

The feedback provided by the tutors is also immensely useful; they explain in detail any issues with your work and how to solve them, while also highlighting the positive features of your work. I feel I’ve developed significantly as a composer due to concise and helpful feedback from tutors, and its encouraged me to continue to pursue composition due to the progress I’ve made.

In addition to any feedback I received, I was also introduced to some fantastic new music and composers, which I’d never studied in detail before. This allowed me to approach my assignments with new influences in mind. Some of the most interesting pieces I was introduced to included Luciano Berio’s Sequenzas, a set of virtuoso compositions for solo instruments and Stravinsky’s orchestral work, Les Noces.

Overall, the module itself has been interesting and challenging, while also introducing me to new composers and different compositional techniques. My understanding of the different elements of composition has improved significantly, due to helpful feedback from my tutors, which in turn has encouraged me to pursue composition more seriously. The independent nature of the work, and the keen focus on clear presentation, has far reaching benefits beyond composition, while the close work with other individuals in weekly composition workshops allows a greater understanding of a broad range of instruments.

As a result, the Paper Composition is the module which I’m most excited to be studying as I enter my second year of University, and one which I hope will bring me some great opportunities in the future.

Music in the Making


On Sunday 27th September more than one hundred musicians descended on the Bramall Music Building at the University of Birmingham for a day of varied music making.

Beginning with an orchestral session in the stunning Elgar Concert Hall musicians explored Brahm’s Academic Festival Overture and Berlioz’s Hungarian March from The Damnation of Faust with vigour and enthusiasm encouraged by conductor Daniele Rosina. Hearing the Elgar Concert Hall filled with the glorious sound and vitality of young musicians made for a vibrant and exciting start to this day of musical activity.

The afternoon featured the chance to sing Haydn’s Nelson Mass with Choral Director Simon Halsey or join an open jam session led by professional big band director, Lluis Mather. Led by members of the University Music Society, a chamber music session also took place culminating with public performances in the foyer of the Bramall showcasing the afternoon’s work.

Open all day was the Centre for Early Music Performance and Research (CEMPR) for curious musicians to explore the world of early music ensembles and performance opportunities.

In the stunning surroundings of the Bramall and Chancellor’s Court the Music in the Making Day proved to be a great way to conclude Fresher’s Week on a musical note as the music department welcomed all students to the vibrant and varied department.