Why is Music considered a ‘Soft’ subject?

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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.

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Why I like this module: Paper Composition

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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

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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.

Ode To Brum: A Musician’s Guide to the Campus and City.

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When I arrived in Birmingham, I underestimated how much music there is to see and play here. From UoB’s campus, to the heart of the city, all your musical tastes will be catered for.

Read on to see what Brum can offer:

The Campus:

Music students are lucky enough to have cheap, often free access to the fantastic concerts on offer. The Elgar Concert Hall (pictured above), the Dome, and the Barber Concert Hall are great venues to play in and visit. The uni hosts both external ensembles (such as Voces8), and student groups, like the orchestras and jazz ensembles, which regularly perform in the Elgar. Student ensembles often perform off campus too most recently, UoB Voices performed in the Proms with Simon Rattle. UoB is also the home of

BEAST and mini-‐BEAST, which has weekly concerts in the Dome. I’d never explored electroacoustic music before uni, but these concerts showed me a new area to pursue. It’s great that the UoB music scene is so diverse, because you are introduced to new musical topics that you’d never considered before. I’d say that’s something very exciting and worth cherishing.

The City:

It’s fun to venture into the city, where you can watch concerts in Town Hall or Symphony Hall (THSH). Luckily for 16-25 year olds, THSH offers the SoundBite scheme, where you can get up to 50% off tickets and membership is free. This means you can see the CBSO, James Rhodes,  or Nicola Benedetti for a fraction of the price! You can use SoundBite to get discount tickets for non–‐classical events too, making it even  more appealing! Additionally, musicians are can audition for CBSO Youth or CBSO Youth Chorus, which are non–‐uni affiliated ensembles. But don’t be fooled – Birmingham isn’t only for classical and jazz musicians. Any music fan can get involved in the music scene, on or off campus.

Non-classical Campus:

There are many genre-specific societies, such as Hip Hop or DubSoc, where fans meet to discuss new releases and go to gigs, often with cheaper tickets. BurnFM allows members to present radio shows and write content for the website, as well as interview exciting artists, like James Bay. It’s a great insight into the music industry and media in general. For musical theatre lovers, there’s GMTG. They put on some wonderful productions with scarily talented casts. Whether you love being on stage, or behind the scenes, GMTG is great for theatre experience.

Gigs:

In previous years, artists have overlooked Birmingham, but it’s finally getting the recognition it deserves. Venues like Institute, Hare & Hounds, and O2 academies host both large and little names, from Craig Charles DJ sets, to Die Antwoord, and James Bay. It’s not an exaggeration when I say Birmingham has something musical for everyone, musicians and fans alike. Whether you’re playing in a string quartet, or jumping in a mosh pit in Digbeth, you’ll find your ‘thing’. There’s no shortage of people who want to join you, so get out there and have fun!

Why I like this module: 2nd year choices

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After a first year comprised solely of compulsory modules, picking four of your own choice can be a pretty big deal. When we chose ours, there were thirty-four to choose from, which was both a blessing and a curse.

Because music as a discipline covers so many areas, having this many options is a good thing because the curriculum can cater to everyone’s interests. A selection of our choices were ‘American Experimental Music’, ‘Shakespeare and Music’, and ‘The Sixties’, and the overall list spanned everything from the medieval period to present day, as well as including more creative/practical options.

However, as someone who overthinks everything and is generally indecisive, this list was very daunting. Naturally I could rule out some modules straight away (‘Recording’ wasn’t the ideal choice for a technophobe like myself), but there were still plenty of others that looked interesting, and since getting a time-turner wasn’t an option, I had to firmly tell myself that I couldn’t take twenty choices.

After considerable thinking/agonising about my future studies, I eventually decided on three modules that I absolutely wanted to do. This left one empty space on my module form, which I chose to fill with something a bit different to what I usually like to study.

Here’s what I ended up doing:

  • Solo performance – doing this meant that I could continue my instrument lessons (as well as the definite advantage of not having timetabled lectures for it). Even though the idea of doing a recital is quite scary, I think it will eventually help me get over my stage fright. Also, all my other options are coursework-based, so it’s nice to not have to stress about essays for the entire year.
  • Paper composition – I enjoyed this (and was quite good at it) in first year, so I decided to continue it to a more advanced level.
  • Music and the Brain – this module is about how music affects people who listen to it, with particular regard to emotion and music’s health-giving benefits. I did GCSE and A-level Psychology, and have always been interested in how the brain works, so this seemed like a perfect option for me.
  • Sacred Music in Secular Britain – this is to do with the relationship twentieth-century religious music had (and still has) with its contemporary society, and is the ‘unusual’ option that I decided on after all the others. I tend not to think much about the cultural context of music, so I chose this to help give me a wider perspective on musical works.

In short, my advice to people unsure about which modules to take would just be to do things you’ll enjoy, and don’t be afraid to do things that are going to push you a bit. If you know exactly which career path you want to go down, that’s great, choose things that will help with that, but it’s also worth venturing outside of that sometimes.

Heather

heatherHello, I’m Heather and I’m in second year studying BMus Music

Home town: Rotherham, South Yorkshire

Instrument: Clarinet and piano

My favourite piece of music: Rachmaninoff – Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini

Why I study music: I always enjoyed learning instruments and composing, and it’s a very varied degree in which I can do these things as well as develop academic skills like essay writing.

Hobbies: Baking, running, reading, board games

Fascinating fact about me: I have a minor obsession with sloths (I have a cuddly toy sloth called Slothgang Amadeus, and my dream is to go to Costa Rica to visit the sloth sanctuary).

Sophie

Sophie

Hi, I’m Sophie and I’m a fresher (first year) doing BMus Music.

Home town: I was born in East London, but I’ve lived in Bedford for most of my life.

Instrument: I’m a Soprano and I also play the piano.

My favourite piece of music: Tough question.. I like to think of myself as a William Byrd aficionado (even though I have a lot more to learn!).. So it would have to be ‘Civitas sancti tui’, but I also love ‘Versa est in luctum’ by Alonso Lobo.

Why I study music: It’s tough questions galore! I study music because it’s my absolute and utter passion. Music isn’t just a hobby to me- it’s what I want my career to be. Apparently at the age of 2 I was constantly singing ‘Frère Jacques’.. So I think it was pretty obvious from a young age I was going to end up studying it!

Hobbies: I’m a typical girl.. Shopping is most definitely my vice. However, I’m also known as a ‘petrol head’ at home- I adore cars. I have an ambition to be able to tell the make and model of every car I see… It’s a working progress!

Fascinating fact about me: I cried and practically hyperventilated when I met Eric Whitacre