Tag: Student Life

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.

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!

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

brammal stage

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.


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!