What’s it like studying Music at Durham University?

Lucy Irving

Studying Music at Durham provides you with a varied and expansive knowledge of many different topics, ranging from analysis and ethnomusicology, to performance and conducting. I have really enjoyed having many different module options during my degree. In your first year, all modules are compulsory to ensure everyone is in the same position and to provide you with a strong academic base to allow you to pursue any pathway throughout your time at Durham.

Why Music at Durham?

After initially being torn as to whether I wanted to study Maths or Music, I ended up choosing Music after attending a couple of summer schools in both subjects. It became apparent that I wanted to do a degree in something I really enjoyed, so music was the perfect option for me! At the time of applying, the university was ranked number one in the league tables, and after visiting Durham I fell in love with the city!

Scholarships available

I was also awarded a scholarship for musical excellence, something I would definitely recommend applying for before starting your degree. Throughout my time as an undergraduate, I have fallen in love with the city, and with the music department being located next to the cathedral, it is a privilege to study in such a beautiful place.

College life…and a really friendly department

I have also found the college system to be a highlight as it allowed me to make friends outside of my department, as well as offering various events such as balls and formals. As one of the smallest departments, I have found the music department to have a really friendly atmosphere, especially as you often see your peers outside the lecture halls in rehearsal and concerts. I have also found the lecturers to be some of the best academics in their field, and their weekly ‘office hours’ are particularly useful as I can go to their office and ask any questions I may have about the lectures, assignments, or any general queries.

likeminded friends with our musical instruments

What does the course entail?

In first year, you have six compulsory modules: Historical Studies, Historical Composition Techniques, Composition, Ethnomusicology, Analysis, and Performance. This allows you to discover your personal interests within Music, so you can focus on these in your second and third year. Personally, I enjoy performance and took this module throughout the degree, culminating in a 40-minute recital in my third year which was open to friends and family. However, others may choose to write a dissertation or complete a composition portfolio. With such a variety in assignments, from writing essays to performance, to spoken presentations to composition, there is certainly something for everyone within the course. This variety also enhances your skill sets to give you transferable skills to increase graduate prospects.

Extracurriculars (Music Durham)…from orchestras, bands and choirs…

Perhaps the highlight for me has been the extra-curriculars that Durham has to offer, with the music scene here being especially strong despite it being a small city! Known as Music Durham, this is the student-led umbrella organisation for all of Durham’s music-related societies. This encompasses auditioned orchestras, a non-auditioned orchestra, a brass band, concert band, big band, and many choirs ranging from barbershop styles to award-winning a capella groups!

…to shows, operas, and plays… so many productions!

There is also a whole host of productions to get involved with, from the annual show held in the Gala Theatre to operas and plays in the Assembly Rooms Theatre! There is so much to be involved with as they all require singers, actors, musicians, producers, sound and lighting technicians, and even composers. What’s more, all societies are student-led which means you can gain more experience from helping to run these events.

Durham University Palatinate Orchestra

Personally, I have been involved with Durham University Palatinate Orchestra throughout my Durham degree. As a clarinettist, I have performed with them in venues such as Durham Cathedral and the Gala Theatre, and have even been on tour to Berlin – we’re soon to go on tour to Paris! I am currently PR Manager for the orchestra which involves publicising concerts and the orchestra across social media platforms, something which led to us selling out the cathedral for our concert in March! In addition to Music Durham, there are also college societies to get involved with, but never fear if you’re not in a college which offers a music society that you want to try – most accept members from any college, for example, I have been to Van Mildert Big Band despite being in St John’s College!

on tour in Berlin

Being surrounded by like-minded people has pushed me to make the most of every opportunity, both inside and outside of my degree. During my time at Durham, I have been an intern for the English Music Festival, Young Programmer at Sage Gateshead, and Creative Learning Ambassador for the Benedetti Foundation. As a clarinettist, I was awarded a place on the Royal Opera House’s Orchestral Mentorship Scheme, have performed with Orchestra North East, and at the St Endellion Music Festival – a Durham music degree opens so many doors!

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Lucy Irving

My name is Lucy, and I am a third year student at St John's College, studying BA Music. I am a clarinettist, and during my time at Durham I have performed with Durham University Palatinate Orchestra, completed an orchestral mentorship scheme with the Royal Opera House, worked as a Durham Student Ambassador, and been an Alumni and Communications intern at St John's College.

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