Graduate Stories

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When I arrived in Sheffield as a music student in September of 2013 I had no “specialism” or even any area of the subject I was particularly good at. Performing made me cripplingly nervous, psychology did not really interest me, I was not theoretically apt enough to be a good musicologist, and I had never really tried composing original work. I had always been interested in experimental music, and after a few weeks I soon began to realise that the best way for me to develop this interest was through composition. No longer was I bound by the shackles of Edexcel’s appalling GCSE and A-Level composition briefs; I was, for the first time in my musical life, free to create music that interested me the most. Dr George Nicholson’s first year composition module provided me with an invaluable set of basic skills that I would go on to develop through the next few years. Writing with pencil and paper rather than Sibelius opened up a wealth of responsibilities, and collaborating with peers in weekly seminars meant hearing your music performed live was a regular occasion! After first semester, the hole left by the absence of instrumental composition was filled by the Introduction to Studio Techniques module. This allowed me to expand on my love of technology by using programmes to manipulate sounds in a way I didn’t realise was possible. It also opened my ears to an exciting style of music I’d never before encountered (acousmatic composition). By the time second year rolled around I was beginning to realise that composition was the thing I was most interested in. Dr Dorothy Ker’s second year composition module allowed me to develop the instrumental skills I had learned in first year, while Adam’s electroacoustic composition module gave me the opportunity to hone my skills as an electronic composer. During this year I was selected to take part in the Furnace Park project which involved writing a piece of electronic music using sounds recorded in a semi-abandoned plot of land. The final result was exhibited in a gallery and released as a digital album.

During the summer between second and third year I took part in The University’s SURE scheme, which allows undergraduates to undertake a research project alongside a member of academic staff. It was this which allowed me to write the piece which I am proudest of. My Brain is a Folded Device is a piece for piano and electronics which aims to blur the lines between the “real” and the “virtual”. It has since been performed by Dom Hartley (with whom I collaborated to write it) in Sheffield, as well as professional pianist Christopher Guild in London.

In my third year I was afforded two more excellent opportunities. Firstly, I was selected to write a piece for The University’s symphony orchestra. This was an incredible experience; hearing my work performed in Firth Hall by such a large ensemble was something I shall never forget. Secondly, the world-renowned Ligeti String Quartet came to Sheffield to perform as well as workshop some composers’ pieces, one of which was mine. Having seen the ensemble perform a few times before, I was aware at how gifted they are, so the opportunity to have them workshop my piece was very special indeed. Throughout my three years studying in Sheffield I have developed unfathomable amounts as a composer, thanks to the array of opportunities I have had as well as the unparalleled support of the academic composers working in the department. I look forward to developing my compositional voice throughout the next year as I undertake an MA in composition.

Jay Platt


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One of my favourite parts of being a music student at The University of Sheffield was being able to access available facilities. I could use computers and the internet, space for studying, the Sibelius program for composition, and the ensemble and practice rooms for… practicing.

As a pianist, I’ve had various opportunities to perform, which I have done as a soloist and accompanist. There have been concerts (such as the lunchtime ones) put on by the University in which I had opportunity to both listen and play. Not only did I perform in Firth Hall, but I also had opportunities to accompany people in other public settings.

Although I was a first study pianist, that did not limit me to only playing the piano. For a while I took part singing alto in the Chamber Choir and in third year I took a module in Indian classical music performance in which I was able to learn more about a style of music I was less familiar with. I went to sessions where I practiced the tabla, and in other sessions I was able to practice more melodic Indian classical music on the trumpet.

Although I took a gap following my first two years of University, I returned and continued having piano lessons with the same teacher as before. She went the extra mile (and more) in striving to help me to prepare for my final exam. Performance classes gave students opportunities to listen to other performers as well as play in front of them. We were encouraged to be somewhat critical and were allowed to give and take advice from other students.

My final third year performance examination took place in Upper Chapel in town, where performances were open to members of the public who had been invited to attend. I also had support from some family members who attended that day.

One of the best things about University is having and taking worthwhile opportunities. In third year, I took the opportunity to study a couple of languages for credits. Why not use the help that is offered, the materials that are available, and become involved in ensembles? Of course there are several factors that contribute to one’s experience, but much of it is really what you make it.

I don’t have all of my plans finalised since finishing Uni, although I have some ideas; as well as handing out business cards advertising myself as an “event pianist”, I began a teaching assistant course and have begun applying for work in schools. Once in a school, I may be able to look in more detail about other possible roles within education. I do not yet know for sure if I will go on to become a qualified teacher, return to University and do a master’s degree or neither, but I am excited to find all the opportunities that lie before me.

Rachel Crowley


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The last three years studying at the department of music in Sheffield have been the most inspiring, thought-provoking and exciting in my life so far. The degree itself has been an adventure and the best thing about it must be its flexibility to allow me to study and research into topics that I am interested in. I’m interested in musicology, so having the choice to study such a broad range of musicology topics has been so fruitful and rewarding. Also, being able to choose my own research project in third year has confirmed to me what I have always wanted to do, and that’s be an academic researcher in the field of musicology. The resources at Sheffield have been incredible and because I love to read and analyse scores, the libraries have given me so many useful references. I have always admired how family-orientated the department at Sheffield is and how the lecturers are helpful, inspiring and approachable. I am taking a wealth of memories from this department, whether it be from academic experiences, or a really good social that was put on, my time at Sheffield has been full of smiles.

I have also had the pleasure of being involved in many ensembles, committees and groups that have really helped shape my university life thus far. I have been heavily involved in the big band, wind orchestra, symphony orchestra and a wide range of theatre and chamber ensembles whilst in Sheffield, and these have greatly helped my musicianship and social skills. I have made some friends for life, and have also worked with some extremely talented musicians, conductors and composers and this alone has offered me opportunities that I never thought would come around for me. I feel incredibly lucky to have secured my place at Sheffield many moons ago, and I genuinely would not change any of it. I have become a better critical thinker, writer, trumpeter and all-round person, and that’s all down to what the Sheffield music department is all about – making musicians the best they can be in their field. I am so very happy to be staying for another year to pursue an MA in Musicology – I couldn’t bear to leave Sheffield or the department just yet!

Alex Burns


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My choice to pursue a Master’s degree after my undergraduate Music degree says a lot about the University of Sheffield. I was drawn to the university as it has strengths in a variety of areas of music. After my bachelor degree, I undertook a Master’s in Research and Performance, allowing me to specialise in the two areas I enjoyed most.

As a keen performer, I was given opportunities to perform across Sheffield, including the Cathedral, Firth Hall, and Chatsworth House. I auditioned for solo opportunities and was excited to perform Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs for Clarinet and Jazz Ensemble, and John Williams’s Viktor’s Tale. The university provided ample hours of clarinet tuition and during my Master’s degree arranged for my lessons to happen at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Learning with Nicholas Cox, a world renowned clarinetist, was unforgettable and he encouraged me to watch masterclasses and some of his rehearsals.

The composition lecturers at the university were always keen to encourage contemporary music, by current composers and students. I was able to perform compositions by George Nicholson, head of composition, whilst being coached and conducted by him. George also arranged a concert of music by Bernard Rands, his own composition teacher, who came in to give us advice on his works.

The societies at the university hugely contributed to my time at Sheffield. For me, this included the Symphony, Wind, and Chamber Orchestras which were all conducted by lecturers from the Music Department, meaning that my learning continued outside of my lectures and clarinet lessons.

The Wind Orchestra (SUWO) formed a large part of my time in Sheffield. It allowed me to go on tour to locations including Latvia, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. As well as playing the canons of the wind orchestra repertoire we also premiered several pieces by both students and well known composers like Bill Connor and Peter Meechan. In my final year, I became President of the orchestra and organised the concerts for the year, the tour, and competition appearances. The orchestra received a platinum award at the National Concert Band Festival heats: the highest achievement the orchestra has to date. A highlight of my time with SUWO was organising an extra concert in the series to fund raise: a film music concert which went down well with the audience as well as the orchestra.

My experiences at university have helped me to get a job as a Graduate Music Assistant at Wells Cathedral School. This will involve practice supervision, coaching their performers, teaching, playing, leading ensembles and teaching theory. I’m looking forward to working with high level performers in a specialist music school and seeing where my career will go after that.

Beth Nichol