Music

What makes the Cambridge Music course so special?

Cambridge is a great place to study music. The undergraduate degree (referred to as the Music Tripos), is carefully designed to give first year students a solid foundation in a broad range of musical skills and techniques (harmony and counterpoint, and aural and keyboard skills), as well as approaches to studying music (historical, analytical, and critical). Then, in the second and third years of the degree, students increasingly have the opportunity to pursue particular specialities, and to tailor the course to their personal interests such as composition, history, performance, ethnomusicology, music and science, and popular music.

Cambridge music students have the advantage of being surrounded by some of the best facilities in the country. The Faculty of Music houses a professional concert hall, the Centre for Music and Science (which includes a studio and excellent computing facilities), period instruments and a Javanese gamelan (which can be used by students), and a very well stocked library. And when a book cannot be found in the Faculty library, students can turn to their College library, or the University Library – one of the finest libraries in the world, with a collection of over seven million books.

It is important to note that, although there are performance options in each year of the course, in general performance only plays a small part in the degree, which is largely geared to the study of music as an academic discipline. That said, nearly all music undergraduates are enthusiastic performers, and there are wonderful opportunities for performance outside of the curriculum, be it as a soloist, chamber musician, choral singer, orchestral player, jazz, folk, or rock musician.

A full description of the Music courses, and of the facilities in the Faculty of Music, can be found in the Faculty prospectus.

Why choose Newnham for Music?

To begin with, Newnham is a lovely place to live, with its beautiful architecture, and extensive gardens. The College is also very conveniently located near the Faculty of Music and the University Library, which are both just a few minutes’ walk away. Newnham has an excellent library of its own, which not only has a very good, and ever expanding, collection of books on music, but also provides a great study space.

All music students are allocated a college room with a piano for all three years of the degree, and they can also make use of the excellent instrumental resources: the College has four grand pianos (a Boston 7-foot, a Bosendorfer concert grand, a Steinway and a Yamaha), and a Beckerleg harpsichord. Newnham also has two excellent performing spaces: the ‘Old Labs’, which is perfect for chamber music (this building housed the science laboratories, built in the nineteenth century for Newnham students who were not permitted to attend the University laboratories with men); and the College Hall, which is used for larger concerts.

There are many opportunities for music-making at Newnham (in addition to the huge number of musical activities across the University). The College has a thriving music society, ‘The Raleigh Music Society,’ which puts on weekly Wednesday lunchtime recitals, as well as a gala College concert each term. Newnham also has its own non-auditioning orchestra, a non-auditioning choir, and an auditioning a capella group, Voices of Newnham. Although Newnham does not have a chapel, the college offers one or two Choral Exhibitions each year, which are held in the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College (just across the road from Newnham).

In addition to the existing musical groups at Newnham, there are many opportunities for setting up your own musical ensembles once you arrive at the College.

Newnham also takes part in the University’s Instrumental Award for Chamber Music Scheme.

How many students take Music at Newnham?

We usually admit two Music students each year.

How will I be taught at Newnham?

All music students attend lectures organised by and held at the Faculty of Music, located nearby, within five minutes’ walk from the College. These lectures are backed up by individual and small-group teaching sessions (supervisions), led by specialists in the subject areas, and arranged by your Director of Studies. Although for some supervisions you will be taught individually (this is the case for harmony and counterpoint, composition and dissertation papers), for other supervisions you will usually be taught with one or two students from other colleges. Your supervisors will set and assess work on a regular basis.

Although neither the Faculty nor the College provides instrumental tuition, Newnham offers financial support for music students to have lessons in all three years of their degree. Furthermore, all college musicians (not just music students), have the opportunity to audition each year for an Instrumental or Vocal award, which is worth £150 towards the cost of music lessons.

Can you tell me more about the Music Fellow?

Your Director of Studies (DoS) is responsible for your academic welfare: this includes guiding you through your degree, keeping an eye on your progress, and helping you with any problems that you encounter in your studies. The Director of Studies in Music at Newnham is Delphine Mordey. She completed her BA and Master of Studies in Music at St Peter’s College, Oxford, and her PhD at King’s College Cambridge, on music in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, Siege and Commune (1870-1871). Delphine is a Fellow of the College, and has been DoS in Music at Newnham since 2007. She is also an Affiliated Lecturer at the Faculty of Music, where she lectures on topics in nineteenth-century music and opera; in 2015 she was awarded the Faculty’s inaugural Teaching Prize. Delphine is happy to answer queries or to meet with interested students at any time. Her email address is dmm36@cam.ac.uk.

Delphine is also Newnham’s Director of Music. She helps the student Music Organisers with their duties, fosters different kinds of music-making in College, and provides a focal point and vision for musical activities in Newnham.

What jobs do Newnham music students go on to do?

Students graduating with degrees in Music go on to a wide range of careers: besides the practice of and teaching of music, these often involve arts administration, academic careers and school teaching. But they have also included the law, financial services, the police, journalism, the church, fashion, and language teaching. One of our former music students, Sara Mohr-Pietsch, is now a BBC Radio 3 presenter. Other notable musicians who studied at Newnham include the renowned harpist Frances Kelly, conductor Monica Buckland, and Anne Denholm, Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales.

Are there any A-level subjects that are particularly useful?

Applicants to read music should be taking Music A-level (or its equivalent if applying from overseas); other A-levels can be in almost any subject, whether from arts or sciences. The main qualities we seek are an interest in the intellectual study of music (rather than an interest focused mainly on its performance), the flexibility to approach musical studies from a wide variety of directions, and pure musical ability (whether on an instrument or with notes on paper). Applicants will usually be expected to achieve A*AA at GCE A-Level (or equivalent).

Although some keyboard proficiency is useful (all first-year students are required to take a course in keyboard skills), no keyboard grades or other piano qualifications are necessary, and non-keyboard players should not be put off from applying.

Can I take a gap year?

Music students commonly take gap years. If you do wish to take a gap year, be prepared to discuss your plans at interview. We would also encourage you to maintain a connection with music and musicology throughout your gap year.

How should I prepare for interview at Newnham?

Those invited for interview will be asked to submit samples of work in advance (usually two essays and one or two compositions or exercises in Harmony and Counterpoint).

Applicants usually have two interviews: a subject interview, which usually lasts about 50 minutes and is carried out by the Director of Studies and another music academic; and a shorter general interview. The aim of the interviews is to determine your enthusiasm and aptitude for the course through a general discussion about music. For your subject interview, you will probably be asked to expand on, or to explain some of the ideas advanced in any written work you have sent, as well as to talk about the different kinds of music you are studying at A-level. During your subject interview, you will also be asked to comment on a short piece of music and a passage of text about music; you will have time to look at these documents before the interview.

In addition to the interviews at Newnham, you will be asked to sit an hour-long written test, which will consist of short answers to a large choice of specific and general musicology questions; and an essay on a general musical topic.

Although no special preparation is required for the interview, it is useful to listen, and to think about, as much music as possible, be it classical, jazz, pop, folk, or any other genre. If you would like a few suggestions of books and scores to study, have a look at the Music Faculty’s guidance for study. This is in no way intended to be prescriptive, but is there to give you some ideas. If you would like further reading, listening, and studying suggestions, please contact the Director of Studies in Music.

For more on Cambridge interviews, click here.

Where can I find out more?

Further information about studying music at Cambridge may be found on the Music Faculty website and also on the Cambridge University admissions website.

The Music Subject Overview on the ‘My HE+’ website also provides information and resources for exploring your subject.

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