Composition at Oxford Brookes
Composition is at the heart of musical study – the creation of new sound-worlds, the combination of conventional and experimental sound sources, the expansion of timbral possibilities, and the search for new forms. Composition at Oxford Brookes provides you with a chance to experiment, to explore sound-making and to re-examine the experience of the listener.
Key to the composition teaching at Oxford Brookes is a desire to equip composers with the conceptual and technical tools to take an active role in the pluralistic compositional world of the 21st century. Students will be urged to question the role of the composer – why do we need them and what is their function in contemporary musical culture? Throughout the course, composers at Oxford Brookes will be able to take advantage of a range of opportunities for performance by professional ensembles.
Recently composers have had the opportunity to write for toy piano virtuoso Isabel Ettanauer, OKEANOS – an ensemble that mix traditional Japanese and Western classical instrumentation – and amplified ensemble [rout]. There is a committed and active community of composers at Brookes - including undergraduates, students on the MA in Composition and Sonic Art, PhD students, and staff, alongside the Sonic Art Research Unit, who recently collaborated with harpsichordist Jane Chapman. Our undergraduate and postgraduate students get involved in the annual Audiograft Festival and other activities of the Sonic Arts Research Unit.
Songwriting, which you can take as an Independent Study module, offers individual songwriters in bands, or singer-songwriters, the opportunity to develop a portfolio of new songs with guidance from a tutor. In addition, students study a particular songwriter of their choice or a theme in songwriting, while attempting in one song to imitate that repertory. Past studies have included Oasis, Elliott Smith, Syd Barrett, Aimee Mann, Seth Lakeman, and confessional female songs. Finally, the songwriter aims to get the songs heard through performances, for example in the weekly lunchtime concerts, and web and radio exposure.
Musicology at Oxford Brookes
Musicology is the thinking, talking, reading and writing about music. It can take many forms, from formal essays to concert reviews, spoken presentations, group debates or reflective pieces of writing. This part of the study of music often culminates in an extended written dissertation on a subject that is entirely the student's choice. Current examples range from Baroque passion music to women in Jazz to the musical depiction of evil in Star Wars.
At Oxford Brookes musicology is not restricted to certain repertoires or 'great' composers. Music is studied in all its varieties, from the analysis of a Beethoven piano sonata to the depiction of orientalism in a Puccini opera to the issue of race in current popular music. We cover a broad range of historical and contemporary topics, since we are committed to the idea that musicology is a critical, creative and open-minded way of thinking about music. Much of our teaching reflects our research specialisms in the areas of opera and popular music.
It is in the area of musicology that students often experience two of the biggest leaps from their previous studies to what is offered at Oxford Brookes. At university, you are in control of where your study takes you - in contrast to the box-ticking of school exams where dry facts often simply have to be regurgitated. You research your own materials, construct your own arguments and develop your own voice as a scholar, supporting your argument with references and solid evidence; a useful skill that is developed during the first year.
Ultimately musicology is about creating new histories of music and new ways of thinking about music, and thus stands side by side with composition and performance.
Please note that, as courses are reviewed regularly, the module list you choose from may vary from that shown here.
The first year of the Oxford Brookes music degree sets out to mediate between students' very diverse experiences of music before coming to university and what will follow in Years 2 and 3 of the course. It divides into several modules, including:
- Listening to Music History
- Introduction to Contemporary Composition
- Notation and Harmony
- Film and Popular Music
- University Music Performance
Years 2 and 3
In the second and third year of the course students can design an individual programme which plays to their strength. The modules to choose from are as follows:
- Electroacoustic Composition and Sonic Art
- History, Music and Ideas
- Contemporary Musical Culture
- Ensemble Performance
- Music and Theatre Practice
- Opera and Politics
- Words and Music
- Independent Study
- Professional Practice (honours module)
- Music Analysis: Case Studies, Concepts, Critique (honours module)
- Special Study in Musicology (honours module)
- Music Dissertation (honours module)
- Composition Portfolio (honours module)
Work placements form an integral part of the music degree at Oxford Brookes. They are built into the third-year honours module Professional Practice, which aims help students decide where their strengths are and which of the many career options is most suitable for them. It helps them to put their acquired skills and knowledge into practice and to forge useful links with future employers. In the past several students have gone straight from a work placement into a permanent job in arts administration or music journalism.
The module Opera and Politics includes one trip to an operatic performance, normally at the English National Opera, to see a cutting-edge production. Music students are also welcome to join the Fine Arts trip to New York.
Every year a number of Oxford Brookes Music students spend either one or two semesters at a university in another country. Recently, Music students have studied in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Iceland. If you are interested in studying in a different country, our wide-ranging international contacts will help you to find a suitable place to study.
More information about exchanges, European work placements and other study abroad programmes, is available here.
Departmental research highlights
The Music Department covers a wide range of historical, contemporary and creative research areas. Our special fields of interest are in opera, popular music and sonic art, each of which is supported by a dedicated research unit:
- SARU: Sonic Art Research Unit
- PMRU: Popular Music Research Unit
- OBERTO: Oxford Brookes - Exploring Research Trends in Opera
We regularly host study days, conferences and workshops and are active in the Royal Musical Association and other research networks and societies. Our research students, who are studying for an MA or PhD, are fully integrated into the research culture of the department. If you are interested in the research of individual members of staff, eg their forthcoming book or recent conference appearance, you can visit our staff websites.
Free language courses for students - the Open Module
Free language courses are available to full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students on many of our courses, and can be taken as a credit on some courses.
Please note that the free language courses are not available if you are:
- studying at a Brookes partner college
- studying on any of our teacher education courses or postgraduate education courses.
Performance at Oxford Brookes
We have a varied portfolio of performance opportunities at Oxford Brookes and in any given year the amount of music-making is truly impressive; just one semester can include everything from a motet by Thomas Tallis to the musical Hair to Poulenc's Gloria, or from a barbershop quartet to a rock band. In 2010/11 alone there were 49 concerts and gigs.
The department puts on a choral concert every semester, giving new students the chance to meet and perform with each other, as well as performing with second- and third-year students. We also put on a 'Big Night Out' at which student bands can display their talent. They also frequently perform on campus (eg the 'Music at Morals' series) or across Oxford.
Further opportunities are provided by several music societies including a Jazz Band and the musical theatre societies Fortune Players and Fortune Cookies. There is an auditioning chamber choir with an ambitious repertoire. Smaller-scale, medium-sized groups appear from time to time depending on student interest, including in the past a gospel choir and a wind band. Students are of course also encouraged to form their own ensembles or groups to enhance their musical experience at Oxford Brookes.
Lunchtime concerts are held weekly, providing a forum for soloists, small groups and bands. We’ve also extended the number of venues we occupy, including in recent years taking some of the music-making to our Harcourt Hill Campus with its pretty New England-style chapel. New music has been put on in the drama studio; bands have played at the Students’ Union bars, Headington Hill Hall and the O2 Academy. Concerts of chamber music and classical solo recitals are held at the Jacqueline du Pre Music Building and the Holywell Music Room, the oldest concert venue in England. From 2013 onwards, we will be able to make use of the new spaces on the Gipsy Lane site, especially the gallery and the new multi-purpose hall.
All of these activities are open to music students, but also to students from other subjects. For the music students, we have converted much of this activity into various forms of academic credit: participation in the large-scale ensembles informs the first-year Performance module; small-scale groups (chamber ensembles, vocal groups, rock bands) can take the advanced module Ensemble Performance after the first year; while students can opt to present a solo performance under the auspices of Professional Practice or Independent Study in their final year.