The study of music at Oxford involves a rich process of harmonising a broad range of musical interests and activities. Whether one performs, composes, or analyses music, or engages with its history, we seek a critical engagement with music and its materials in which ideas and culture are as important as the notes on the page.
At Magdalen we aim to produce ‘thinking musicians’ who can make music and interpret it with depth, knowledge and authority, never neglecting its intuitive and creative sides. Our students go on to music conservatoires here and abroad, to postgraduate university courses in musicology or composition, or to teaching jobs in the private or state sectors. Some even decide to pursue other fields of professional endeavour, undertaking conversion courses in law and medicine.
Magdalen has two Tutorial Fellows in Music and a Lecturer. There is superb attention to the needs of individual students and special support is available to attend courses in vacations. Most tutorials are based at Magdalen or in exchange arrangements with leading specialist tutors in other colleges. We admit up to six music undergraduates a year, including the academical clerks and organ scholars who study music.
Academic and Performance scholarships are awarded each year to undergraduates at the end of their first year. Academic awards are restricted to those reading Music; Music Scholarships are open to all undergraduates.
As one of the choral foundations of the University, Magdalen maintains a world-class choir which is composed of students (academical clerks) and pupils of Magdalen College School (choristers). Every year a number of places for academical clerks are available (but not restricted to music students); the organ scholar position is also available in some years. In addition, the chapel maintains an auditioning mixed-voice Consort of Voices, in which female students sing together with the clerks on some Saturdays in term.
The Music Society is one of Oxford’s most active, hosting weekly recitals in the Chapel and Auditorium, and termly orchestral projects. Practical music-making at all levels is strongly encouraged and the College offers two Music scholarships each year to instrumentalists or singers of exceptional ability.
Yundi – First Year
Being at Magdalen has been one of the most exciting and intellectually stimulating experiences of my life. Growing up a pianist, I had always felt the pressure to choose between performance and pursuing an academic degree. However, studying music here has not only allowed me to do both, but it has also made me realise that serious academic work provides a crucial grounding in my development as a performer. My coursework has contributed richly to my knowledge and authority regarding issues both within and outside of music, and I am often in awe of the great variety of artistic, social and political ideas I get to engage with.
The music tutors at Magdalen are also incredibly knowledgeable, kind and dedicated, creating thoughtfully tailored tutorials and a learning environment that is accommodating yet challenging. Despite the intense workload, I am always inspired by my work and the face-to-face discussions with my tutors and classmates, who are also a solid source of support and guidance. The fast-paced nature of learning and essay-writing have helped to maintain focus and hone my skills as a writer, and the option to choose papers affords me freedom to take on conducting and composition, amongst many other possibilities.
Coming from Singapore, I found it very beneficial to attend in-person interviews in Oxford, not just because of the audition segment for Music but also for the opportunity to have a better “feel” of the college and its facilities. Magdalen provides all music students with a keyboard in our rooms, and the Steinway in the college Chapel makes termly performances there a sublime experience. Magdalen has a vibrant music-making community and our own Music Society provides excellent opportunities to form close bonds with peers who are not music students. Additionally, the college hosts many non-music talks and events which allow us to continually broaden our horizons.
Siriol – Third Year
Coming from a state school in rural Wales, starting a Music degree at Magdalen College, Oxford might have been an overwhelming culture shock. On the contrary, I felt warmly welcomed by my peers and my tutors, and it didn’t take me long to feel at home. As a music student, the intake is a small group, which means that there’s a great opportunity to go into real depth in tutorial discussions. I often found tutorials invaluable for addressing matters that I couldn’t get to grips with in my work, and my tutors were fantastic in the way they welcomed any questions or in fact, contentious opinions – these would lead to some great debates.
While Magdalen is situated conveniently in the city centre, it also boasts huge grounds which are beautiful all year round. A walk around the deer park with friends was always a classic way to break from work. A ten-minute stroll through Christchurch meadows takes you to the Music Faculty – picturesque and convenient! Above all, the range of subjects offered and the relatively large size of the student body at Magdalen means that you make friends with many people studying completely different subjects, which is extremely refreshing.
Will- Second Year
Being a member of Magdalen college will never stop feeling like a privilege; not only does it afford so many opportunities for musical, academic, and personal development, it also allows me to be part of the long and rich history of such a wonderfully unique place. There’s nothing quite like strolling across college in the evening, seeing the sun set on the great tower, and knowing that you get to call this place home, even if only for a few years. It is easy to feel intimidated by the beautiful, yet admittedly austere-looking, buildings but it is the people inside that really make up Magdalen, enabling individuals like myself, who were once convinced that they would never even make it to interview, to feel a real sense of belonging when they arrive.
I have found that the collegiate system in itself naturally creates an instant sense of community, providing a space where students can mix freely, despite coming from a variety of backgrounds and reading different subjects. At Magdalen, specifically, we have a really active JCR, which organises a huge variety of societies and events whilst offering plenty of support to its undergrads, be it financial, social, or pastoral, so that they are able to get the most out of their university experience. This has made it really easy for me to meet like-minded people who not only inspire me academically but have also become dear friends. The wealth of facilities at Magdalen has encouraged me to take up new hobbies whilst also making the academic side of my degree run more smoothly. For example, the beautiful and well stocked library makes the occasional early start (or late night) spent finishing an essay that little bit easier and the squash courts are the perfect place to unwind afterwards!
My experience of Magdalen has been profoundly shaped by my choral scholarship. It was one of the main things that initially attracted me to the college and is one of the many things that make me continually proud to be a student here. It’s amazing to stand in the stalls every week and think about all those who have sung from the same spot over the past 500 years (give-or-take). Though this obviously contributes to my experience of studying at Magdalen, there are plenty of other advantages of those wishing to read music without a choral scholarship. As standard, we are provided with a piano in our room which is a huge help when practising or doing more practical work; on top of this, there are several musicians in a year, as opposed to just one in some other colleges, which I find not only motivates me academically but also provides me with a close group of friends that have an intuitive understanding of my university experience. The musical community within Magdalen transcends just those studying music, however. We have a vibrant music society with members from all subjects that hosts a variety of ensembles, concerts, and a successful weekly recital series. These supplement the already vast array of performance opportunities in Oxford with several accessible and friendly ones right on your doorstep.
I feel that the Music course itself has a really good balance between breadth and focus on key disciplinary skills which have enabled me both to discover and develop new areas of interest whilst cultivating a critical approach to academia. I think this can be strongly attributed to the tutorial system which facilitates the unique considerations of each student and enables the tutors to cater their approach to the course accordingly; this is especially prevalent at Magdalen where I have found that the array of tutors are genuinely invested in both your academic development and your wellbeing. I, for example, am no pianist but with the help and dedication of my college tutors was able to attain a grade in the keyboard skills prelims module that I was more than happy with. Moreover, they took extra steps to make the interview process much more enjoyable than it otherwise might have been; their friendly demeanour and encouraging attitude assured me that they were interviewing me to find out about me and my interests not attempting to trip me up on things I didn’t know. It is natural to be filled with preconceptions about the application process, or even life once you get here, gleaned from the grapevines of Student Room, Quora, and general gossip, but if there is one thing I have learned from going through all of this myself, it is that all you need is a genuine passion for your subject(s) and a willingness to learn; the rest will fall into place.