From the moment I stepped into my new room in Oxford, a spacious double set that I’d be sharing with another first-year, I knew that I’d made the right choice. This was exactly where I was meant to be, and I was studying, after months and months of deliberation and swaying between courses, the subject that fills me with excitement and provides me with the motivation to spend all night writing an essay: music.
If you’re new here, hi, I’m Grace, a first-year at the University of Oxford. I come from a comprehensive co-educational (state) school in Hertfordshire, and this is the second of a series of blog posts where I’ll be sharing with you my experiences as a music student at my university.
My first term at university truly was a whirlwind. Thrown head-first into a new environment and living away from my family for the first time amidst a pandemic forced me to adapt quickly and independently like I’d never done before. Living off of ham and biscuits, unsure of when I’d last seen a vegetable, healthy eating too was tossed aside and the new routine meant that I was forced to succumb to my hectic schedule while struggling with no kitchen appliances (does a fridge count?). But I learned to handle the workload and I made plenty of friends that I could eat out with – proper food, even some with vegetables! – and laugh about the awkward silences in a Zoom tutorial; this unique, and rather crazy, rollercoaster of an adventure was only going up.
As someone who was only ever state-school educated before arriving at Oxford, I found my experience (unsurprisingly) marginally different to that of my classmates who attended private schools, and as a result, had a network of friends and acquaintances established within the university long before they ever unpacked their bags on moving day. I would never rush to say that my experience at Oxford so far has been hindered due to my background; the university is more than generous with their grants and scholarships and I’m not treated differently because of where I come from. The differences are instead subtle: perhaps a higher level of cultural exposure, fewer worries about money or better education due to extra help. Nonetheless, these differences haven’t stopped me from a busy social life or from appreciating the education I receive – they simply make me the person I am today.
My degree is exactly what I had hoped it would be. My compulsory modules consist of eighteenth-century analysis, techniques of composition, (the dreaded) keyboard techniques and critical listening. On top of this, I also study a range of ‘optional’ modules, including – but not limited to – disciplines of music (encompassing postcolonialism, sexuality and identity and more), Lasso, women and music, music and psychology and Machaut; although they’re labelled ‘optional’, I suppose this is rather deceiving because you’re still required to complete books’ worth of reading and multiple essays per week for each optional module, but because I’m so passionate about my degree, I often find myself so immersed in my studies that I forget it’s compulsory.
The flexibility of my degree at Oxford allows me to delve into a discipline of music that could’ve otherwise been superficially ignored as a risqué topic that is too heavy in pop culture. When tasked with writing an essay on identity and sexuality, I chose to explore arguably one of the most talked about acronyms in contemporary music, Cardi B’s song ‘WAP’. A ground-breaking example of feminism today, uniquely modern in the way it unapologetically celebrates sex and women’s bodies and completely subverts the feminine construct, my analysis of WAP led to me discovering my deep interest in identity politics and feminism. This new passion of mine guided me in deciding to write my Prelims (first year) dissertation on a collation of Cardi B’s rap songs, evaluating whether the style of feminism she promotes is beneficial or detrimental to women.
My first term as a student at the University of Oxford has been nothing but adventure and excitement, both academically and socially. I have met people from all walks of life and I’m able to receive an exceptional education at an inspiring city that I can now call home.