Wednesday, 28 October 2015

University - What is the schedule like?

From each stage of education, you will know there are changes: less breaks during the day as you move to high-school, more free time in sixth form, but you might not be expecting how big a shift things can be to university. At university, there is even more time you will have to learn to handle independently. In other words, you have to be organised and committed to the project - as much as you were, if not more, to getting there in the first place.

The structure is similar in some ways to sixth form - you may have some days with fewer classes and rehearsals than others. This time you should use wisely as although you will not have as much work, it is much more likely to be a select few specialist pieces. Things such as essays which you will need to research, plan, draft and re-draft with an extensive bibliography. On top of all that, you should aim to be doing a few library hours a day confirming what you have been taught in class and expanding on it - particularly the ideas which resonate with you more deeply.

Because I study at a conservatoire (specialist music college) many of my hours are private study and practice hours (although us singers cannot practice in as large a chunk of time as our instrumentalist counterparts) Because I am busier towards the end of the week, I know to utilise the extra time on Monday and Tuesday to include the work I won't have time to do the rest of the week, which is really useful as it saves a lot of late nights. There is no longer home work - yet there are assignments I have a responsibility to work on, and hence there is an obligation to still make sure the work gets done by the next class so that I can keep on top of things whether that be in performance or more academic sub classes.

It is a little strange to be talking about my timetable and your possible time table on what is currently my half term break/reading week - but all the same, I hope this information makes some sense and hopefully proves useful too.

If you study at a conservatoire, you will have three main types of classes:

1. Performance classes

In which you will give a short performance of a piece/pieces you have been working on and are going to be performing in upcoming auditions, concerts or exams. These classes are useful as they do not only focus on how you sound technically, but also focus on how you can improve in terms of how you look on a stage - you need to be the character so completely that the audience finds it realistic and believable.

2. Lectures

All music colleges, and university music too, have different curriculum for their degrees. This might include some of the same stuff, such as a technical exam [although the marking criteria will more than likely be different] or some of the same elements of music history, but overall you will be assessed on separate modules and this will be what makes up your overall grade at the end of each year - each part having a different percentage, some more than others. Studying in Leeds, my lectures focus on working in the creative industries [in which we get to hear from different figures in society what it is like to work in their jobs and how we might gain access to that field after graduation] Music history [musicology] and languages [because I am a singer - so we learn stuff like common pronunciation and IPA] Other than this, my timetable is mainly made up of performance classes and practice time.

3. Seminars

These are less common in your time table, or at least they are where I study [as I said, it differs everywhere] Basically, this will be attached to one of or some of your main lectures. In lectures, most of your class mates will be in the same room, as will lots of other people who aren't necessarily the same specialist study - I'm talking brass players, violists and clarinettists all in the same room. Whereas with a seminar, you will either be with fewer instrumentalists and more of the same specialist study or still with a mix, except there will be less of you. Seminars work with less people so that you can really get help and advice from a tutor on something that you might be struggling with. Obviously if the room is full of people who are struggling, there sadly won't be enough time to go through every single question that everyone has to ask, especially if the answer takes longer to get through than the question itself. Seminars might also allow you to choose a particular element of a class  and go into more depth with it. If you are studying 500 years worth of song cycles, perhaps one class might allow you to focus in on the work of Schubert and Schumann, whereas another might allow you to look into the contemporary aspect, and yet another might encourage students to focus on the development leading up to the song cycle [how the music of Wagner had an impact, how instrumental music had an impact]

4. Optional classes/Extra curricular

There will be some extra opportunities along the way, and my advice to you is to take as many of them as possible - as many that come your path. These extra classes will get you thinking and, especially with the additional master-classes/ specialist performance classes, you will be able to get even more advice on how to make a piece sound better and be to a higher standard when you are performing in a situation such as a post grad audition. All of these things have an impact and they will show. After-all, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But on a less cliché note, these things will make a difference, and if you have the power to make that difference; DO it - and more so, keep track of the things that are upcoming events and circle things you have never really thought of - go to things that you might not usually be interested in and may never have held and interest in before now. Because the things that get you thinking - they are the things that make the difference between a degree you can be proud of and a degree you feel you could have worked much harder to gain.

Note - I hope that you enjoy your time at university and are also enjoying the time you have left at sixth form. It really is some of the best stuff you might ever experience.

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Saturday, 24 October 2015

Goodbye October/ Autumn

Autumn has always been my favourite month - the way the world takes on this not quite warm not quite cold feeling, the trees changing colour, Halloween, Pumpkins, the beginning of November - the feeling of being in between stages. (And did I mention pumpkins?!) It is particularly resonant for me now that I am half way between being a child and an adult and am not quite sure which category I'm in. In most incidents, I've found it depends on the person you're talking too.

This October did not fail to disappoint - lots of it you have heard about, from Barber of Seville way back at the beginning, to the things which you are reading here. The WHY festival? In London where I sang in representation of Future Talent, becoming a student rep for numerous things, namely my classical path way here at LCoM, Then of course there was Kiss me Kate which Opera North performed with their under 30's scheme, Halle rehearsals, normal classes and all of the things that entailed. Let me break it down...

Picking up from my last article, I performed in my first performance class here and it went much better than I was expecting. People were genuinely helpful with what they had to say and it wasn't as scary as I expected, in fact you will find it very humbling, from my experience, to hear what people have to say about you when it is something good. It is odd how something which is such a wonderful compliment that shows your hard work has paid off for the better can make you feel much more vulnerable than a negative comment - because with one, you are much more prepared to respond than the other. Performance wise, I have discovered a lot of new repertoire with my ensemble group and in my individual lessons. Namely Schubert - I feel like I am falling head over heels for all things Schubert (especially the vocal arrangement of the Trout) all over again and it makes me especially happy this October to be re-discovering that love for song cycles and German song especially.

There was also the first student rep meeting, in which we were bribed with doughnuts (not really, but they were a pretty awesome incentive) to go through the external examiners report of the exam criteria for degrees here. There are student representatives for every course, so we broke down the report, went through it individually and then came back together again to discuss it before we went into the main annual teacher student conference/forum, - this way if there were any points we felt needed raising we could bring them up there opposed to waiting until the next one. It was particularly useful to us as classical students (me and Alice are the first year reps this year) as we were able to hear what people from the pathways across the pond were finding difficult and often this was very similar. E.g. communicating in group work, or booking practice rooms when things were especially busy, or managing to break down those invisible barriers between courses to get to know people after freshers week is over and you have forgotten everyone's name. It made me feel much more a part of things, because being a voice for the other students around me means I get to discuss and resolve this with both staff and students, hence getting to know people a lot better and making many new friends - essentially solving the problem of invisible barriers by breaking them down ourselves.

Student meetings are fun but they go on for such a long time because there is always so much to go into - no stone is ever left unturned. So it was kind of a relief to get to the weekend, to have a day off before rehearsals and travelling back home again. So we went for a really long walk that following day - which made me feel simultaneously happy and nostalgic, but mainly just happy. We even saw rabbits and a sunset - which sounds like the plot line for part of a Pixar film according to my parents.

And I think the dogs found things even more interesting than we did - my evidence:

Eating well at university is incredibly important - I'll make sure to let you in on more information about that at some point in these regular posts. It can also be a great activity to get to know people - baking and cooking has a role for everyone, whether it be working the oven or being in charge of chopping vegetables. Additionally it lets you have a break between studies to do something in a fun way that would otherwise take minutes and be no where near as delicious or cheap. So this week, me and my friends made pizza: 

And although pizza was great, it was even better to get to class the following day and learn about Stravinsky, Schoenberg and all that jazz - it is so odd how interconnected vastly different pieces of music can be. Yet you place them side by side and you see this amazing string of patterns and the recognition is undeniable. This is one of the things I love about composition as a subject within music - it is attached to so much more than just your own ideas and research because it connects you to everybody else and every influence you have.

The evening was even better than musicianship class - it was Opera North's production of Kiss me Kate at the theatre (the thing I have been looking forward to all week which is why it has gone by oh so quickly) This musical is based on 'the taming of the shrew' by Shakespeare. The musical itself is very jazzy due to the fact that it was written by the great Cole Porter. The actors did a great job - I especially liked the portrayal of the Laurel and Hardy - esque gangsters who run about playing tricks and making people laugh. Good old fashioned comedy is hard to find this days, but this master piece never gets old in its' portrayal. It is timeless - able to make people laugh whether young or old and I highly recommend you do go and see it or even just listen to 'brush up your Shakespeare' if you want a good giggle/ something to make you smile. The set was absolutely beautiful, though I still think Barber of Seville is winning for my favourite show of the year so far:

But before Kiss me Kate, there was small surprise concert at college in which one of the piano teachers who studied in Germany played with a visiting pianist who is currently studying in York, though she originally studied in China. Never having heard much in terms of piano concerts, it was the best place to start - with the pair playing so well together: their ensemble was on point! There was Mozart, there was Berg, there was Chopin and Scriabin and my favourite of all, there was a duet of a Chinese folk song which I think I am going to have stuck in my head with the Imitation game soundtrack for possibly the rest of my life! (that isn't necessarily a bad thing...) To hear this music on Steinways in your own college for free (when it is so life changing) is astounding! Possibly made my week even more than the musical:

Next we have the WHY? Festival which was at the Royal Festival Hall (South Bank) in London. Future talent are a company who help musicians up to the age of 18 with funding for lessons, which has literally been a life saver in terms of getting to this stage in my career and life of university. They offer work shops and experience too - which provides invaluable, as you can imagine! So it is a great pleasure to help give something back by getting the word out and being involved in anything which can get word out to everyone about the value of having a society enriched with arts and entrepreneurs pursuing those types of careers - and letting the public know that it isn't something you have to struggle through that there will always be help available.

We got the train to London fairly early, arriving at Kings Cross which made me feel very Harry Potter-ery (which is now in fact, a word) and especially on the way back, I found this a big deal:

Because the morning train was so slow, it took a considerable few underground paths to get us to the Southbank centre, though we did get there eventually and then it was straight into performing and practicing - it was wonderful to meet so many talented musicians all interested in sharing and creating the same thing. I heard some ideas and interpretations of pieces which were simply amazing and would never have thought of alone. That is the day in a nut shell, and for now, I am tired so I shall leave it at that.

What an incredibly busy month it has been and I am relieved to have a reading week in which to recover by doing lots of things - but fun things, so does that technically count as busy? If not then I guess I am never busy, because it is always fun to experience and share new things! It is a relief to be home though after all that and to see friends, family, catch up on what is going on in every one elses lives. Including all of you - hope the university application process/education process is going well!

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Thursday, 22 October 2015

Project management and Group projects at degree level

Here at music college, or this one at least, we are assessed not only on our individual performance and academic qualities but also our resourcefulness when it comes to working with others - whether in an imagined business partnership or in an ensemble with other performers. This of course encompasses the whole area known as project management. The two things tend to go hand in hand with one another.

If like me you find it difficult to work in a group because you enjoy being able to organise and work on things yourself, working on a group project and with other people can be a really good time to practice skills you might not have gotten the opportunity to work with much before. Things like discussing ideas and not just presuming that other people will comply with your ideas. It is also fantastic to get to know other people - particularly when you are assigned to work with people who aren't people you might usually speak with. When working in a group and on a project with others remember:

1. To discuss
As I mentioned a little while ago, make sure that you aren't making all the suggestions or that someone else isn't telling everyone else to do. Even if you do have a project manager, you should still all be getting time to voice your ideas and have them heard and discussed, even if they might not necessarily be the ideas that will take you through to the final finished piece. Discussing is a great time to be creative and to consider your best options from every vantage point before you condense them down into three main points. When discussing, perhaps create a mind map or a page of notes each on the things you find interesting and then it will be more likely that you can come to a joint decision on what seems the best course of action. In addition to this, keep the discussion open the best you can. You will know your project is going well if everyone is content with what you are doing and constantly putting forward ideas or suggestions to try and make it even better. You will know it is going badly if the groups assessment of the different situations and ideas is clashing on a far more frequent basis than it did initially.

2. To plan
Structuring and planning from the very first moment is key. Begin by researching structures and recognising precisely what is you have set out to do. Do you want to create a band? who do you need to approach this? How are you going to do that and when would be the best time? etc. Analysing the situation will allow you to break things down into chunks so you can see how the process is going to work and what order you need things to go in in order for you to be able to move quickly and efficiently on to the next step and hopefully, you will be successful in completing your project. Planning also means doing an individual amount of work on a regular basis, which is why it can be good to have a project manager allocated if one of you seems a more natural leader than the others or is perhaps a little better organised. If you don't have a project manager to help set tasks officially, then try and use that open discussion to give each person in the group a key role they can manage all the time : for example, research on finance should be done by the person who has previously been writing out what would be the best prices for items, the posters should be designed by the person who is covering promotion, explanations of contracts should be done by people who have been looking at the legal side of things. In your plans, you should start small and build things up - trying to not stop thinking about how the make things as realistic as possible.

3. To stay organised
Keep all the notes from all your meetings - this includes things as tiny in detail as meeting times and dates, the minutes you planned, what you talked about and so on. All of this will come in useful if you decide to change an idea by looking back at the things that went wrong with another idea that wasn't successful, so you know not to make the same mistakes next time. Perhaps each have a folder for your individual notes and then one shared folder in which all the important group documents go, such as project briefs, dates of deadlines etc. Keep assessing things on a regular basis and make sure you are putting a constant amount of work in so that the flow is ongoing. To be the most organised you can, keep the notes in order and also keep a copy of the brief with the notes at all time, including a list of the documents you have (individually and together) and keep this updated, by perhaps rewriting the list or adding to it after the work of every week is done.

4. To stay in touch/communicate
Communication cannot be emphasised more in its' importance - this is what is going to fuel your project, as well as each others' ambition and hence keep everything alive and afloat (which sounds oddly like some advice from Monsters inc. ) Make sure that everyone is contributing evenly, which we'll move on to in a second, and also make sure that you can get in touch with one another. Everyone has different preferred methods of communication - some prefer email to social media. But you must all decide on one way to stay in touch and stick to it. If you want to call each other, make sure you respect each others' privacy once you have the other persons details. Keep things professional, even if you might be friends with another person who is in your group - if things go badly between you outside of the group work, it isn't professional or fair to let this impact on your work, and especially not on the rest of the group.

5. To all play an equal part!
As I was saying - take an equal part each! Even if one person likes writing more than another, make sure you all have tasks to complete and that you are doing something. It is simply not a group project any more if people start messing about or not contributing. Then it becomes other people taking credit for the hard work and commitment of just one person and only you can prevent that from happening by being part of that open discussion and by communicating when you think other people are taking things for granted. Be polite and friendly but as I keep reiterating - be Professional! If you wouldn't say or do something in the work place, or behave that way towards someone you respect such as a head teacher, then don't behave that way towards your  class mates/co-workers in the project. On a more positive note (to end with) be glad that you can have an equal contribution and part in your project - there is nothing more satisfying than being able to create something wonderful with other people. In unity we have more strength than we do alone. Never forget that. By participating you will get the most you can of those skills, learning to use them properly and gaining just the right amount of experience.

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Surviving College / University Interviews

Now that you've submitted your application form, or are in the final stages of doing so, it's time to start thinking about what is going to happen next in the process so that you can be completely prepared. In your personal statement you explained why you wanted to study what you have chosen, and perhaps a little about your future aims, discussing how you feel you have prepared yourself now for all of that.

Every university is different - some don't require an interview at all and go entirely off the application and your exam results. However, this is a rarity - the majority will call you in for an interview, perhaps even separate stages of interview. I auditioned for only one university, as all of the rest of my choices were Conservatoires which is a type of university which only offers an education in music and is more performance based than a music degree at a university, which is much more academic content that practice and performance based material. Both are excellent degrees, it just depends what style of learning you feel suits you better as an individual.

Being prepared for those auditions and the interview that comes with it, or the interview alone, is important. You should feel comfortable and prepared, despite the initial nerves and the nervousness that might take over on the day. So here are a few tips you can perhaps hold in mind when you see these events getting ever closer:

1. Go over your personal statement
Know it inside and out, because it is more than likely that a lot of the questions you will be asked will be based on this content. Particularly if you claimed interest in a certain topic - e.g. if you have applied for a history degree and you say that you have studied a small part of literature from a particular era which you feel has enhanced your knowledge of a time and culture, which might then have helped you more directly by influencing a history report you wrote for class. If you have referenced specific things, try and practice questioning your knowledge in case they ask you demonstrate the specialist knowledge you now claim to hold.

2. Do mock interviews
This was something that I began in highschool which was set up to help us with preparation for job interviews as well as sixth form application interviews. If your school hasn't offered this opportunity or you feel it would be useful, you can always ask your parents to do a basic interview. You might be thinking that the degree you are applying for has nothing to do with what your parents do in their regular work, but the point is to start off speaking with someone you do know well enough to be questioned by so that you can get into the habit of answering in a legible and articulate manner - it is much easier to start off doing this with someone you feel very comfortable talking to. This means that when you don't know the person questioning you so well, you won't feel as nervous because you have had random questions thrown at you from every perspective, not just the specialist. Like with anything, practice really does make perfect. I also found it quite useful to go over interview and audition criteria long before the day, because then I had that memorised, along with a few sentences expressing my opinion so that I had them as backup if I completely blanked on the day.

3. Try and get some extra music lessons
Mainly directed like the interview advice, but more towards those who are applying for a course in the performing arts. When I auditioned there were specific things the university asked for that I had to remember and include - e.g. two contrasting pieces, a practiced piece of poetry from memory, sight reading and so on. Having the extra music lessons will allow you to know those pieces back to front and get them on autopilot so that nerves won't be able to distract you from words you can't remember properly. Don't over do it either - sometimes simple pieces can show off your skill much more than a complex piece you might play really badly or not as confidently that doesn't suit you as well - take some of your comfort zone into the zone outside it and you will find it far easier to focus on the on the spot activity which will probably be sight reading or aural tests. If extra music lessons would be too expensive, you can either apply for funding (which there is lots of) or you can ask to have your one hour slot (for example) split into two half an hour slots and this will mean you have time to go away and do work before you come back to it and get twice as much progress done because you are looking at the same thing more frequently/efficiently.

4. Talk to your teachers and past students who are now university students
Experience is the one thing that teaches us best. I once read a quote when researching for my personal statement, its' by Hector Berlioz, and he said ' time is the best teacher but unfortunately it kills all its' students' : in this instant, we cannot experience the thing without doing it. But there are people around us constantly, especially in our places of education, who can provide us with information on their experiences and what they learned worked successfully and not so successfully. Make the use of this, and every other, opportunity in your life for it is the best gift you can possibly receive. I wish that I had got to meet even more people in relation to my research when applying than I did. You can never do too much research, as the people who have experienced these things will tell you. Everyone has a different and unique adventure to get them to where they need to be. But don't put too much on one route - you will be successful which ever you choose. As one of my favourite teachers told me, 'there is more than one way to skin a rabbit' meaning that no matter which path you take it will lead you to the same place in the end if it is where you were always meant to end up. Remain optimistic!

5. Be yourself + focus on your exam preparation/course work!
Don't be too hard on yourself in this whole process - the point is to make yourself an exaggerated version of yourself that is concise enough to fit into a page of A4 and a, if you're lucky, twenty minute interview. Obviously, none of us are so minuscule in character that this is all that defines us - we are constantly changing. So remember this - you are simply exaggerating and highlighting the best parts of yourself, do not feel you have to change unless you feel that is what you want to do. If you have to be anyone other than who you are for an opportunity, it is simply not at all worth it. And in this process of applying, don't forget that you have exams coming up and they are equally, if not, more important. Although early in the year and it might feel like you have only just got back ,time is ticking and it is nearly Christmas already so get working on remembering those facts and figures early on when you have the chance to alleviate some of the later stress. And if all else fails, just remember that only you have the power to believe completely in yourself so give yourself a chance and second chance and as many chances as you feel you need to get your work done.

If at first you don't succeed - try and try again. The only time you fail, is when you stop trying.

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Thursday, 8 October 2015

Update: Royal Opera North, Student Rep and the Theatre

This evening I attended an open rehearsal which was an interactive theatrical performance of the plot line of Janacek's opera Janufa. Having not heard much of this composer, the experience was an especially eye opening one as opera tends to veer towards tragedy no matter where or why the story was written - something always seems to go wrong. The experience allowed us to learn how folk music can influence classical music greatly, as we saw in the way characters began to be associated with certain material, and it also allowed us to pick apart the story and ask ourselves what we would do. So often our spoken answers revealed how much society has changed since the time when such stories as that of the story of Janufa would have happened in society.

Rehearsals in general have been going well - though there is rather a lot of content to learn. There is the usual music of some English, German, Latin, song, a little Italian and then some Bernstein (which only happens once in a while) And then, of course, there is the dreaded Christmas music. Christmas music is just that - absolutely the only thing you want to listen to come December time as you count down the days. But once you have been practicing Jingle Bells all the way through September, it sometimes means things lose their sparkle for a little while. But complaining is something I do far too much of considering the amazing opportunities we are given in exchange for so little of our time for rehearsals. One of those such opportunities is just getting to work with such likeminded people who all have something new to contribute to the opinion you hold of a work or how the piece is imagined by you. Plus, being in the right place with the right music just enhances it. It is such a wonderful thing to be singing something like Vaughan Williams and then to look up and see the sun setting through the window at the end of a long, sleepy Sunday:

Class wise, everything is also going well - though some of it is rather complicated. One of the things I am finding hardest is listening and dictating intervals, though this is something I have always found difficult. Luckily it only encourages me to work harder, and to enjoy classes more as a result. In harmony last week we were learning about this magical chord - the Incomplete dominant ninth chord, which can move so flexibly from one key to the next. Musicology and performance classes are my favourites though - as much as I love performing, it is so enjoyable to have a break from that side of things to just write and read about the subject and let someone else do the talking/singing. 

The essay I am currently preparing for is about the age of the enlightenment and the social issues that were being reflected in the music back then. There are no clear cut roads from one part of classical music to the next, which is where all the reading takes place to find out what happens in those gaps. Teaching is kind of like this (it is so good to finally have a few students to teach again!) because you can't just skip to the final finished product for none of us as performers are ever truly perfect - we will always be our harshest critic and not every one will always enjoy our personal interpretations. And yet we still try to fill in those gaps, by creating bridges - whether that be by technique or by asking your teacher to provide you with the useful tools of new pieces: things that you perhaps would never have thought to sing or even listen to before and yet you find yourself really benefiting from them. I'm a big believer in the fact that all the best things that will happen to you (all the things you will remember strikingly well at least) will be the ones which occur when you step outside that minuscule circle that is your comfort zone. 

One of the things that is nicest is that university has started to mean more to me than just being for study. Of course that is the main reason I am here and was always the main reason for my working to get here, but the people here are becoming my friends - we can just have a good time sometimes too, and often that gets so mixed in with the music I don't realise. Because we talk so much about the music we love, the music that influences and inspires, we don't realise that this leads on to discussing things like authors, travels, dreams and ambitions - it is all so mixed together. Before you know it, Leeds is your second home, and you are walking down the street at lunch time, going to the library, seeing weird art based projects on piles of books or a refrigerator and you find a modern day Tardis in the middle of the street (but it doesn't time travel particularly well) :

I have also been in a few meetings about being a student representative for my course (which I was very luckily successful in) The training is taking place this week and we have our first official meeting next week. It basically involves me gathering peoples ideas for the course, how to make it better, solving personal issues, what people would like to see more or less of, what is useful and what isn't and so on. It is actually a really good way to get to know other people on your course - at least I have found. The hand book has been a life saver though, as I didn't really know where to start:

Also this week I went to see Royal Opera North's production of the Barber of Seville (it is the first of three they are putting on, including Janufar) My singing teacher works quite closely with RON so she was not only there but recommending that we go and that we consider going to see the rehearsals as well! It was the first opera I have seen that really made me feel I could relate to characters and their stories - perhaps that is just because now I am of an age where that is easier now than when I was perhaps younger. But it was so amazing to laugh out loud and have a favourite character - to know what was going to happen next but be on the edge of your seat any way. And the under 30's scheme is such a fantastic way to get students involved with opera, especially with the spectacular view for half the price. One of the things I always marvel about my field is that is not just music - music involves pretty much every other subject there is; it always falls into a particular place like a (warning: cliche ahead) jigsaw. There is language, there is history, there is literature, the science and mathematic of being precise in all - and as a result you really do go back to whenever the opera was composed: you feel at the heart of something so different and alien from the music produced by today's culture in our modern society. And don't even get me started on the set, the spectacular theatre, or even the singing + music itself or we'll be here all night. They say a picture is worth a 1000 words so, this will hopefully do for now:

It is nice to have you all on this journey with me. When I wrote about the first week I told you that we had that introduction speech from the principal, where through wacky metaphors he basically told us our time was going to fly by. And I didn't believe him at first - but look! Already we are nearly at reading work and I am having the time of my life. Although I miss things in the most nostalgic, rose coloured glasses kind of way, I feel like I am finally in a place that I can call Home. 

If you enjoy reading content like this and would like to hear more about my trips, concerts and adventures through university life, please do let me know in the comments. Also, please do state if there is any content you would like more of or that you would find useful. If you like, you can click Here to vote for me as Blogger of the Month. Thankyou!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Be a life long learner

Being in GCSE, sixth form, or university education is the biggest step you will have made so far, and will lead you on to whatever it is you plan to do next in terms of career or aims you have. Whenever we enter into one of these learning environments, much of what we learn is given to us - we are told what to learn by teachers or an exam syllabus, and this defines why and what we are learning for the majority of time that we are on the courses we are.

Recently, I have taken up an interest in how even though I love music and have reached university to study it, I miss the variety of subjects that I had in my other learning environments before now - learning other things, I've found, enhanced learning about music because it provided me with context for why composers write the music they do, and why we can be empathic with what we are hearing as listeners. But missing that variety of subjects led me to researching things such as maths and science, history and languages, theology and law, for fun. It has taken me a while to realise that you can go on learning without being told what to do by your text book. You are capable of learning anything you put your mind to as long as you keep yourself motivated and stick to it.

I am writing this because I realise a lot of you may be in the same position that I was - wanting to continue learning whilst pursuing a professional study of just one thing, but not quite knowing what it is. We all learn differently and we all want different outcomes - for me, the best way to add variety to my thoughts and manner of thinking has been to:

1. Practice whatever subjects I am learning about for at least one hour every day
2. To record my progress and what I am learning in that time
3. To read everything and anything (e.g. pick something new in the library because you wouldn't usually read it - give it a chance)
4. Talk to your friends and family to see what they know about the different topics (everybody has something interesting to add to the open conversation of a globally known topic)
5. Stay motivated and dedicated to pursuing what you want to know.

There is no short cut to knowledge - no qualification will ever make you truly an expert at what you do and no one can know everything. The very fact that we know so little on people such as Shakespeare is evidence of that. As a generation, we are living in the most exciting of times because, for the first time, we have all of those past generations of knowledge at our fingertips - we have the luxury of being able to compare and contrast things in terms of why and how and where it was created. We have the luxury of being able to listen to all of Mozart's music, to read all of those classics and then to go on and make new ones. What an exciting time to be alive - but more so, what an exciting opportunity for us!

Loving to learn things is not always easy - we sometimes think that the end result is more important than the adventure we wind along to get to it. But life is about those adventures - it is why we enjoy our time at school, and at university but hate having to say goodbye to it in the end. But we should relish that time because, the more we enjoy being in a place where we have a platform to that learning community, to being both the teacher and the pupil, the luckier we will feel and the wealthier we will be in terms of knowledge and experience. This has been hard for me individually to realise, but a proverb (that went something like this) made it easier for me to conclude:

A man said to his teacher 
'How long will it take me to learn how to do this?'
His teacher said '7 years'
The man, disappointed asked,
'well, what if I worked twice as hard as everyone else?'
The teacher smiled and answered,
'14 years'

The moral of that is that we do not learn by working twice as hard as every body else, although that commitment and motivation is important to what we do too, we learn from the experience of failing and then getting things right by persevering as time goes by and that is what is mostly of profit to us. This also has an echo of Mozart to it, who apparently once claimed this:

Citizen: How can I compose a symphony?
Mozart: Maybe you should start with something simpler first, like a waltz.
Citizen: But Herr Mozart! You were writing symphonies when you were 5 years old!
Mozart: Ah, but I didn't ask any body how to do it.

Some are also more natural learners, or innate learners, than others. It is easy to be jealous of others for what they have achieved - but you also need to remember that you can be just as successful even if things don't come as easily to you. No matter how talented a person may be, underneath their success are many stories of failure and mistakes which lead to that success. 

And now with the deadline for applications fast approaching and A level exams and GCSE exams all the closer in time, I want to encourage you to make the most of what you are learning and to be thankful for it all because you are currently the wisest you have ever been and you will benefit from that for your whole life. I encourage you to love what you learn, to enjoy it, to share it, discuss it, debate it and more so, to become a life long learner - to make the most of that most amazing opportunity you have and that potential only you possess the power to unlock.