Contributing to ‘100 Years of Music at UCD, a Centenary Festschrift’

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The School of Music in UCD (formerly the Department of Music) is currently marking an important milestone — its centenary. To commemorate this it recently published a festschrift (or celebration) of the past 100 years. It asked some of its staff members and students, both past and present, to contribute essays and I’m honoured to have written one of the 20 essays in the volume. Here’s an edited version of that essay:

It was an early Monday in May 2000 when I stepped off the lift onto the third floor of Newman Building’s J block in UCD, through the double fire-doors into the then Department of Music to await my entrance interview. Seated in a windowed room at the end of a long corridor I remember looking outside at the flowering cherry blossom trees below that were swiftly turning to confetti in an attempt to steady my nerves.

For me, as I am sure is the case for countless others, I wanted to go to university to study something that I loved. That day, after I completed my BMus entrance interview, I knew, if I successfully made it through the process, the first thing I’d do after finding my feet in the Department of Music was locate the offices of the college newspapers. I’d already identified journalism as my future career, but in May 2000 still aged 17 I knew all I wanted to do for four years was study music.

Almost every week there is a new story in the Irish media about the types of university courses students should be taking in order to be prepared for the precarious and ever-changing economy that awaits them upon graduation. The mainstream narrative around Irish universities has transitioned away from them being centres of critical thinking and has instead shifted to them being production-line training facilities, there to provide a stream of graduates to fill the jobs ‘created’ in the announcements that grace the evening news bulletins.

I was in UCD during a period when the Celtic Tiger was really finding its feet, but I also had vivid memories of the more depressed days of the 1980s and 1990s when unemployment and emigration were as prevalent as they are now. I was seeking an experience that balanced critical thinking and analysis with skills that would help me to find employment and even more crucially help make me a successful and capable individual. One who could not only competently follow other people’s instructions and ideas but also have my own.

A four-year music degree isn’t all keyboard harmony and Schenkerian analysis, and looking back at some of the activities I engaged with or initiated one could easily say that the Department of Music, now School, displayed all the qualities of the plucky, nimble and lean start-ups we hear so much about these days even if the school itself is well past its own start-up days.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this is The Musicology Review, a peer reviewed journal with essays and reviews from undergraduates, graduates and staff, which, together with fellow undergraduate Úna-Frances Clarke, I set about convincing the School of Music to publish. The pitch to the then Head of Department Professor Harry White in his office was one of the first of many pitches I have done throughout my career. I learned lessons that day that helped me in pitches I’ve made in more recent years to company boards, venture capitalists and other investors. What I liked about the pitch to Professor White is that we went in not only with a clearly thought-out academic proposal but a simple revenue model, which meant the publication would not be reliant on funding from the Department of Music itself.

We begged, borrowed and at one point temporarily relocated computers from The College Tribune’s office to my mother’s kitchen table for a weekend to design the Review. Although we encountered things we didn’t originally anticipate in that pitch in Professor White’s office the inaugural edition was published and it has come out every year ever since.

Thanks to the peer review committee of Dr Wolfgang Marx and Dr Julian Horton, the contributions from undergraduate and graduate students, the 15 patrons who subscribed, thereby financially backing the project, and Professor Harry White’s unwavering support, the 180-page 2004-2005 edition of The Musicology Review emerged with nine academic articles on subjects as diverse as ‘The Heroism and Reification of Dmitri Shostakovich’ and  ‘Strategies of Vocal Composition in Schubert’s Winterreise’.

When I reflect on my four years, what I value the most was the Department’s commitment to all of its students no matter what their chosen path was after graduation. I was very open from early on in my studies that I wasn’t going to pursue music in a full-time capacity after my undergraduate qualification. I found my choices supported and encouraged despite my graduate school goal being more professional than academic. The BMus programme helped me to become an analytical thinker, a competent communicator and an able collaborator.

The full version of this essay is available in ‘100 Years of Music at UCD 1914-2014, A Centenary Festschrift’, which has been edited by Dr Wolfgang Marx and published by the UCD School of Music. 

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