Find out what life is really like at Durham University

DepartmentsMusicStudent experienceUndergraduate

Life as a Durham Music student


What is it like studying within the Music Department?

Studying music at Durham University is a constant whirlwind of opportunities and experiences, with a large part of time here spent working out which opportunities to pursue and becoming the kind of musician you want to be. The Music department make this as smooth and straightforward as they can for you, pushing you to achieve every extra thing you can, whilst at the same time grounding you and reminding you that – particularly at a University like Durham – your academic potential and progress is paramount.

The size of our department really helps with this too; without sounding too clichéd it is big enough to have such a wide variety of musicians and personalities that you never feel you are missing out on experiences, but small enough to always feel a strong support network around you – almost like a family!

The Academic Aspects

It is impossible in an environment such as Durham to not benefit from the research of our tutors. Besides the confidence that it gives you knowing that those lecturing you are pioneers and some of the best academics in their field, lectures are also made infinitely more interesting by the little gobbits of information they can give you about composers or their work that you wouldn’t get from a textbook. In an increasingly competitive world – both in employment and academia – the insight, support, and motivation you get as a student from research-led teaching is immeasurable. The support I have received from tutors regarding how to do my own research has changed my whole outlook on academia; in Durham we recognise our history and heritage but our approach and knowledge is ever changing.

It is also no secret that with this level of teaching and sense of academic achievement around you comes some challenges and pressure. The expectation from the lecturers maintaining their own research alongside teaching commitments is that you will put as much energy and effort into your academic work as they do. This does result in personal challenges such as time management, complex research and application of complex concepts. But these are also the most rewarding. I never expected when I came to university that alongside following my passions and academic interests (English choral music, the music of the Renaissance, and the development of the British Brass Band movement – eclectic, I know) that I would also pursue courses in the relationship between music and politics in France, how to orchestrate 20th century piano music for a symphony orchestra, or transcribing the sound of a baby laughing.

Even walking up Durham’s many hills on a wet winter morning is worth it when you arrive at the department, beside the magnificent cathedral and castle.

What makes Durham special?

First and foremost this has to be the people. There is no specific kind of music student that is attracted to Durham – apart from those who want to develop both academically and as a rounded musician. This degree in this City puts you in contact with all sorts of people you would never otherwise have worked with and allows you to become who you want to be. The City and University also maintains an effortless sense of class! There is no trying to be something we are not; we embrace who we are. This is Durham and there is nowhere like it to study music.


I am the conductor of Durham University Brass Band. This was taken at one of my first concerts as their conductor, on De Panne beach during our first ever band tour to Belgium in summer 2016.

Outside the department?

The Music department has a really strong relationship with Music Durham; the student led organisation which co-ordinates and represents all of the individual music societies at a University level.  Music Durham and Durham Students’ Union offers us as music students, as well as all students from across the University, a chance to be involved in the University’s 80+ musical societies, including orchestras, bands, choirs, and world music groups, as well as attend concerts by both students and professionals. It has also been invaluable for me in exploring various music careers in arts management and organisation. The opportunity to work as a president for an individual society, as well as president of Music Durham, has massively shaped my student experience and, alongside my academics, leaves me feeling far more prepared for the future beyond university.

Abi Groocock

My name is Abi Groocock. I am a final year music student from Van Mildert. I play for a local championship brass band as well as conducting the university brass band. Before coming to Durham I was a choral scholar at Coventry Cathedral and have been a scholar in St Chad’s College choir. Alongside my work as Music Durham President, I have a job in Marketing and Publicity for the Northern Regional Brass Band Trust.
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