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A focus on Music and Drama

25 May 2021

Music and Drama Update

The prolonged campus closure has been challenging for students and staff in SALC, and we are very grateful for all the careful consideration from colleagues that has provided students with a fulfilling teaching and learning experience.

While most of teaching in SALC continues online, at the end of March we started to welcome our Music, Drama and Film students back to campus, of whom the prolonged campus closure has been especially challenging. Their return has been possible thanks to the efforts and generosity of colleagues across the University: we are grateful for the many colleagues who have advised on risk assessments, as well as timetabling, technical and estates teams who have helped to identify and prepare spaces for teaching. Thanks are also due to the Students Union, who have provided access to their large Academy spaces, basement club and theatre space. Between us, all as part of a great team effort, we have created a dynamic set of spaces for our student activity.

This year, staff and students in these subjects have developed a mass of approaches and creative projects impossible to imagine a year ago, genuinely positive and innovative ways of teaching and making that would not have happened had studio and lab spaces been available to us in the usual way. Read more about what our Music and Drama students have been up to.

In Music, the student-run Music Society (MUMS) and University Chorus have found inventive ways of keeping the music alive, acquiring a host of invaluable new skills in the process. Up to 100 singers attend weekly Chorus rehearsals held on Zoom, with this year’s repertoire including world premieres of several compositions by our own students. A new tradition has also been established, with special guests giving invited talks in the second half of the evening: these have included composers Paul Mealor and John Casken and conductors Matthew Hamilton and Justin Doyle. Our chamber choirs Ad Solem and The Cosmo Singers have also been busy making a lockdown album, with their voices recorded individually and then mixed by Master’s student Benoît André: here they perform Bruckner’s ‘Os Justi’.

Meanwhile, the weekly programme of online events hosted by MUMS has included Virtual Symphony Orchestra rehearsals, String Orchestra Socials, the series ‘Brass Band Presents…’, virtual lunchtime concerts and club nights, listening parties and house jams, masterclasses with professional artists, and a series of talks and Q&As with special guests from the music industry.

The student-led Drama Society has also reinvented itself, delivering an online festival of work and training programme. Our alumni have given their time for free through this last lockdown, providing unique insights into how the creative sector is surviving the pandemic, as well as plenty of useful advice, via a series of well-attended early evening careers sessions.

Brilliantly, our ‘digital native’ students have embraced the possibilities of an online environment, blending theatre with screen media in ways that both preserve the electricity of live performance whilst also exploiting the creative possibilities of film as a practice.

A hybrid form – not ‘theatre’, not ‘film’ – has emerged from student work, for example, students in the second year Devising for Performance course were asked to experiment with lip-synching as a technique, drawing on the approach used by Rachel Maclean and Clio Barnard in the film The Arbor. Two students, Hal Winston-Fletcher and Alex Macfarlane, created a short piece, ‘The Future’, based on an excerpt from an episode of Tomorrow’s World originally recorded in 1966, during which children were asked to imagine the future. The skills in this short clip, shared here with the students’ permission, are impressive - lip-synching is harder than it looks and the quality of the editing is excellent. But it is also compelling to witness these words, originally spoken in 1966, re-enacted by two students navigating a present and a future even more fearful and uncertain than that imagined by their younger peers more than 50 years ago. 

Meanwhile, the weekly programme of online events hosted by MUMS has included Virtual Symphony Orchestra rehearsals, String Orchestra Socials, the series ‘Brass Band Presents…’, virtual lunchtime concerts and club nights, listening parties and house jams, masterclasses with professional artists, and a series of talks and Q&As with special guests from the music industry.