Application

 Cambridge

 Churchill

 Music

 2003

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 N/A

 N/A

 Comprehensive School

 yes (9 A*,2 A)

A-levels

(A at AS)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained NA at A2)

(A at AS; predicted A; gained NA at A2)

Details about the offer

 conditional

AAA

yes

N/A

 grades pending/unknown

Decisions about the application

Well…the music course is entirely academic, there’s no performance tutoring, and not neccessarily much free composition. But then again there’s so much going on musically there that you’ll probably do alot more performing than you would at a music college. And I like writing essays. And it just seemed like a really nice environment to be in.

Cambridge had a slightly better reputation. Oxford seemed like a good choice because it recently got rid of the scary aural and counterpoint tests that Cambridge need music applicants to do, but I’d started working for those tests, and I thought I might as well take the more challenging option. Plus I’d have had to do piano sight reading at Oxford. [Only if you don’t have grade 5 piano or above, and even then only sometimes. fatboy06, admin].

Churchill seemed really nice, the people who talked to us on the open day were far more down to earth and spoke more common sense than at the other Colleges I looked round. It’s not one of the beautiful old colleges, but there’s a nice atmosphere.

Preparation

yes

Not much. I taught myself Bach harmony and what counterpoint I could understand from various text books I found, and showed some of my work to our head of music and my piano teacher. Our careers advisor arranged a mock interview with the head of music from another school, which was realy helpful.

On Cambridge Application Form: Start as early as you can. Everyone was concerned that my personal statement was about nothing but music – very little extra curricular stuff – but it didn’t matter at all.

On interview: I would work really hard at harmony – get the Butterworth textbook and work at that, then practise harmonising chorales. Almost noone applying will be good at counterpoint, so if you can get good at that too, it’ll look really impressive.

Also, just read loads. Make notes on the books you read, take the notes and books with you to the college, if you’re staying the night before, and read through them. I would make sure you know alot about the music director’s specialist area – my interview was all based on that. Do some in depth reading – something by Dahlhaus looks impressive and isn’t too hard to read – and get a good general idea of music history: don’t try and read the whole Grout history of music, but do read an A level standard music history book, through from renaissance to modern.

Interview

no

yes

2 Essays, at least one had to be on a musical subject. But I actually managed to send 4. The essays for AS music tend to be really basic…so I wrote one fairly independent essay ( 6,000 words long) but still on an AS subject. I sent in my English coursework. Then a few days later I got worried and asked if I could send another essay…so I sent my English coursework from this year, and a timed A2 music essay. I would recommend being more organised than myself, and there’s no need to write a 6,000 word independent essay. I reckon most colleges other than churchill wouldn’t have let me send in the extra essays.

yes

yes, a 1 hr test, before the interview: an 8 or 12 bar long Bach chorale – add ATB to the soprano line; a choice between completing a Haydn string quartet or a piece of two part counterpoint, 8 bars, with the first two bars done for you. And the essay question I mentioned already: ‘is there any rational belief that ‘classical’ music has any more inherent value…?’
It’s amazing what you can get done in an hour when you’re really nervous, it’s really not that bad, and they don’t pay too much attention to it anyway.

Churchill interviews are a bit different from the usual Cambridge interviews. The general interview was very gentle and relaxed. I didn’t have to shake anyone’s hand.

Even the subject interview was quite informal. We had a general musical discussion, prompted rather than having your views attacked or your essays torn apart. You could take it as deep as you wanted…the difficulty with that is you could go through the interview without having been pushed into saying anything really amazing. Make sure you show off as much as you can, go off on tangents, talk about whatever you want to, whatever you feel strongly about or are interested in.

General interview was about my school, whether the music department’s good, what I want to do with my music degree, family stuff, my mum’s job. Subject interview – first I was asked what my general views on the essay question ‘is there any rational basis for the belief that ‘classical’ music has more inherent value than ‘pop’ music? That led to talking about meaning in programmatic music, and 19th century music – who the main advocate of absolute music was, who his ideas were opposed to, what the theorist Hanslick’s views were.

Dark trousers, shirt and tie. Lots of people wore suits. I don’t think it matters really.

Impressions

Well, Churchill’s one of the 1960’s colleges, not that pretty. But it’s a good place I think, lots of performing going on. just like any other university but with really great tutors, the cambridge teaching systme etc.

Decent size, some with ensuite bathrooms. not absolute luxury or anything, but better than halls of residence.

Good

it was ok, what you’d expect really

The music director’s a really interesting guy, not patronising at all, not some lofty, unworldly academic. The admissions tutor I got was a mathematician, so he knew almost nothing about music, so I thought it was a bit pointless having him as an interviewer.

really nice. just normal people.

Final stage

Not alot, I was happy.

Looking back

Yeah. I think now I’ve got my offer I could have applied to a far more competitive college. Churchill’s a great place, i really liked it and left the interview feeling really good, I’d had a really intelligent discussion with an academic who respected what I thought. But you just end up feeling a little bit disappointed that you’re not going to one of the old colleges like Downing. And people don’t look at you with quite as much reverence.

If you’re feeling really nervous, completely underconfident about Cambridge, Churchill’s a good option – it’s one of the most friendly places. But don’t write off the older colleges as places you wouldn’t have a chance of getting into. You probably would; which ever college you apply to, work hard for it and it should pay off.