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Tamsin Sandford-Smith

Tamsin Sandford-Smith




Hi, I'm Tamsin, and I'm a third-year Music student and Choral Scholar. I come from St Albans, and went to a non-selective state school.

The best thing about studying Music at Oxford is the broadness of the course. There's a lot of choice with the modules you take for finals, so I can follow my own interests in what I want to study, as well as finding out about new, unexpected topics through specialised lecture series. Something a lot of people ask about is the difference between studying Music at a conservatoire and at a university: I love the fact that this course allows me to combine essay-writing with performance and composition so that I can follow a range of interests. The Music Faculty is also fairly small, so there's a real sense of community and support among the students and staff.

People are often surprised by how much essay-writing music involves, but we also get quite a high level of contact hours. Typically, we study several history topics a term, as well as Analysis, Musicology, Techniques of Composition, and instrumental/voice lessons, so it all adds up! In a normal week, I'll have two discussion-based tutorials, as well as one-to-one teaching in Techniques of Composition and singing. There will also be several hours of lectures, either in the Music Faculty, or online.

College Experience

One of the best things at Oxford is the scope of extra-curricular opportunities for music and drama. As a Fresher, I was really worried that everything would be cliquey and difficult to get involved in, but now I've been involved in loads of productions, and made friends for life. Last year, I formed a drama production company with two friends and directed a play for the first time, which was amazing, and something I never expected I would have the confidence to do.

Saying yes to unexpected opportunities has also got me into some very strange situations, including playing a frog onstage for a week and conducting HMS Pinafore two days before my first-year exams (surprisingly, not the disaster it sounds!). As well as making friends on my course and in College, it's experiences like these that really help you to bond with people and make connections, and it's great to feel like you're part of a university-wide community.

I suppose one of the things that surprised me most about Oxford is how much everybody does in addition to their degree. Whether it's sport, partying, music, theatre, or something more niche, you will definitely have the opportunity to find your tribe.

At Queen's I'm a Choral Scholar, which means that I sing Evensong three times a week in the College Chapel. As someone who had never been part of a church choir before, it took me a few weeks to find my feet, but there was a really welcoming and supportive atmosphere in the choir.

One of the highlights of the year is the annual carol service, where the whole College packs into the Chapel to join in with congregational carols. Things might be a bit different this year, but it's always been such a lovely opportunity to have everyone in one place to celebrate 'Oxmas' - followed, of course, by Oxmas dinner in Hall!

Although Queen's is obviously beautiful on the outside, it's the community and the people that really make the College special. The collegiate system at Oxford means that you'll have a support network and community outside of your subject, which is really invaluable in terms of settling in and coping with work, but also in terms of having fun and making memories.

Advice for Applicants

The advice I'd give to potential applicants is to find out what gets you excited about studying music. Everyone on the course comes from a different background and has different skills and interests, so there is no 'right' composer to love, or instrument to play. It's then a good idea to do some interview preparation by looking deeper into something that interests you. Doing extra reading is brilliant, but definitely go for quality rather than quantity - having strong opinions is good, but be ready to change them, and go into your interview with an open mind! You'll also probably have a score-based interview, so definitely a good idea to brush up on music theory knowledge.