by Julia Emery –
Studying abroad as a musician is a wonderful opportunity. Not only do you get the chance to live and explore within a new culture, you also have the opportunity to work with amazing teachers and musicians that you would not otherwise be able to meet or even study with. I am a cello performance major from the University of Denver Lamont School of Music, and I am currently enrolled in a semester abroad program at Goldsmiths, University of London. Thus far, it has been a wonderful experience, both musically and culturally.
Getting to where I am now, in London, studying with an amazing cello teacher who has been taught by world-renowned cellists herself, was, I would have to say, more challenging than anything I’ve been through since arriving in London. Deciding where to go for a semester –– or year –– abroad can be quite a challenge (but a fun one, don’t worry!), depending on the resources provided by your university, the organization of the program you wish to attend, etc. I found, through my research, that being a music major is somewhat limiting in the options of where it is possible to go. For example, I really wanted to study abroad in India, but my cello professor reminded me of how difficult it would be to find a suitable cello teacher in India (simply because cello is not that common of an instrument there).
I ended up in England for a variety of reasons. London is such a vibrant city, especially musically. There are multiple professional orchestras playing almost every evening and operas and musicals and jazz clubs to attend on the rare nights when there is no orchestral music. I felt that coming to London would inspire new creativity within my cello playing and musical knowledge as a whole, and I was right.
Finding a Music Teacher
The next important step, after finding a city (or general area) where you wish to study, is to find a teacher to study with. I think it is very important to talk to your private teacher or other teachers within your music department about possible contacts in your country of interest because it helps if you have a go-between, someone who knows both you and your potential teacher, who can speak to the other on both of your behalves. I sat down and had a long chat with my cello professor about who to take lessons with in London. He had a contact for me (because, it seems, the global music community is much smaller than we think), who he suggested I email. I now have a wonderful, very gifted teacher here in London!
Of course it is also possible to find a teacher through the university you wish to attend during your study abroad. Emailing the music department and figuring out all of those logistics is important and best done early, because you may have an entrance audition recording which you need to send to the university, in order for them to place you, etc.
Traveling with Musical Instruments
As far as taking instruments to all corners of the world, depending on the size and mobility of your particular instrument, this may be an issue. It was for me!. If I had brought my cello to London, it would have cost me an extra airline seat, because I don’t trust the way in which most airlines handle the luggage they store below. In my case, because I did not bring my cello, I had to rent one from a friend of my teacher in London. I must warn you though; the process of finding a good rental instrument takes a while, so be sure to start your search at least a few months in advance.
Once arriving in London and getting settled into the school system, I have been having a wonderful time in the university orchestra and with my cello lessons. One thing I am having a problem with is the amount and quality of the practice rooms here. I think I am a bit spoiled, because University of Denver Lamont School of Music has a large quantity of amazing, almost soundproof practice rooms, whereas Goldsmiths is most definitely lacking in that respect.
However, apart from challenges associated with the practice rooms, studying abroad as a music major has, thus far, been extremely rewarding and I encourage it with all my heart. In my mind, there is no better way in which to learn about a country and its cultural and musical trends than to go there and completely immerse yourself.
Two thoughts, Jay. First, any school where ethnomusicology is a focus is likely to be a school you’d want to explore. Second, on the undergraduate level, some of the music schools and most liberal arts schools with strong music departments support the kind of collaboration you’re talking about. At some point, all college music schools and departments will find that they MUST encourage all music students to immerse themselves in other cultures in order to expand their creativity, music, and worldview. Be sure to check out a relevant article on MajoringInMusic.com: Play Music on a Cruise Ship: Is This Your Dream? If you’d like to talk directly, send an email offline or feel free to call. And please stay in touch with what you find out!
Dr. Cleveland Johnson
Julia’s point about confirming how your study-abroad credits will count toward your degree requirements is extremely important. Every school is different…some more flexible than others. Be prepared to argue your case; many administrators have been “counting beans” for too long and may not be as creative as you in imaging the value of some of the options you’re considering.
For example, there’s a new program specifically designed for American music undergrads that’s in India (of all places!) run by MUSIC EDUCATION ABROAD (http://musicedabroad.org). Although students don’t take applied lessons on their own instrument, students ARE given the opportunity to TEACH their instruments to beginning/intermediate Indian students. Depending on your school, you might be able to get a pedagogy credit or applied credit for this, since you’ll (presumably) be unpacking your instrument each day, demonstrating in the lessons you teach, and probably remaining in contact with your instructor back home to talk about issues of pedagogy, repertoire, etc. Some students get applied (or secondary instrument) credit for studying an Indian instrument on this MEA program. Other courses on this program can count as music electives or even sometimes toward general distribution requirements. (There’s a great course, for example, on “Indian Cinema as Social Lens” that could count as a credit in Film Studies, in Anthropology/Sociology, in Asian Studies, or in Music (part of the course looks at cinematic music). Showing your registrar or music administrator the syllabus from the course can help seal the deal.
Although students may well get push-back from their applied teachers at home, it is not inconceivable (for particularly adventurous students) to study abroad and NOT formally study their major instrument. It’s only 3-4 months, guys, and the pluses of gathering experience in exciting new corners of the globe — perhaps on a program related to a second major you’re doing — can easily outweigh the minus of taking a short break. (You can still take your instrument along and ask your applied teacher to assign you a list of repertoire to explore independently.) Short term — thinking about your upcoming senior recital — this decision might seem suicidal. Long term — thinking about getting into grad school or making your mark professionally in an increasingly competitive music scene — such a decision could make perfect sense for you. There won’t be many graduating music majors looking for work (or grad school admission) who’ll have unique musical experience in a place like India to showcase in their resumes and applications!
Wherever you might think of going……..GO! Currently, music students are among the least well-traveled of college students. But being so tied down (to your home institution, your applied teacher, and your traditional curriculum) could come back to bite you as the music field becomes increasingly competitive, diverse, and globally interconnected. If it was up to me, I’d REQUIRE my students to study abroad!
This is great advice. I studied music at both the undergrad and grad levels and have been working as a professional singer for some time. I’ve also been keeping a day job working with international college students (mostly non-music). I’m now looking at making a career out of a combination of fields that I wouldn’t have thought possible before (because very few places seem to be doing it), but a combination that nevertheless seems increasingly relevant in our ever-shrinking, connected world: music and cross-cultural collaboration. Do you have any thoughts on institutions to look into working with/for that have such an innovative mindset?
Fantastic Article! I was debating on whether to do a semester abroad or maybe just invest in a music camp overseas where I would be placed in a conservatory-like setting with my teachers already picked out for me. However, your article swayed me to do the semester abroad. Out of curiosity, was the cost for your private lessons very high or would it be about the same as it would be in the states (meaning 50-100 per lesson)? Furthermore, how much was music involved in the program or was it good balance of Gen Ed and specialized music courses?
Thank you for both your response and also for your further questions! I’m very glad my article was beneficial for you! With regards to your first question, I don’t have a specific answer for you, unfortunately. University of London Goldsmiths paid for my lessons with my teacher, which was very lucky, because they had a teacher for me to study with through the University (which most definitely would have been paid for) but my professor from home wanted me to take lessons with someone specific outside the University. Just based upon what I have heard from other friends who have studied abroad, I would think that the range of cost you mentioned would probably be applicable, at least throughout Europe. However, I cannot give you a definitive answer on that one and I would highly recommend that you inquire whether or not your lessons would be paid for through the University/Program you choose to attend, in order to save you money and the excess stress of determining rates, etc. The reason I say this is because I paid for my first few private lessons here in London before finding out that Goldsmiths would pay for the remainder of my lessons (which was ok because my teacher, being the friend of my home University teacher, was very kind and only charged twenty pounds, despite being extremely highly qualified to teach university level students).
In answer to your next question, at Goldsmiths I am taking an Introduction to Social Anthropology; a course entitled London the Worlds Music Capital where I attend music performances of all kinds and then do reviews on them; a classical performance class and a Music and Modernism musicology course. So, mostly music but the reasons behind my choice of classes were both requirements from University of Denver as well as just classes I found interesting. You will need to check with your degree requirements and then go from there, I imagine, because there may be class sequences (like mine in the performance category and musicology) which you have to have a certain amount of credits in by the time you graduate,etc. It really just depends on the program you choose, which will tell you whether or not you get to choose your own classes, or if they are already determined. It seemed to me, when I was deciding where to go, that different schools and programs had varying degrees of flexibility regarding class schedule and balance between Gen. Ed and music.
Hope this help! let me know if you have other questions.
Beautiful article! I have always been impressed with Julia’s musicianship, intelligence and vast knowledge. The points she makes are things I would have never thought of!
I am now also impressed with what Majoring in Music .com has to offer. This article is exactly the kind of information that has not been readily available to student musicians in the past.
I’m going to make sure that young musicians hear about this . Thanks. Marilyn.
Thank you so much for your comments! Also, thank you for passing along the information of Majoring in Music.com; this website is such a wonderful resource for young musicians planning their futures! I wish it had existed when I was applying for college; of course I am very happy with the University I chose, but it would have made the entire application process easier.