Today we have Part 2 of Jonty's Music Interview at Oxford:
In both my interviews, the material they gave me to study made up a large chunk, but it is only a part of the whole thing. The rest of the interview will be made up by more general questions which are trying to prompt a discussion. They will probably pick up on things in your personal statement – for example, I do Maths and Further Maths, so I was grilled extensively on how I apply maths to my music, how maths relates to music in a more general sense and whether minimalism is mathematical in its conception. Needless to say, I didn’t have a clue how to answer any of these questions, but it’s the way you think they’re interested in, not what you know!
My only advice is to just talk about music with as many people as you can; discuss what’s on the radio, your favourite composers, why you think Classical music is still so male-dominated and anything else you can think of. The more you talk about music, the better you’ll become at it, and the more passionate and engaged you’ll seem in your interview.
One thing which makes the process for music students so different is the audition. This may sound very scary, but really it was actually pretty informal. I arrived at the music faculty and then had to wait a little while for my turn. I was lead to a practice room where I had 10 minutes or so to warm up, and then it was show time. When I entered the room, I was greeted very warmly and there was a little bit of small talk to make me feel at ease – it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Then they invited me to sit down at the piano and asked me to play when I was ready. That was it. As it turned out, my performance went totally (pardon the French) tits-up. It didn’t start well when my first notes literally didn’t make any noise – I hadn’t pressed hard enough. So I had to restart, and I just about got through the piece making numerous mistakes and completely fluffing several entire passages. When I looked over to the ‘panel’ of listeners, they smiled and said thank you very much. Then then asked me a few questions about myself – why the piano, how long I’d been playing etc. – and I left. Overall, I thought it went rather badly but they do stress that the audition is really only a formality to check you are of a certain standard. They completely understand that you’ll be nervous and probably won’t play your best, but don’t think that the audition is the be all and end all. Look what happened to me, and I still got an offer!
The word I would use to describe my experience of music interviews would probably have to be ‘surreal’. They weren’t really what I expected at all, and I couldn’t have predicted any of the questions that I ended up being asked. I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t prepare, but if you’re spending loads of time doing interview practice and planning answers to questions then I’d be tempted to say you’re wasting your time to some extent. You’d be much better off doing the things I suggested, and also just developing your passion for your subject. At the end of the day, you’re spending several days in a beautiful city (and getting to miss school in the process) with lovely people and getting to talk about the subject which you love with people who also love the subject. I had an awesome time during my stay, and I met loads of lovely people and it was just a really good experience. Of course I was very nervous for my interviews, but my main advice to anyone about the whole experience would just be to try and enjoy it.