Anton Blackburn

Undergraduate Student at Jesus College

How I came to study Music

I was raised by my dad, a joiner, in a rural area of south Middlesbrough, an industrial town about an hour from Newcastle. Studying music at university is almost unheard of in Middlesbrough, since classical music has strong associations with elitism and simply isn’t seen as a ‘safe’ option, unlike medicine, law, or vocational education for something such as . . . joinery! Having said that, here I am after years of support from my family, friends, and teachers.

I started playing clarinet at the age of 13 in a secondary school that didn’t offer musical education at all, thanks to an assistant teacher who happened to play the euphonium (rather well) – he volunteered to teach a variety of instruments in our school for free. Whilst I wasn’t given the ‘best’ technical clarinet tuition, my teacher was inspirational and always made me believe I could do anything if I worked hard. Although I began to take clarinet somewhat seriously, my main interests for a long time at school were Theatre Studies and German. When it came to choosing A-levels, however, I decided that my long-term goal was to study clarinet at conservatoire. My new clarinet teacher informed me that I wasn’t good enough to become a clarinettist, but she did tell me that I could study Music at university and then maybe audition afterwards. My new plan was, then, to study Music and German at any university that would take me. Since my school didn’t offer Music (though it was one of the few sixth forms in Middlesbrough that offered German), I had to write numerous letters and campaign for my school to let me take the course. Within 2 weeks of studying A-level Music by myself I realised that I enjoyed reading and writing about music far more than I did performing it.

When applying to Oxford from a background like mine, you don’t really have anyone to ask even the most seemingly basic of questions. However, I personally emailed Professor Aspden (now my tutor at Jesus) multiple times before and after getting my offer. For someone like me, with no family having gone to university and coming from an underperforming state comprehensive in the north east, reading the line ‘I’m pleased you’re still considering applying to Oxford!’ in a first response was one of the most encouraging parts of the journey and shows that the tutors here are approachable and can provide the best first-hand advice if you’re worried about/don’t know something.

After a long process (which at first seemed impossible) of discovering, applying to, and being accepted by Oxford, I am now here in my first year studying what I love. At the moment, my main interests are in music and identity, medieval music, and popular music studies (although, my interests seem to change every term). I hope to go on to study for a doctorate in musicology and then hopefully remain in the world of research.