Undergraduate Student at Jesus College
How I came to study Music
I have been dedicated to music since early childhood, thanks to my dad who is a self-taught musician. I come from a small town, Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia, which is fortunate enough to have many talented musicians. However, the Slovak educational system is not at all friendly towards studying Performing Arts, and I do not think I have ever heard of a Musicology degree in Slovakia. With the mentality from the previous Communist regime still surviving in the political situation, arts are generally undermined as an academic subject, and even though practical performance is popular, most musicians in Slovakia are simply volunteers doing music alongside their full-time jobs. Hence, before coming to the UK I had never even thought about studying Music as an academic subject.
My musical experience started in our church choir at home, and subsequently similar youth choirs constituted most of my musical life in Slovakia. I started attending the local Arts School when I was 7 (in Slovakia you cannot take music lessons in your school but have to attend a separate school in the afternoon), taking piano and singing lessons and singing in a choir. I have always been immensely grateful for my Arts School and for all the supportive and enthusiastic teachers I have the honour to meet there. However, seeing how all of our frequent performances, which were mostly compulsory requirements from the city council, were done on a volunteer basis and organised by our teachers in their free time, I have always been aware of the fact that the life of musicians in Slovakia is difficult. Thus, when I mentioned to one of my secondary-school teachers that I was considering going to a conservatoire, she tried strongly to persuade me to change my mind, warning me that I would not be able to find a job. After that I started taking organ lessons because my church needed an assistant organist – which was also an unpaid position. However, I loved organ music so much (also in large part thanks to the enthusiasm of my organ teacher) that I decided that even if I was not able to study music, I certainly wanted to dedicate a significant part of my time to music.
In 2015 I applied for the HMC Scholarship, and I was awarded a full scholarship for one year at a British private Sixth Form college. Hence, I found myself at Mayfield School in East Sussex, which has been immensely kind and supportive and also granted me a Music Scholarship, seeing that despite my enthusiasm for music I was not able to afford to pay for organ lessons. I was very excited to be able to take a Music A-level because at a Slovak secondary school (equivalent of Sixth Form) that was impossible. Once I started learning about music more from the academic point of view, I acquired a great passion for reading and writing about music. In Year 12 I had to work incredibly hard to get used to English as my main language and English in academic writing, as well as to a completely different educational system. Fortunately, the school appreciated my hard work and decided to prolong my scholarship for another year, so that I could finish my Sixth Form there and apply to a university here in the UK.
One of my Music teachers sent me to an Organ Scholarship Open Day at Jesus College, Oxford. Only on the way to Oxford did I gradually realise that this was the legendary Oxford about which I had only heard in some films and books. I also knew nothing about organ scholarships, but Megan Daffern, the Chaplain at Jesus College, was very kind and supportive, and remained in touch with me, encouraging me to apply. Equally supportive was Jeremy Summerly, the Director of Music at St Peter’s College, who was so kind as to listen to me playing to help me decide about possibilities of studying Music. Now being here in Oxford I have realised that his help was representative of everyone’s willingness to help students pursue their interests at university if they are enthusiastic. Before the admission process, I still had to improve my academic skills, since until Year 12 I had never been accustomed to studying music outside practical performance. Nevertheless, all the interviewing tutors in Oxford appreciate enthusiasm for the subject first and want to give us the chance to improve our academic abilities if we do have that enthusiasm, even if we do not come from such an academic background. And therefore, even though I did not expect it at all, I found myself reading Music and being an organ scholar at Jesus College in Oxford!
I realise that I have been very lucky to come across all the wonderful opportunities which got me where I am now. However, the key decision was to pursue my interests and apply even though I knew I did not have a big chance. Hence, I hope that my experience might encourage you to apply and not be put off if you come from a background that did not prepare you for Oxford admissions, because your enthusiasm for music and willingness to work hard is what counts here!