Thomas Iszatt

Undergraduate Student at Lincoln College

How I came to study Music

My parents both enjoyed music, and played instruments, but were maths and physio graduates. It is, however, probably my dad’s fault, as I sat of his knee when he played piano, that my interest in music was sparked. I had great opportunities to explore music throughout my early life: I started piano at age five, trombone at age eight, and I joined Birmingham Cathedral Choir when I was about nine, which provided me with great training, and a real feeling of belonging within a musical community. I was fortunate enough, having grown up in a comprehensive primary school, to receive a financial-assisted place to the local private school. This was quite a change, but my experience of my school was not one of discrimination, but of genuine acceptance, as well as a wealth of opportunities. There, I furthered my musical exploits, filling my lunchtimes with as many rehearsals as possible. During this time, I also picked up the bass guitar, and then the mandolin, developments which have since grown into a lifelong addiction to guitars and folk music.

When I came to apply to university, I was evenly torn between Music and Physics, even though a quiet voice in my head told me that I ought to do Physics, because it represented employability, respectability, and a good use of my brains. My assistant head reassured me that I ought to do what I would really enjoy and thrive in for the next three years, instead of trying to plan my whole life out at age 17. Quickly discovering that this was Music, I decided to give myself the best chance by striving for the top university I could, and whilst I did not pin my hopes exclusively on Oxford, I was lucky enough to receive a place.

At Easter of my lower sixth form, however, I was diagnosed with an acute medical condition, which progressed rather quickly and I was in hospital needing urgent medical attention only two months later. The condition had a short-term effect on my studies but it did damage my self-confidence, which meant I needed further operations to restore a greater sense of normality. I had the first stage done just after my exams at the end of sixth form, but complications led to a taxing summer and meant I was unable to have the final operation before leaving for Oxford. As a result, I didn’t have the emotional headspace to prepare my mind for the everyday, normal matters of university.

First term was hard. I was still recovering physically, and tiredness meant that I often passed on social occasions. This put me at risk of loneliness. I think that if I had been anywhere else, I simply would not have coped at all. It was thanks to the close-knit community of college, our chaplain, our nurse, our accessibility staff, as well as other aspects of Oxford, such as St Aldates Church, that I was able to keep going, find friends and settle in, despite my circumstances. I was even able to find some people who I could share my story with. Now I have had the second operation, and things have returned to relative normality, I am of course far more comfortable in myself, but I am glad that I was able to find a home here despite my medical oddities.

This is by no means intended to encourage those in a medical rut to rush into university, and if problems develop while you are at Oxford, you are able to defer a year to recover. On the other hand, for those who have longer-term issues or a similar insatiable drive to start university, I want to reassure you that Oxford is one of the best places to be, because the support is so personal, familial and honest.