Oxford Arts Blog

Students' charity Shakira medley goes viral

Clemency Pleming | 28 Jul 2014

Oxford student a cappella group Out of the Blue is raising money for local charity Helen and Douglas House with their take on Shakira.

This may be the first time Radcliffe Square has played host to a close-harmony rendition of 'Hips Don't Lie'. Shakira herself has tweeted the video, which has over 660,000 views on YouTube.


Soloist Ollie Nicholls, a student at St Anne's said: 'I think people are more forgiving when it's for charity; they can overlook the fact we can't dance. That's something I've not stressed enough actually. I don't want the fact that it's for charity to be lost in all the hype about Shakira. The charity is Helen and Douglas House, who we've been supporting for over eight years.'

The group has been supporting Helen and Douglas House since 2006, and has raised over £35,000 in that time, as well as performing in the charity’s annual variety show, Childish Things.

Project manager and Lincoln College student Marco Alessi said: 'We chose to make a video for 'Hips Don't Lie' because it's one of the sillier, more upbeat songs from our set, and has always been a hit at Helen and Douglas House when we've performed it there.

'We chose Helen and Douglas House because the work they do is absolutely incredible. They offer free respite and end-of-life care to children and young adults with severely life-limiting illnesses, and bereavement support for their families.

'We visit regularly so we’ve got to know the staff and we've spent time with some of the families staying there and we're constantly overwhelmed with how positive and high-spirited they all are. The work the hospice does is really extraordinary.'

The single is available to download on Bandcamp, with the option of making a charitable donation.

The story of the Trojan Horse is well-known. First mentioned in the Odyssey, it describes how Greek soldiers were able to take the city of Troy after a fruitless ten-year siege by hiding in a giant horse supposedly left as an offering to the goddess Athena.

But was it just a myth? Probably, says Oxford University classicist Dr Armand D'Angour: 'Archaeological evidence shows that Troy was indeed burned down; but the wooden horse is an imaginative fable, perhaps inspired by the way ancient siege-engines were clothed with damp horse-hides to stop them being set alight.'

There is even doubt about the existence of the man said to have written the Odyssey, Homer, who is considered to be the greatest of Greek epic poets. Dr D'Angour explains: 'It's generally supposed that the great epics which go under Homer's name, the Iliad and Odyssey, were composed orally, without the aid of writing, some time in the 8th Century BC, the fruit of a tradition of oral minstrelsy stretching back for centuries.

'While the ancients had no doubt that Homer was a real bard who composed the monumental epics, nothing certain is known about him. All we do know is that, even if the poems were composed without writing and orally transmitted, at some stage they were written down in Greek, because that is how they have survived.'

Dr D'Angour explains the origins of another eight stories and myths in an article for the BBC, which has been reached millions of people as one of the most shared on the website over the last few days.

Dr D'Angour is currently undertaking a two-year project to recover the sounds of Greek music and to work out what significance these sounds have for some of the most famous poems from Ancient Greece.

'Imagine a situation in which all we had of five centuries of Western opera were the libretti, and only a few fragments of the music,' he explains. 'Such a situation is, more or less, that of students who engage with the poetry of classical Greece, which covers around five centuries from 800 to 300 BC.

'The poets who composed the Iliad and Odyssey, the love poems of archaic Lesbos, the victory odes of the early fifth century BC, and the choral passages of Greek tragedy and comedy —  all composed the words to be sung and accompanied by musical instruments.

'Yet little attention is paid even to the rhythms so carefully inscribed into the words of these songs, which have long been known and studied under the forbidding aegis of Greek metre. Even less attention is paid to melodic structures, which thanks to the surviving fragments – as well voluminous writings by ancient authors and musical theorists (admirably translated and compiled by Andrew Barker in Greek Musical Writings) – is something on which we are now in a position to exercise an informed scholarly imagination.

'By neglecting the aural dimension, readers of ancient texts are bound to be missing something of the original aesthetic impact of these songs.'

Delegates from around the world came to Oxford to learn about the ways in which new technology is changing the humanities on last week's Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School (DHOxSS).

They also heard a talk from Martin Roth, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who spoke on the ways museums may change in response to new technologies.

From digitised archives and online reference material, to web-based teaching, online exhibitions, crowd-sourced research, and even app development, the “digital humanities” span a huge range of activities.

DHOxSS aimed to help researchers and students develop the skills and expertise to devise their own projects. It also gave them a chance to network: where traditional humanities might involve solitary work in the library, digital humanities research is often collaborative.

'Oxford has been very central in the development of digital humanities. It's always been at the forefront of using digital technologies to help humanities research,' said James Cummings, the director of DHOxSS. 'We offer a general introduction to digital humanities, as well as more technical courses, including digital libraries and curation.'

One digital humanities project at Oxford, CatCor, aims to produce a searchable online archive of the correspondence of Catherine the Great. Meanwhile, TopBib, a comprehensive bibliography of the monuments and artefacts of ancient Egypt, makes one of the longest-running research projects at Oxford available to the public online.

Public involvement is at the heart of many digital humanities projects, from open archives and online exhibitions, to large-scale calls for public contributions, as in the “citizen science” project, Ancient Lives, which involved 250,000 volunteers transcribing Greek papyrus documents on their own computers.

One of the highlights of the summer school was an open lecture by Martin Roth, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. He spoke about how museums can both survive and flourish in the digital age by using technology as a tool for democratisation, perhaps even leading to a reinvented museum without hierarchy.

'Martin Roth's talk was fascinating to practitioners of the digital humanities and interested members of the public alike,' said Stephen Tuck, director of TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, which hosted the lecture.

'It was interesting to hear how advances in digital design and media have changed museum practice while curatorial principles have remained the same since the 19th century.'

The summer school was organised by the University of Oxford's IT Services, the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC), the Bodleian Libraries, the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), and TORCH |The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition opens today at Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History.

The exhibition, which showcases some of the world's best nature photography, will be on display in the museum’s Main Court from today until 22 September.

The exhibition was put together after a worldwide competition in 2013. One of the winning entries is the ghostly image of elephants at a watering hole in Botswana's Northern Tuli Game Reserve (see above) by Greg du Toit.

'For many years I've wanted to create an image that captures their special energy and the state of consciousness that I sense when I’m with them,' he said. 'This image comes closest to doing that.'

To coincide with the exhibition, the museum is launching its own competition for photographs of wildlife a little closer to home.

It has asked for photographs of the swifts that nest in the museum's tower every spring. The winning image will be put on display alongside Wildlife Photographer of the Year from mid-August.

Curiosity and the Cat by Hannes Lochner

Although the vacation is upon us, Oxford's colleges are still busy with students on the UNIQ summer school. UNIQ aims to give high achieving state school students from socio-economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds a taste of what academic life at Oxford is like.

The results of UNIQ graduates are impressive. Of the 544 students who had previously taken part in UNIQ who applied to Oxford in 2013, 237 received offers – a success rate of 43.6% in comparison to 20% for the average applicant. This year more than 1,000 students will take part in the scheme.

This year's History summer schools were hosted by TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, and students studied 'Race and Protest in Modern America and Britain' and 'Gender, Identity and Change'.

Students taking these courses heard lectures from leading historians and even got the chance to meet British and American civil rights activists and hear about their experiences. Students took part in group discussions and did individual research to produce an essay which was discussed in an Oxford-style tutorial at the end of the week.

Blogs written by students who attended last week’s programme, which have been posted on the TORCH website, indicate why UNIQ has been so successful.

'My essay was a discussion on the benefits of comparing the American and British Civil Rights movements together,' said Martha Homfray-Cooper, a student at Stratton Upper School in Bedfordshire. 'This led me to analysis of primary sources such as newspaper reports, wrestling with historians’ opinions and the construction of a thoughtful argument.'

Martha added: 'The most helpful part of the week was the tutorial discussing the essay. This allowed me to develop my argument, discuss the relevance of sources and dig deeper into the history of civil rights. Also, having access to the Bodleian Library was a privilege and made the research all the more fascinating.

'The highlight of the experience for me was the talk from the activist Eric Huntley,’ said Rachael Beaty, a student at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Penrith. 'Before the summer schools, I had never come across the idea of a 'British civil rights movement', so to hear about it first hand from Eric was incredible.

'His perceptive nature towards racism in the late twentieth century was remarkable, to give such a positive light on Britain despite the hardship the country gave him was extremely humbling.'

Students and academics at Oxford who taught on the course were impressed with the students. 'I speak for all the graduate tutors when I say that the students' intelligence, confidence, and passion for History made them a pleasure to have in the discussion groups and tutorials,' said Michael Joseph, a third year History student who was a mentor on the 'Race and Protest' programme.

'Although they won't believe me, one of my favourite parts of the week was marking their essays! I was so impressed by how they had dealt with all the new factual information and the difficult, unfamiliar concepts they had encountered.'

'This year's summer school brought together activists, academics, current students and the UNIQ students to explore, in depth, new ways of thinking about the vitally important subject of the history of race equality and protest,' said Dr Stephen Tuck, director of TORCH.

'We all learnt from each other, and I think, were all excited about the opportunities that studying history and higher education provide.'

You can read the student blogs about UNIQ in full on the TORCH website.

The UNIQ website gives information for prospective applicants to next year’s programme.


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