Music plays a central part in a lot of our lives, and with so many music-based events cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic, members of the Oxford University Music Society (OUMS) had to overcome hurdles to continue their usual activities. Reuben Tendler is a second-year Music student at Pembroke and the current President of OUMS. Reuben shares the experiences of the society and how they got adapted during the pandemic.
The pandemic: a big blow for music
"OUMS is one of the largest student societies in Oxford, with nine ensembles and hundreds of members. With live music-making the bulk of our activity, a pandemic that thrives on human contact and aerosol transmission was always going to pose a challenge. Along with most things, then, music has taken a back seat to students’ experiences of Oxford this year. Concerts have gone unperformed, varsity trips to Cambridge untaken, competitions such as UniBrass unwon, and instruments unplayed. Most of all, though, the fun of playing and singing, meeting fellow musicians, and performing for friends and family has been missed. "
Adapting to the 'new normal'
"Whilst a lot has not happened, however, our ensembles have adapted to often vague and hard-to-find restrictions extremely well, if in widely different ways. The most active group has been the Brass Band, who have now resumed rehearsals indoors after taking part in a successful pilot of outdoor rehearsals in University Parks. On top of this, they recorded a piece for UniBrass’ recent CD. Other societies have also recorded performances, with the Orchestra performing a large-scale Christmas piece and the Jazz Orchestra compiling an OUJO Online series. The Wind Orchestra introduced a live element, rehearsing online each week and finishing the last two terms with a virtual concert. Whilst the challenges of online rehearsals have meant most ensembles are now raring to play in-person, some—such as the String Ensemble and Symphonic Band—are steadfastly keeping up activity on the screen."
Connecting with the community
"All this was on top of having to hold our main recruitment drives—the freshers’ fair and our Michaelmas Term auditions—online. Far from discouraging new members, however, this alternative activity saw a huge growth in accessibility. Auditions were extremely well-attended, and by a much wider audience than usual. Last year’s brilliant Access & Outreach Officer, Ellen O’Brien, was instrumental in establishing links with local schools and care homes, who were extremely appreciative to receive copies of all our virtual performances. At Christmas, we built on these relationships to create a musical advent calendar, featuring groups all around Oxford. This raised over £2000 for Homeless Oxfordshire, and demonstrated how vital the wider community is to Oxford’s thriving musical life."
Looking to the future
"This year then, we hope to continue and strengthen our outreach programmes, as well as maintaining accessibility through keeping the option to audition online. Of course, another top priority is to return to in-person rehearsals smoothly and safely, and for all ensembles. Next year there will be a large musical thirst to quench; with 2022 also marking OUMS’s 150th anniversary, Oxford’s live music scene can be sure to make a comeback."
Get involved with the music scene at Oxford
To find out more about OUMS, you can visit their own dedicated website. You can also find out about other musical societies and rehearsals via the links below:
- Oxford University Wind Orchestra
- Oxford University Jazz Orchestra’s OUJO Online series
- Oxford University Brass Band’s UniBrass CD recording
- Find out more about the University’s Online rehearsal service (SSO required)