What I’ve learned studying at a Conservatoire

My name is Emily Abdy and I am now in my final year as an undergraduate composition student at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. As well as writing music, I’ve also spent my time here running a YouTube channel and carrying out academic research on superhero film music.

I can’t cover all of the personal and creative development I’ve experienced since beginning my studies here, but I thought an explanation of some of the main things I’ve learned would be a good way to start.

Emily Abdy
BMus Composition student

Emily Adby blog primary

We are all teachers, as we are all learners

One-to-one lessons, lectures and seminars have, without a doubt, been informative and beneficial to developing my work. However, I would say I have learned just as much from talking to and working with my peers as I have from my tutors. This may be partly to do with the community feel of the Composition Department and the nature of sessions such as the LAB where we share ideas and feedback as a department, with little feel of divide between the two groups. Discussing my work in my own time and collaborating with other composers, performers and music technicians has given me so much in terms of creative ideas, technical knowledge and practical skills.

Try everything!

When I arrived at the conservatoire, I came from both a traditional classical performance and song writing/gigging background. I had never been exposed to contemporary classical music or performance art and I at first felt overwhelmed and way out of my depth. By taking part in workshops and lessons with supportive tutors which focused on areas of music and composition I wasn’t as comfortable with, I was able to take different things from every experience which could contribute to my own creative practice. I may not be performing Fluxus on the regular but it has allowed me to think about music creation in a completely different way. This has then given me confidence to tackle new challenges and try new things independently.

Mistakes are okay

I do admit that now I look back at some of the pieces I wrote and performances I gave in my first couple of years and cringe internally. Either the concepts behind the piece weren’t very well thought out, the way I handled the instruments or voices in question weren’t ideal, the recording or performance didn’t go to plan, or I simply don’t like it anymore! I also think that a few years ago I would have been overly self-critical about this but, through my experience at the conservatoire, I have realised this is how I have developed and improved to get to where I am now. Maybe even more importantly, I’m no longer afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are how you grow and improve at your craft, and the supportive environment of the Composition Department allowed me to make them without feeling at risk.

This is what I want to do

As I mentioned earlier, my first couple of years at the conservatoire were spent feeling largely like a fish out of water. I know I am not the only creative to suffer from imposter syndrome, where you wonder how you got here and whether you are deserving of the rewards you have reaped and achievements you have gained. I often questioned whether this was what I really wanted to do. Maybe I should have done a history degree instead? Being an artist in any capacity is hard – your work is often so close to you, yet always subjective and exposed to criticism. What does help, is being surrounded by people who are going through the same thing that you are and understand. In this environment, I’ve been able to redefine my relationship with music and composition at my own pace. I now know this is what I want to strive to continue to do for the rest of my life. I have even gone as far as to apply for my Master’s at RBC, as I feel I have potential to develop even more as an artist.

Beans on toast is great!

We might be studying at a Conservatoire, but we’re still students! I would recommend keeping a few tins of baked beans in your kitchen cupboard for when there is far too much musical excitement in your life to have time to cook a proper meal.

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