With a concert pretty much every day of the week, Oxford students – whether they want to perform or simply to listen – enjoy a lively music scene. The Oxford University Music Society (OUMS) is the university’s umbrella music organisation, and manages eight official student ensembles, from the Oxford University Orchestra to the Oxford University Jazz Orchestra. The variety of groups means that there is an ensemble to suit players of every technical standard. The university is also home to college choirs, acappella groups and countless student bands, so whether you want to sing at Evensong or play acoustic guitar at an open mic night, there are opportunities for performers of any genre.
The Oxford Gargoyles are the university’s only jazz a capella group, renowned for musically innovative black-tied performances. We perform regularly in the UK and tour internationally – this year we spent an incredible 3 weeks touring Japan, Hong Kong, China and Macau. We also perform annually at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival: I’ve just got back from this year’s stint, which was one of the most fun (and rewarding) experiences I’ve ever had. Rehearsals are really enjoyable as well as being musically challenging: our repertoire this year has ranged from classic jazz standards such as ‘Blame it on my Youth’, to a jazz/funk reworking of ‘The Gospel Truth’ from the Disney film Hercules. I also really enjoy the social side, and have made some great friends as part of the group. Next year will be a great one to join the group, with plans for an exciting tour and recording a new studio album lined up. Auditions to welcome new members are held each October – if you love singing and want an a capella experience like no other, the Gargoyles could be for you!
OUWO is an ensemble of woodwind, brass and percussion players who all study at Oxford, which is conducted by a student too. Although you usually have to audition to become a member, as with other groups within OUMS (Oxford University Music Society), rehearsals are a relaxed and friendly though focused and talented environment - and at the end of each term, there's a concert to showcase the great music which the ensemble has been working on.
I’m sure that any ensemble-loving musician would tell you that concerts are the most thrilling part of being a musician, and this is without doubt the case for me. I've been in various orchestras, chamber groups etc., and each performance gives you a rush of adrenaline when everything's going right and the sound is great. I could say this about OUWO too, but what makes it even more special for me is the music. I'm provided with more testing but rewarding pieces each time I turn up for rehearsal. When that all comes together, the long practices and annoying little things that ages to get right are finally worth it. Heard of Milhaud or Grainger? I hadn't, but a concert later I can't get enough.
I’ve loved travelling with Out of The Blue - performing and meeting people from across the world (and all for free which is a bonus). In my two years we went to both coasts of the USA, Canada, Norway, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Malta, India and the Edinburgh Fringe. For me, Norway, Malta and India were particularly amazing. And one particular gig in Edinburgh, singing to over 3000 people, is something I will never forget. Singing with students at unis like Stanford and Yale, being part of a 6 million-viewed viral music video shared by Shakira and singing on live national TV a handful of times must come pretty up there too!
It has been the best two years of my life. Some of my best friends from across uni have come from OOTB, who I’m sure will remain as some of my closest friends in life. The travelling is incredible. The musical satisfaction is enormous. The experiences I’ve had will stay with me forever. As a singer, nothing has come close to the opportunity I’ve had to perform to thousand-strong audiences and experience the hugely positive reaction they’ve had to our concerts. That buzz from performing never goes away. If entertainment is something that you want to do in the future, the contacts made through this group are invaluable. But on top of all that there are skills (not necessarily expected) gained from being in an efficient, hard working group of Oxford students that I’ll take away for life. Doing rehearsals, managing a team, dealing with finances, arranging music, organising tours, liaising with people in national media/TV/journalism, designing artwork, creating music videos, managing a Youtube channel, implementing social media/PR plans, recording/mixing music are just some of the skills that are taken away by members, depending on the roles they have, that set us up well for lots of careers. For me, making music videos and being able to see a project through from the very starting idea right up to a finished video is incredibly satisfying. Also, people often expect that our work suffers. Happily, looking at the degrees that members come out with, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all! To top it off it’s all for free - so you’ll never spend a penny for being in the group!
I saw Dot’s Funk Odyssey play at New College Ball in my first year and was determined to audition. Every gig with the band is awesome, but the one evening that sticks out for me is playing at Trinity and Worcester balls on the same night, and supporting Aluna George, Clean Bandit, and Stornoway.
Why would I recommend joining the band? It’s a great group of people, great music, and it provides the opportunity to experience all the best events in Oxford, including many of the Commemoration Balls.
For my first two years at Oxford I’ve been a member of the Oxford Alternotives, Oxford’s premier mixed, contemporary a cappella group. I got involved in the group because I love singing but chapel choirs aren’t really my thing. I saw them at the Freshers’ Fair, had a chat and then auditioned for them in 1st week. Being a part of the group has been one of the best things I’ve done in my time at university. In my first year we toured the USA, staying with top collegiate a cappella groups on the east coast, and for the last two years I’ve done two hugely successful runs with them at the Edinburgh fringe! Other than this, through the group I’ve made some of my closest friends – people from different colleges and years I never would have met otherwise.
OUJO is Oxford’s official Big Band, comprised of 20 instrumentalists from across the university. We play a huge number of gigs throughout the year, from packing out the Jericho Tavern to more serious sit-down events such as the Varsity Jazz-off against our Cambridge rivals CUJO and the pick of the summer balls!
I came across the OUJO stand at Freshers’ Fair last year. After my initial audition I was asked to learn two songs and come and try them out with the rest of the band at a callback and then I was in.
My best OUJO experiences would include selling out the Sheldonian hosting its first ever Big Band performance with Tina May and Nigel Hitchcock as guests, a charity ball at Blenheim Palace, OUJO pub golf in full golfing attire and a 4am set we did for the survivors of Brasenose ball.
OUJO is a brilliant opportunity to play with Oxford’s finest jazz musicians, do some amazing gigs and be part of a group that also likes to have a good time on its days off.