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Durham University

Colleges & wider student experience

Student news

Making music across the world

(17 February 2021)

Selection of makeshift instruments

The objects used for the project

As a musician, nothing beats being able to play your music with others. The current pandemic makes that delicate choreography challenging – but not impossible – as our Music Department has shown.

A second year composition module has been formulated to connect our students across the world and reach wider audiences, offering them an insight into the challenges faced by modern day musicians.

The result – students composing, working and playing music together across eight different time zones, with the potential to shape how musicians work in a post-pandemic world.

Equal access to materials

The project had students write scores by hand and perform each other’s pieces over Zoom. This was made possible through our Music Department’s distribution of instrument packs, comprised of 15 inexpensive objects, providing equal access to the same sounds.

The inexpensive objects – made from wood, glass, metal and paper - enabled our students to choose from a wide range of sound sources that could be reproduced irrespective of location.

With equal access to these objects, students could explore the sound world that they wanted to create, secure in the knowledge that whether in China or the Caribbean, they could be joined by others able to perform the piece at the same time.

And the band played on

As well as creating their own pieces, the project enabled students to write and conduct for others across the world. The results to date have been impressive, with some memorable pieces created and students conducting each other across Zoom calls. All offer an exciting insight into how modern music continues to be shaped by the simplest of objects.

With many new collaborative projects spring boarding from this initial exercise, the Postal Composition Project was well received by our staff and students alike and is now viewed as, not simply a stop gap during a pandemic, but a vital insight into what it is like to perform as a modern day musician.

Find out more

Our Music Department has been rated as the top UK music department for four years running in The Complete University Guide (2018 - 2021) and for three of the past four years in The Sunday Times Good University Guide Table (2018, 2019 and 2021).

We ranked first in the Guardian University League Table in 2019 and 2021, and appeared in the top three in the Research Excellence Framework 2014.