By David Winlo
If you’re a musical student, UEA’s lack of a music degree may have come as a bit of a shock. It certainly did to me, and in addition to this it brought up some concerns about what else musical may be missing from the university, not all of which were unfounded.
The university itself seems to place little emphasis on the playing and performing of music, with the Music Centre, the LCR, and the various musical societies taking up this important responsibility. I find the Music Centre in particular does well at this, with several impressive musical ensembles, one of which – the symphony orchestra – I am proud to call myself a member of. However, ensemble playing is not all there is to it: if you’re in an ensemble, you need to practice your part on your own; if you’re not, you definitely want to practice and play on your own sometimes. Now, your flatmates or housemates may have forgiven the first few times their alarm clock was you playing a soothing bit of Mozart, but that vicious piece by Rimsky-Korsakov, or that time you tried to actually play Dragonforce’s ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ on the guitar, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and now you need to find somewhere else to practice every now and again.
That’s okay, we have practice rooms on campus for that, in the Music Centre building, at the bottom of The Street. But how on earth does it all work? The door, the double-doors, the windows, and all the people you walk in on during a page-turn or between pieces. Don’t worry, I was in and out of those rooms plenty in my first two years at UEA, and am here with a few tips to help you enjoy your time in them.
- The various doors. I’ve seen a few people stuck outside the Music Centre building, unsure how to get in. I’ve seen a good few more stuck inside the building, unable to get into the practice rooms. This is an easy place to start: to enter the building just press the button in front of and to the right of the doors, and they’ll open. To get into the practice rooms you need to pay a small, one-off fee (£10 for non-members of either the Music Society or one of UEA’s ensembles, £5 if you are a member), which will enable you to scan your campus card on the sensor to the left of the door to the practice rooms, as you do to enter the library. This will unlock the door temporarily – if you’ve got loads of stuff you might have to be quick or have someone with you, as the door does lock itself again for security. But then, you’re in, and the music can begin!
- Once in the practice rooms, I’ve seen a few unfortunate people who I’ve disturbed in their practicing, or who have disturbed me, in a silent moment of some sort. To stop this happening to you, remember to check the signs on the practice room walls for some of the rules of use of the rooms. You’ll see that users are asked to turn the sign outside their room to ‘do not disturb’ when they’re using the room. Just remember to do this, and crucially to turn it back when you’re finished so the signs aren’t telling people not to enter an empty room, and you should nearly never get people walking in on you in the middle of your Chopin. Also, I am always grateful when I find that someone left one or both doors to the room they were using slightly ajar after leaving. That way I can tell nobody is in there even before looking at the sign by the door, and I don’t have to listen to the sounds coming from that or any room to check, though if you are unsure about a room’s occupancy I do recommend doing this to avoid any awkward encounters.
- Don’t worry about background noise. You will sometimes hear people outside the building, and perhaps become aware that they can hear you, as well as you being able to hear your neighbours in the other practice rooms. You may then worry that that last scale you played was not quite how it was when you were still at home having lessons. My advice is simply not to think too much about it. For one thing, my violin teacher once told me that if someone can hear you practicing and likes what they’re hearing, then you’re practicing wrong. Practicing is for the bits that don’t sound good yet! Anyway, if your playing does sound good, you’re probably just brightening somebody’s day out there. As for the people in the other practice rooms, they’re in exactly the same boat as you, and will tune you out just as you tune them out.
- Bring your own equipment. This point is of course not for pianists, but everyone else should bring their own instrument, amplifier, or whatever else they may need. You won’t find slightly worn guitars and some other instruments in the rooms as you did in sixth form college or high school, so guitarists in particular should plan to bring whatever equipment they may need, and be aware that an amplifier in a room where you may overhear any non-amplified instrument is to be used carefully, and considerately, while you’re at it.
- Give feedback! I recently noticed a sign on the wall on my way into the practice rooms which asks for feedback about them. The practice rooms are a great asset to the musical life of the uni, and have been also to my main hobby over the past two years, so I feel some feedback, both positive and constructive, would be a good thing to give back.
Finally, I would encourage any and all students who use the practice rooms, on their own or in a small group, to enjoy themselves! Coming in to practice during the stress of your exams and essays is a really fun and relaxing thing to do, and it’s been shown time and time again that playing music helps people out in all sorts of other ways, including with academic study. So if that assignment has you really stumped and the library is starting to grate on you because of it, pop in to the practice rooms, make music, and leave feeling satisfied that you can always find refuge in music while at UEA.
Photo by the author.