Studio at Dartington College of Arts

What I learnt at school . . .

Studio at Dartington College of Arts

This post is a bit off topic, but I wanted to respond to an article in today’s Guardian about the skills gained through doing a music degree. I was left wondering whether the (anonymous) author had studied music, or had bothered to speak to people who had. S/he lists the following marketable points of a musical education:

What will look good on the CV?
· The ability to express, interpret and discuss arguments and hypotheses
· Awareness of spiritual and emotional dimensions
· Financial and business awareness, and entrepreneurship.

Short list, isn’t it? One of the reasons why this feature annoyed me so much is because it reduced my own (complex, sometimes difficult and frustrating, but ultimately worthwhile) learning experience into three bullet points. Three bullet points that promote a narrow, rather stereotyped view of music education. I studied music at Dartington College of Arts* between 2001 and 2005. I’ve done various kinds of work since then, musical and otherwise.  My music degree has proved to be an invaluable preparation for almost all of these roles and for life in general. While I don’t support a view of higher education that sees it as little more than a tool for getting a job, Dartington, for all its flaws, struck a good balance between the vocational/practical and learning for its own sake. I learned a lot.

In no particular order:

I learnt to organise and publicise events.

I learnt how to live and work within a small community (a process that featured a lot of learning from mistakes).

I learnt the importance of practice and persistence.

I learnt to listen (in different ways at different times, and I learnt to think about how I’m listening).

I learnt how to research.

I learnt communication skills that go beyond the written or verbal.

I learnt how to go about making work, and making money from it, if the job you want isn’t advertised in the Guardian recruitment section.

I learnt how to fill in health and safety forms.

I learnt to be resourceful.

I learnt to be analytical (in a range of ways, not just in the formal analysis of music).

I learnt how to liaise and negotiate with outside agencies.

I learnt about transferring or transcribing something from one medium to another, and to think about what is gained, lost or changed.

I learnt to do things differently.

I learnt to explore.

I learnt about the benefits and limits of technical languages, how to use them, and how not to use them.

I learnt to be self-reliant.

I learnt to work in a group.

I learnt to change my mind (and other people’s).

I learnt how to put fear and nervousness aside in order to stand up in front of an audience and play or speak.

I learnt how to explain my ideas to people who were studying different subjects.

I learnt to think outside the box. And inside the box. And to think about where the box was, who had put it there, and why. (I once did a performance in a box, but I guess that’s another story.)

I learnt to take insights from other disciplines and apply them to my own work.

I learnt to take insights from other disciplines and misuse them in creative ways.

I learnt about other cultures.

I learnt to critique and evaluate my own work and its relationship to the context within which it took place.

I learnt to be myself.

I learnt to play a part.

I learnt how little I know.

Sadly DCA no longer exists. I learnt – a little too late – the importance of standing up for what you believe in.

This is just my experience of doing a very particular course in a very particular place. There are as many different music degrees as there are universities offering them; nonetheless,  I think these courses, and their graduates, all have a bit more to offer than can be communicated by a brief entry in a university guide.

* I struggled to find a suitable link. The college’s old URL redirects to the website of University College Falmouth, the institution with which DCA merged in 2008. The Wikipedia page I eventually linked to contains a number of inaccuracies, but hopefully people will continue to improve it. I have added it to my own ‘to do’ list. What I recommend you do, if you want to read more about Dartington College of Arts (from a point of view even more biased and rose-tinted than mine!) is to type the old web address ( into the Wayback Machine.