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A day in the life of...Stuart Dunlop, Director of Music@Reading

Stuart Dunlop

'Everyone can join in with Music@Reading: see the ensemble details on our website and get in touch. We look forward to seeing you!'

As Director of Music@Reading, Stuart Dunlop is responsible for a wide range of musical activities that go on at the University, including the annual Christmas Concert…

How long have you been working at the University?

I've been working here as Director of Music for about five years now. Before this I was Assistant Director of Music at the University of Warwick. There was a well established non-academic Music Centre there, so coming to Reading, where I had the opportunity to build Music@Reading from the ground up, was very stimulating and inspiring. Before Warwick I was active as a freelance conductor and as bassoonist, playing at the Proms and recording contemporary music for Radio 3 being a couple of the highlights. I had a pretty good professional training too, at the Royal Academy of Music and at Aspen in the States.

Where did your love of music stem from?

I grew up in a completely non-musical family and it took me until secondary school to get hooked. Beethoven 3 - the Eroica - completely rearranged my insides and I've been in thrall ever since. Great music can be so visceral and it's not dependent on trend, it just waits for you to discover it. I'd like to pass that on since I'm so grateful that I was lucky enough to find it, so Music@Reading is a real mission for me.

What does your job entail?

Music@Reading exists to bring music to everyone who is involved with the University. The fact that Reading does not offer music degrees means that a wider range of people engage with our activities, and this is perhaps less intimidating here as everyone is choosing to get involved for fun and enjoyment, rather than as part of their work or studies.

Along with Reading University Music Society (RUMS), we run several ensembles (or groups of musicians) that are open to everyone, including members of the public, and many of them are un-auditioned. These are: Brass Band, Chamber Choir, Chorus, Flute Choir, Gospel Choir, Jazz Ensemble, Symphony Orchestra, University Singers, and Wind Band. I'm also trying to get a Big Band going this year. Further information about our ensembles is available on the Music@Reading website.

So, my job entails a lot of the admin behind running these ensembles, as well as the organisation of our programme of events, concerts and recitals (including the weekly, free Lunchtime series), admin for the music scholarships we offer, and a great deal of planning and programming. Conducting seems like a bonus after all that, but it is the practical music-making that keeps me going.

What role does music have at the University?

In a university context, music has several functions: it celebrates, it brings people together, it has a big part to play in external engagement (members of the community sing and play with us, as well as being part of our audience). Fundamentally though, it's just important for itself. We need to keep making music - actively, rather than as consumers of the recorded product - and the University can be proud of the work of large numbers of its students, staff and neighbours in keeping the spirit flourishing.

Can you describe a typical day in the life of the Director of Music?

9.00-11.00 - we get lots of email enquiries so the first few hours is spent responding to them and staying in touch with people. I deal with applications for scholarships, arrange rehearsals and auditions and help people to find music teachers in the local area. This is ongoing throughout the day but I dedicate time to it in the morning.

11.00-12.00 - I might have a meeting with RUMS to discuss an upcoming concert, or come up with ideas for future events. There's also planning of programmes and performers for future Lunchtime Concerts. It's been very satisfying recently to be able to include so many University members as performers - particularly the music scholars. We have also developed close links with the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music and get the benefit of some fantastic student performers.

12.00-13.00 - a lot of time is spent planning the programme for each event, and the term's programme as a whole. I try to find out what people might enjoy listening to and playing, and then my aim is to dovetail that with things that people may not have heard before. I always try to have a mixture of the familiar and not so, so that people are exposed to a variety of styles and composers.

13.00-14.00 - there are often lunchtime Chamber Choir rehearsals, or I might be holding auditions for some of the ensembles, or for prospective students who are applying for a music scholarship. This is one of my favourite parts of my job as I get to listen to some extremely talented musicians perform! On a Tuesday there's the Lunchtime Concert, of course.

14.00-17.00 - I have various meetings throughout the day, mainly in relation to upcoming events and projects and this is also my time for preparing music and quite often for producing scores and parts for performers or programme notes and other material for concerts.

18.30-21.30 - off to Bulmershe or the Great Hall for an evening rehearsal for one of the ensembles, sometimes with a social drink afterwards.

Who else do you collaborate with around the University?

My colleague, Alex Richardson, and I work closely with or alongside a wide range of people at the University: RUMS, as I've already mentioned; the Friends of the University; JSCA - the Arts Committee; Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve Mithen in relation to his external engagement strategy; and of course the many staff, student and alumni musicians around the University. I have two long-term aims: one is to further develop these and other connections so that everyone can get the best out of Music@Reading, the second is to get Steve Mithen singing in Chorus.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

One of my favourite events is the free Showcase we put on at the beginning of each academic year. It is usually in the second week of the first term, and provides an opportunity for the whole University community to come and experience the breadth of music that goes on here. It's fantastic what can be achieved in two rehearsals and really gives you a sense of the enthusiasm, the commitment and the talent that we're blessed with.

It's very inclusive and diverse and a great way to discover music to listen to, but equally importantly, it's a chance to see the ensembles that you might want to join. Everyone should come to a concert at the Great Hall; it's what it was made for and it's a simply wonderful hall for music.

What challenges do you face in your role?

I find that one of the biggest challenges for me is meeting people who don't think that they're good enough to be involved with Music@Reading. I am always trying to convince people that everyone can have a go, especially with singing. Chorus has a lot of members for whom it is their first experience of singing in a choir and I love the idea that we can be a starting point for such an extraordinary experience. We don't compromise on expectation or range (Mozart to Duke Ellington in the last few years) we just show that this fabulous music belongs to you too.

Scheduling can be a challenge too. Fitting in around academic timetabling can be difficult, and we don't have fixed locations on the Whiteknights campus for us to rehearse in.

So, how can staff get involved with Music@Reading?

You can come to a concert - Lunchtime Concerts every Tuesday are free. Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, Chamber Choir, Wind Band and others perform at the Great Hall at least once a term. Try the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto on Saturday 4th December, or sing yourself into the Christmas spirit on the 11th.

And everyone can join in: see the ensemble details on our website and get in touch. We look forward to seeing you! If you want instrumental or vocal lessons, or a practice room to use, we can help there as well.

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