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OUMS does some brilliant work to create and support opportunities for music-making on a University level, but the amazing efforts within colleges are often overlooked. In a new series exclusively for OPUS, Evie Brenkley is on a mission to go behind-the-scenes and reveal the very best of College Music.

The first spotlight falls on perhaps the newest of the bunch, recently resurrected and rebranded: Lady Margaret Hall's Aula. Earlier in the term, she caught up with fellow first year muso (and OUMS Secretary-Elect!) Christopher Churcher, who talked through his thoughts behind LMH's newly re-established Music Society, and the impact he hopes to make on the Oxford music scene.

You've been the driving force behind getting College Music at LMH back on its feet. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

Arriving at Oxford, the concepts you’re introduced to on the music course are so inspirational because it is so much about the way music and musicology nowadays needs to change, and the processes which are currently unjust. With this in mind, looking at college music societies, I was quite surprised at how un-diverse a lot of the programming is. I know that the LMH Music Society used to be a very active and vibrant group but it lost its way thanks to Covid. I wanted to refound our music society but with a difference.

It sounds like a really cool addition to the Oxford music scene! You've chosen to give the LMH Music Society a name in its own right - what is it, and where did it come from?

Perhaps this is a bit odd(!) seeing as we’re all about breaking down barriers, however 'Aula' is the Latin word for ‘Hall’ (as in Lady Margaret Hall). I like it because it's a short word which isn’t ‘X College Music Society’ and doesn’t have an immediate meaning attached to it – it helps establish the idea that you can construct what you want out of our society, with no preconceptions. Though our home is at LMH, I definitely want us to be considered as a music collective at the University of Oxford.

Cool! So what kind of things will Aula do that are different from the more traditional college society?

We want to host recitals that aren’t just audiences sitting and listening, but rather experiment with different ways of interaction between the audience and performer(s) - current thoughts include Q and A sessions, seating in the round and generally promoting much more of an informal sharing experience. Everyone has an equal part in the act of music-making in a performance. The goal is to have 2 or 3 concerts a term which have been specially curated; each one will be an event in itself, at different times of day, in a different setting and so on. No two concerts will be the same.

When is your first concert and what else is in the pipeline?

Our first concert, ‘Vox Feminina’ is on Tuesday 7th March, and will feature vocal music by female composers. Beyond that we have lots of different plans including sound installations with composers on the Masters programme here in Oxford. Next year, we are planning on curating introductions to some composers (e.g. a concert of works by Missy Mizzoli), as a way of introducing vibrant voices in contemporary music to students.

It sounds like you've got some awesome plans. Is the music you showcase going to be a bit whacky and inaccessible for those who aren't classical music fans?

Absolutely not! I am obviously really keen to programme diversely, but we’re not trying to actively make an effort to represent diverse voices - we’re just trying to show that classical music is diverse (it just doesn’t get performed regularly because of the way it’s been treated historically).In many ways there is a stuffy environment around Oxford, and yet so many of the courses are so progressive - including music - (covering postcolonialism, deconstruction theory etc.). Classical music is still being written; it’s evolving, it’s changed, it’s pertained to philosophical ideas, it has something to say about the modern world and about contemporary society.

Okay, so who is Aula actually for?

Our target demographic is non-musicians! I would love Aula to be a first musical gateway for students, with introductions to amazing but lesser known composers as Philip Glass, Anna Clyne, Fanny Hensel, Lili Boulanger (the list goes on!) - these are amazing historical figures that we should listen to. If there is one thing that I could achieve in the next 2 years it would be for someone who has never properly listened to classical music before to put some Anna Clyne on their Spotify playlist – if I can achieve that then I’ll be happy!

How can people get involved with the work that Aula does?

We currently have vacancies for a Secretary and a Media Officer, but we're also conscious of breaking a little bit out of the traditional hierarchy of President, Vice President and so on, that you get with committees – anyone who performs at or comes along to an Aula concert is a member! People can get involved and find out more by emailing - we would love to hear from anybody who plays or writes music!

Vox Feminina | 5pm | Tuesday 7th March | Mary O’Brien Room at LMH

Featuring performances from Steph Garrett, Ella Machtynger and Erin Swyn, singing vocal music by female composers.


Aula @ LMH

twitter & instagram: @aula_lmh


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