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Faculty of Music



As soon as I arrived at Cambridge my musical world expanded rapidly, in all directions. The tripos was part of that – I could be untangling 13th-century notation in the morning and spend the afternoon studying Wagner’s Ring cycle from angles I’d never realised existed. But it was the music-making itself that I found transformative. I learned all kinds of music from the inside, singing and playing alongside people who would become lifelong friends. I played my violin and viola in dozens of chamber ensembles, in university orchestras and in ad-hoc college bands, sometimes rehearsing thoroughly, sometimes shamelessly winging it. I played in concerts at which some of today’s most sought-after conductors started honing their technique. I sang (and danced) in the first staging of a reconstructed opera by Elgar. And as a choral exhibitioner at Caius, from day one I was suddenly part of a small team working together five days a week, chasing and often achieving professional performance standards. The sense of calm focus that I found singing in Caius chapel is something I’ll never forget. 

In my third year I wrote a couple of pop reviews for Varsity and managed to persuade the music editor that classical music was worth covering too (national newspapers also periodically need convincing of this). I graduated with a handful of bylines; a few months later I got my first professional review published. For the next few years, while working in music and book publishing, I built up my writing work on the side. Applying what I’d learned at Cambridge about music and how to research it meant that when I found myself asked to cover a performance of a piece I didn’t know back to front, I felt equipped to have a go regardless. Often the awareness of what I didn’t know was just as useful as the knowledge I already had. Studying at Cambridge certainly makes you realise that however much you know already, there is always more to learn. 

Erica Jeal read music at Gonville & Caius College, 1992-95. She has been one of the Guardian’s classical music writers since 1999 and is Deputy Editor of Opera magazine. She has written for publications including BBC Music Magazine, Gramophone, the Musical Times and Art Quarterly, has contributed many times to BBC Radio 3’s Record Review, has taken part in panel discussions on opera and music journalism, and has led writing workshops for A-level music students. She plays violin in Kensington Symphony Orchestra.