In May, I visited Bath, England, to check out Bath Spa University’s Master’s programme in Songwriting. Happily, I was admitted! The programme will start in late September.
Corsham Court campus
I visited Corsham Court, a historic mansion in the green and hilly English countryside, on a chilly Tuesday morning. I had arrived early, so I sat down on a bench in St. Bartholomew’s churchyard and spent some time playing around with a stubborn song idea. Nearby, a film crew was shooting a historical drama in the mediaeval streets of Corsham, complete with costumed actors, horses and wagons. The whole place looked like the setting of a classical English novel.
At eleven o’clock, I met up with Richard Parfitt, who is the coordinator of Bath Spa University’s (BSU) Master’s programme in Songwriting. The course is taught at Corsham Court – certainly the most beautiful campus I’ve ever seen!
He showed me around the premises. We climbed a squeaky wooden staircase where rusty servants’ bells reminded visitors of times past; visited impressive libraries full of music books and lecturing rooms that looked like board rooms – when guest speakers from the music industry visit, we have class here, said Richard – and we walked through the gardens where peacocks roam about on the perfectly green grass. We finally arrived at a separate lecture hall, where instruments waited to be played. Adjacent were small studios, ready to record new songs.
My guide and interviewer had earned his spurs in the music industry. Richard was the front man of the band 60 Ft. Dolls, a Greenday-like rock band that had multiple singles in the British charts in the 1990s. Also, he has produced and written music for Duffy, and performed with Dido and Lene Marlin. At present, Richard is still working as a songwriter – he’s always writing, he said – while also coordinating the Master’s programme and pursuing a PhD degree.
Master’s programme in Songwriting
As I sat down in the audience of the empty white lecture hall, Richard told me about the Songwriting programme. It consist of three blocks: the first covers individual songwriting and the history of song since the early twentieth century; the second collaborative songwriting and a research project; and after the third we are expected to deliver an album’s worth of new songs.
There are twenty students who take the course in Bath. They compete with each other to write the best possible song each week, and also form a tight group over the year. Fifteen more students take the course over the internet.
The students are a varied group – some ambitious students enter the programme straight from BSU’s Bachelor in Commercial Music, others are in their late twenties or early thirties, and still others are a bit older, having pursued a different career before dedicating themselves to songwriting.
As part of the application procedure for the Songwriting programme, I performed two of my original songs – “Old Soviet Hotel” and “Everything Is Under Control”. Combined with my previous academic track record, Richard told me I’d fit well within the Master’s programme! All I had to do now, was formally hand in an application.
After a successful meeting, I rode one of those typically British double decker buses back to Bath, enjoying the picturesque countryside from the bus’ top floor.
I would spend two more days in Bath, mingling with local musicians at open mics, and checking out Bath Spa University’s other campus Newton Park. There, I bumped into sound engineer and percussionist Josh Clark who enthusiastically gave me a tour of that campus’ impressive studio facilities.
Sometimes, all the pieces fall into place. “I’ll be back” in September!