NUI Galway Launches New Music Degree

Dr Aidan Thomson and students of the first NUI Galway music degree

NUI Galway Launches New Music Degree

'I look forward to seeing amazing things coming from this base in the future – things we can’t even imagine at this stage.' – Jane O'Leary

NUI Galway held an official launch of its music degree on Tuesday 9 October at the Aula Maxima in the University.

The occasion was marked with speeches by the new Head of Music, Dr Aidan Thomson, composer Dr Jane O’Leary, and Dean of Arts, Social Sciences and Celtic Studies, Professor Cathal O’Donoghue. There were also performances by Galway uilleann piper Pádraig Keane and Galway Ensemble-in-Residence, the ConTempo Quartet.

The four-year degree is a major development for musical life in Galway city and county. NUI Galway accepted its first intake of music students in September. The majority of the students are from the west of Ireland and the Leaving Certificate entry points for the course were the highest of any music programme in Ireland. Speaking at the launch, Dr Thomson said:

There is a huge opportunity for this degree to make its mark. We all know that Galway is the natural cultural capital of Ireland, and we all know that music – of all types – is a given in any cultural centre. What we can provide through the BA are people who have the education to build on the many musical strengths that exist here already.

At the heart of the course is the development of musicianship. Dr Thomson added:

That means a mastery of core musical skills, in theory and harmony, and their application in the broad stylistic categories of music: the classical, the traditional and the popular. Once that is in place, everything else follows: performers, composers and teachers, but also imaginative arts administrators; knowledgeable music critics, journalists and broadcasters; music therapists with a breadth of musical experience – the list goes on. It is a vision that I believe is realisable, and in a university like NUI Galway that takes pride in its strength in the humanities and creative arts, it is the right place in which to realise it.

‘Things we can’t even imagine’
Composer Jane O’Leary, who moved to Galway from the United States 46 years ago and was a founder of the Galway Steinway Trust, Music for Galway and the Galway Ensemble in Residence, as well as the contemporary music ensemble Concorde, recalled her own experience at university.

This is a moment so many of us have been waiting for – for a very long time… Eight years prior to arriving in Galway, I remember vividly sitting in my first music lecture – having never studied music apart from piano up to that point. I knew that my future would be in the field of music, but I had no idea what was possible. As I listened with excitement to the lecturer dissecting a piece of music – listening, listening again, becoming aware of the context – I felt as if I had been listening in black and white all my life. Suddenly the music was in blazing colour. That’s the kind of experience we’re now offering to students in NUI Galway – finally. 

She emphasised the huge opportunity presented by the establishment of the degree:

I wish all the potential students and staff working here the joy that comes from discovering and sharing as they delve into the intricacies of music, and I look forward to seeing amazing things coming from this base in the future – things we can’t even imagine at this stage. 

The launch featured the performance of a range of works, including a solo performance by Pádraig Keane of the air ‘Gol na mBan san Ár’ and the march ‘Máirseáil Alasdruim’; Amanda Feery’s ‘Something Like Light But Not’ (with the composer present) performed by Keane and ConTempo – a recent commission by Galway City Council Arts Office in partnership with the Galway Music Residency; the slow movement of the String Quartet in E Major by Bax (a composer that Dr Thomson has conducted extensive research on); and the finale of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 8, the second of the Razumovsky quartets, Op. 59. The significance of the Beeethoven lies in the fact that three volumes of the composer’s letters were translated by Dr Emily Anderson (1891–1962) who was a Professor of German at NUI Galway. The University’s Emily Anderson Concert Hall is named after her.

For more on the NUI Galway BA in Music, visit

Published on 12 October 2018

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