This interview took place online on 13 August 2020 between City’s Head of the Department of Music, Dr Ian Pace, and BMus graduate James Perkins.
Ian Pace: I want to welcome James Perkins. James graduated from the BMus course at City in 2012, and went on to work for the Students’ Union at City for 2 years. Since 2015, he has been working in Arts Higher Education, and is Head of Quality Assurance and Enhancement at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. He has also recently started a PhD in Higher Education at the University of Lancaster.
James, it is great to see you again, since you were coming to the end of your undergraduate study when I had just started at City! What are any of your abiding memories of your time as an undergraduate on the BMus?
James Perkins: Thanks Ian, it’s always great to think back on my time at City! I think my lasting memories are performing as a small vocal ensemble one of Tarik O’Regan’s own pieces…to Tarik O’Regan (!), doing gigs with the City Big Band and also the great sense of community everyone in the department had for each other
IP: What were some of the areas in which you specialised during the course of your undergraduate degree?
JP: I arrived at City quite unsure how I wanted to specialise, but I was able to try out a lot of different areas and in my second year I really got in to composition. This was where I focused my third year in particular and I also wrote my dissertation about video game music composition. I also combined this with studying European music from the 19th century on; I really enjoyed learning about how composers subverted dictatorships during WW2 and in Cold War Russia, as well as the development of opera during this time.
IP: What would you say are some of the wider skills developed during your undergraduate degree which have proved useful in your subsequent activities?
JP: What was great about the degree was that I was able to learn a whole load of skills (collaboration, working to deadlines, learning new technologies and developing clear arguments for example) which prepared me to go into any number of careers when I finished. I was also a programme representative during my studies, and I benefited from this kind of extra-curricular activity in developing my ability to communicate, synthesise feedback and make proposals and time management.
IP: You went on to work for the City Students’ Union after finishing your degree. How did this activity change your perspective upon time as a student?
JP: I was representing the views of students across the university in that role to a lot of different academic groups within City, and I realised how special it was to be part of a group of students in a department that was so tight-knit, that was incredibly supportive and also where Music felt like it was radical, exciting and could be used to make a difference when we graduated.
IP: And how about in terms of your work as a Head of Quality Assurance and Enhancement? A lot of students may not know about the nature of this type of activity, and how vital a part it plays in the running of university degrees.
JP: When I was writing music, I found it really helpful to develop frameworks and rules that I could use, bend and play around with to help spark my creativity. When I started working in arts higher education, I was able to apply the same kind of processes to helping academic teams ensure that they quality of their degrees is the highest it can be. It’s often not a part of universities people know a lot about, but there’s lots of people like doing what I do every institution! To be able to do that in the arts as well is really rewarding, it feels like I’ve been able to combine a lot of different areas of interest.
IP: What would you say to anyone thinking about studying music at higher education level?
JP: I would absolutely encourage them to do it – I haven’t regretted it for one second! In some ways it is one of the most flexible degrees, getting you to look at music through multiple lenses (as historian, sociologist, anthropologist, artist, physicist) and you develop so much over your three years. Doing that at a university in the heart of London is just great.
IP: There are some who imagine that a music degree is of purely ‘vocational’ import, i.e. it only prepares you specifically for a musical career. I imagine you would have quite a different view?
JP: I do! People in my class went off to do so many different things, from teaching to performing, fitness instruction, further studies and academic roles in and outside of music. I think what a degree gives you is so much more than just the opportunity to learn new things and if you reflect on how you develop as a person during your time at City you just open so many doors for yourself.
IP: James, thanks so much for doing this interview today. Do you have any links relating to your work or anything else which you would like to share?
JP: If you’re interested in what I’m up to you can follow me on Twitter @JPHEd, and if you have any questions I’m always happy to answer!