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MIC Graduate wins prestigious music award for thesis on The Phantom of the Opera

Shona Cassidy

A Mary Immaculate College graduate has been awarded a prestigious music award for the thesis she completed as part of her undergraduate study at MIC. Shona Cassidy, who graduated in October 2021 with a BA in Music and English, was awarded First Prize in the Council of Heads of Music in Higher Education (CHMHE) Undergraduate Musicology Competition for the thesis on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, ‘The Phantom of the Opera. The competition sees Higher Education music departments from around the island of Ireland nominating an undergraduate dissertation for the annual prize.

Shona’s winning thesis, The Phantom of the Opera: High Art or “High-Pop”?, investigated the much-debated categorisation of the 1986 musical within the musical theatre landscape. Analysing Phantom’s three fictional operas through a ‘high-pop’ lens, Shona argued that Lloyd Webber’s show offers a self-reflexive commentary on the cultural history of the operatic institution since the nineteenth-century. Subsequently examined in the wider context of Phantom’s main dramatic plot and marketing strategy, Shona’s dissertation demonstrated the way in which Lloyd Webber ultimately applies his criticisms of the operatic institution to his own production. Finally, Shona evaluated to what extent Phantom, as a ‘high-pop’ musical, both embraces and revises past musical theatre traditions as a method of reinventing a form of opera for the twentieth-century audience.

Recalling when she found out that she had won the award, Shona said: “I honestly couldn’t believe it. It's such an amazing honour and I feel so privileged that the adjudicators awarded first prize to my dissertation. Having had a strong love and appreciation for education instilled in me by my parents from a very young age, I am delighted that my time in MIC allowed me to develop the skills necessary to produce a dissertation such as this. I’m very grateful to my supervisor, Dr Michael Murphy and his colleagues in the Music Department for their support and advice throughout both the process of writing this paper and my time at MIC.”

Gold Medal for high academic achievement
Gold Medal for high academic achievement
Shona was awarded the Gold Medal in Liberal Arts at October's Graduation

Bachelor of Arts students at MIC choose their own subject to research during their fourth and final year of study. Explaining why she chose her subject matter, Shona said: “I knew I wanted to include opera in some way. From discussing topic options with fellow students, I was aware that opera is not always considered the most approachable or popular form of musical theatre. However, during a module taught by Dr Michael Murphy that same year, I realised that this had not always been the case. As such, I wanted to explore the gap which I saw as existing between the perception of opera today and the role it played in nineteenth-century society.”

Congratulating Shona on her research was her supervisor Dr Michael Murphy, lecturer in Music at MIC: “Shona richly deserves this national recognition for her undergraduate dissertation on Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. Her inquisitive thinking and wide reading resulted in an impressive critical engagement with important cultural issues. I thoroughly enjoyed our many conversations on the ‘Phantom’ and, given the exceptional quality of her work, my colleagues and I in the Music Department were very happy to nominate Shona’s dissertation for the annual musicology prize. Perhaps the greatest boon for the winners of that competition is the opportunity to present their work at the annual postgraduate conference organised jointly by the Society for Musicology in Ireland and the Irish National Committee of the International Council for Traditional Music. Shona’s impressive presentation was very well received by those in attendance. I wish Shona well in her promising career. 

This award is not the first Shona has received as a result of her study at MIC. At her graduation ceremony in October 2021, Shona was awarded the Gold Medal in Liberal Arts in recognition of her academic performance during her studies. Music is one of the 13 subjects available on MIC’s leading liberal arts programme. Further information is available at