Student stories: Jane Plumridge - The Open College of the Arts
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Student stories: Jane Plumridge

I’m a mature student currently studying OCA’s Music Foundation Course before moving on to their Music Degree Programme once I’ve finished that. If it wasn’t for OCA it would be impossible for me to continue music studies to a higher level. You see, my situation is different to say the least. Let me give you a brief idea.

I’ve suffered from a chronic condition called CRPS since late December 2005. It destroyed all aspects of the life I had. Overnight, life changed completely. I never returned to work, eventually being retired on grounds of ill health. Since that fateful day I have lived in chronic unending pain of every type imaginable 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It started in my lower legs and since then has moved to my upper arms, eyes and mouth so far. I have to keep my legs elevated to try to minimise the pain. There’s no cure and only palliative care is available. I rattle with tablets they only take the edge off the pain. It also causes hypersensitivity so bad that the slightest air flow over my legs feels like the air is stabbing me with knives. I have to keep my legs covered with a thin duvet constantly even at the height of Summer!! My mobility is limited to shuffling a few metres in the arms of my husband who is my full-time carer. Basically housebound, I live in an electric reclining chair in the living room. I can’t sleep in bed, it’s simply too painful. Travelling in the car is a horrendous ordeal because I’m forced to have my legs down. By the time I get where we’re going, I’m not fit for anything. You couldn’t make it up with this disease and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Doing anything makes the pain and swelling worse. Fatigue is a constant battle as I have to recover after doing anything, wait for pain levels to return to what is ‘normal’ for me. It would be easier to just fester and give up, but that’s not in my nature.

In January 2018 I had my first clarinet lesson. I didn’t know it would be a clarinet, or that I could even get a note out of it. I’d pondered about learning to play an instrument for ages before I took the plunge. You have to be inventive when it comes to finding things to do when you’re stuck in a chair all the time. I’m so glad I did. I loved it from the first note. Of course, CRPS affects this too, forcing me to sit in an unorthodox position with my legs elevated and my body turned to the right as I can’t hold the clarinet in front of me. It has to be a C clarinet; anything else is too long! It just adds to the fun and challenge! There is something so wonderful about taking a selection of notes on a manuscript and bringing them to life. It’s a joy and something I look forward to every day. 

Little did I know but that lesson would cause me to fall head over heels in love with music. It’s a case of the more I’ve learnt, the more insatiable is my desire to learn more. Of course, studying music at any level involves taking exams. For obvious reasons that’s a non-starter for me. After enduring the journey to an exam centre, I simply wouldn’t be capable of doing anything when I got there. My clarinet teacher has assessed me informally for the ABRSM qualifications (I’ve passed Grade 4 clarinet & Grade 5 music theory so far). As I moved through the Music theory grades, I knew that a music degree was the natural next step for me at some point. How do you even get onto a course when you have no certificates to ‘prove’ you have the necessary music qualifications? I had no idea how or if it was even possible. 

I searched on the internet, which is where I was lucky enough to find OCA. For someone like me they provide the only way, as far as I know, to get onto and then do a degree without taking exams. If I completed their Foundation Course that would automatically give me eligibility to enrol on the degree programme. It was a no brainer; I signed up last June. I’ve learnt so much as the course is really wide-ranging and covers so many aspects of music. It’s the perfect way of studying for someone like me who can’t do exams and can only study when my condition allows. Not only that, their whole set up is geared to be as inclusive as possible. The support available is second to none, from your course tutor through to learner support. Everybody does everything they possibly can to help you succeed. 

The course materials are excellent. They both teach and guide you through the various exercises and tasks you need to do as you go along, including an end of section assignment. There is also the ‘Listening and Learning Log’ that you keep throughout. It encourages you to reflect on the work you’ve done as well as write about the suggested pieces of music to listen to. I’ve found this a really useful tool and it has certainly helped me to develop as I’ve worked my way through the course. I’ve never felt like I’m on my own; the tutor support is superb both via email and on more than one occasion I’ve had a one to one zoom meeting with my tutor when it was something that needed more discussion.  Regular web chats are organised which anyone can attend and discuss various topics. I’ve attended as many as I could; they’ve all been really useful and it gives you a chance to meet other students. It’s good to feel part of something, that you’re not just plugging away on your own.

Everyone I’ve dealt with from the Music Team as well as Learner Support have been incredibly helpful, encouraging and supportive. They really do bend over backwards to help you succeed whatever your circumstances. Recently the time limit you have to complete your degree has been reduced from twelve years down to nine. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it, given my condition and the limited quality study time I can manage. Learner Support went through various options with me which has allayed my fears. When the time comes, they’re going to go through enrolment with me step by step. As I’ve already got a degree in Physics I don’t qualify for finance, but there is funding available as well as disabled grants for materials you might need. As I said, they really do all they can to help.

Had I not found OCA there’s no way I could take my studies further, simply because I can’t get to a centre to take exams. No one should be prevented from studying because of a medical condition you have no control over and makes life tough at the best of times. If I can do it so can you, regardless of your circumstances. If there’s a subject you love and you have that itch to learn more, go for it and enrol on a course with OCA. You won’t be disappointed that’s for sure!!


Find out more about Music at OCA here.

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Posted by author: Carla
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12 thoughts on “Student stories: Jane Plumridge

  • Such an inspiring story Jane and OCA came at just the right time for you. I hope your music continues to flourish and maybe sometime in the future we’ll be able to hear some of it too.
    Wishing you much success.

  • Thanks for sharing your story it really touched me. I am currently studying painting with the open college of the arts and would also be unable to persue this course of study for a degree if I hadn’t enrolled. I wish you all the best with your studies and look forward to hearing from in student stories again

  • Thank you for sharing, Jane! You are very inspiring. Best wishes on your learning journey! Looking forward to hearing some of the music you write!

  • Many thanks for all your lovely comments. I’m really looking forward to my musical future and am really pleased to be part of the OCA fMusic Community as Carla put it.
    Good luck to you all!

  • Yours is truly an amazing story Jane and thank you for sharing with us! It is so fantastic that your musical journey has lit the blue touch paper for you!

    • Hi Allan,
      I’m sorry I’ve not replied sooner, I didn’t think anyone else would leave comments. Thanks for your kind words and I agree it has been fantastic to find something that has transformed my mood, enjoyment and quality of life. Good luck to you too !

  • Jane, you are incredible! I’m sure other people will be inspired to follow their dream whatever their circumstances. Now slowly recovering from a back injury which has been horribly painful, I can hardly bear to think that this is the norm for you. Yes, OCA tutors and staff are very helpful, but students also are a great resource, and any of us would be delighted to help if we can.

    • Sorry I haven’t replied sooner, I didn’t think others would leave comments after the initial ones. Actually I was surprised I got any! If one student takes up studies it will have been more than worth writing it. I really hope that by the time you read this your back is a lot better. You’ve probably seem me lurking in various OCA zoom meetings, but it would be great to know you and others better. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to soon. I should be starting the degree at the start of January all being well. That’s if this very persistent ear infection finally gives up and goes away. Onto my second course of antibiotics now. It doesn’t help listening to music or trying to compose when you rely on AirPods to negate the sounds of the TV etc.
      Good luck to you too!

  • Hi Jane. Sorry for being so late with my reaction. My name is Paul Logghe and I’m a student of the music foundation course. You will remember me: I’m the guy who could hardly understand the other participants on the conference call we had some months ago with dr. Carla Rees, because the line was so bad. Anyway, I feel so sad reading your story, but at the same time I admire you for your courage. And I really hope music will help you make your pains bearable. Hopefully we hear from each other in the first year of the music degree in some months. Kind regards and keep well !!

    • Hi Paul,
      I’m sorry I’ve not replied sooner, I didn’t expect any more replies or any at all actually. I do remember you had some connection problems. We’ve all had them, technology is great when it works but utterly hopeless when it doesn’t. It would be good to keep in touch as we go through the degree, share our thoughts etc. Good luck!

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