Masters in Music Research (feat. Susanna O’Leary)

I first met Susanna when she asked me to play drums with her for one of her upcoming shows. We instantly hit it off and I was fortunate enough to spend a number of years working alongside her in various formats. She’s an extremely gifted singer, songwriter and tutor with a tone of experience behind her.

For those of you considering taking the academic route within the world of music, I highly encourage you to read this interview as I personally found many things I’d overlooked in the past in this regard by simply not doing my homework and asking the right questions.


Can you please clearly outline all your current musical projects and professions which make up your life as a professional musician?

Currently, I perform under my pseudonym Zannah and with Latin/Flamenco jazz group “Imaya”, “The India to Spain Project”, Irish/folk group “Hjarta” and “Ensemble Diaspora”.

What made you decide to do your Masters in Music Research?

From an early age I have always had an interest in diverse musical styles outside traditional western music and have had an appreciation for many vocal styles from all music genres. I decided to do a Masters in Music Research to explore my passion for diverse music, in particular, Persian, Flamenco and Irish music. As a singer/songwriter I hoped that this would give me new skills that could extend my vocal skills and enrich my compositions for my next EP.

What advice would you give to a musician considering applying for their MMR

When considering to undertake an MMR I would encourage musicians to question what they hope to achieve from completing a Masters (ie. goals and expected outcomes) and then figure out a niche area they wish to explore which could be added to academic literature.

Can you please share the objective of your MMR and how you came about deciding to research this area?

The goal of studying my MMR was to extend my own vocal capabilities and to inspire new compositions that would incorporate non-western musical components. I also wanted to show the value of exploring non-western music and how they could enrich vocal performance and contemporary composition.

Given that you have a family, you teach and perform, how did you manage to fit in full-time study between all of these commitments?

Due to family and work commitments, I decided to reduce my full-time study to part-time for the second year of my research. I am pleased I took this approach as it gave me more time to develop my vocal skills and absorb the research I had been exploring.

Since you had a number of important responsibilities and commitments prior to this study, how did you find adjusting financially after adding your MMR commitment to your lifestyle? For example, did you prepare a budget before/do some research or did you simply take it one day at a time and adjust accordingly

Fortunately, my husband was able to financially support me through my studies and I was able to pick up some casual work which helped pay the bills.

How many years had passed between your completion of your Bachelor’s degree before you started your MMR?

It had been seven years since I completed my diploma in Vocal Pedagogy and eleven years since the completion of my Bachelor of Music.

Was it a challenge getting back into academic writing after the time between studying? If so, how did you go about re-approaching the learning curve in a balanced and productive way?

Yes, it was a big challenge getting back into academic writing. Fortunately, Griffith University offers excellent workshops via the library for HDR students. This gave me tips on academic writing, researching, editing and tutorials on using endnote.

I know part of your MMR was recording an album of original music and travelling abroad. Can you please share the relationship between these two experiences and how they played relevance to your studies?

My decision to travel was inspired by my research but was not a prerequisite to completing my MMR. I chose to travel as I wanted an etic perspective on how these vocal cultures were practiced in their countries of origin. This played an important role in highlighting their value and importance to their native cultures.

Can you please share how you managed to do research abroad whilst still being full-time at the South Band Campus in Brisbane?

I deferred my MMR for six months while I travelled abroad, this took the pressure off needing to submit written work to my supervisors and afforded me the time to experience the vocal cultures I was exploring in my research.

Did you consider doing your MMR at a campus abroad full-time or was that simply not an option?

This was not an option for my course.

Are you looking at doing your Doctorate down the track?

I am unsure whether I will undertake a doctorate at this stage as I am unsure whether it will significantly increase my music making opportunities. However, I may revisit the idea of undertaking a doctorate in ten years time if I have a topic that I am passionate about researching.

Has the degree directly opened any doors in your career post completing it?

This MMR has connected me with musicians that I now regularly gig with however, it has not directly opened any doors academically.

Did you have any doubts about your research and/or outcomes during your MMR?

No, in fact I think I underestimated how much I would learn from my MMR.

What were the biggest challenges you faced during your MMR?

My greatest challenge was recording my EP as I was working with a small budget and I had many musical ideas I had to clearly define in each song. My next biggest challenge was probably skilling up on academic writing and editing my thesis to make my ideas flow succinctly.

What kind of musician would you recommend to pursue a MMR? Or what kind of musician would you suggest to reconsider before applying?

I would recommend this course to any musician who is dedicated to building on their skillset and who has a niche area to explore. With this being said, contemporary music is such an under-researched area that I believe all contemporary musicians have something unique to contribute to academic research.

Has the study changed the way you approach composition, performing or Teaching?

Absolutely, I think I write songs now with a clear goal and emotional intent in mind. I am also more confident as a performer and am more committed to the emotional integrity of the song and what I am wanting to convey to my audience.

If you could do the MMR again, would you do anything differently?

No, I am fairly happy with the process and outcome of my MMR so I don’t think I would change the way I approached things.

Is there anywhere online people can find your MMR and or recordings?

You can find my music online at: and my MMR should be available at the Conservatorium of Music library soon however anyone is welcome to email me if they would like a copy at:

If people wish to get singing lessons off you or talk more about doing their masters, what’s the best way to contact you?

They can contact me via my email at:



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