Claire Brillon

Claire explains how rowing very quickly became the centre of her life


At 26 Claire  Brillon, Fitzwilliam College, is a latecomer to rowing, but brings international experience to a young women’s squad which this year features just one returning Blue, president Caoimhe Dempsey. 

A latecomer to rowing

Claire was a relative latecomer to rowing, having first picked up an oar at the age of 19 as an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia. She has made up for lost time though, and last summer rowed for Canada in the women’s coxless fours at the World Rowing Championships in Racice. 

Claire says:

“Rowing is nice in that way because it can be a late entry sport, so it provides opportunities to more people. 

When I was looking for a sport to join I knew nothing about rowing. But they spotted me for being tall and said, ‘try this’, and I said OK. I didn’t have any expectations going into it. It was a huge unknown, but it very quickly became the centre of my life. It gave  me structure, a social life and motivation, and a sense of purpose. 

It was definitely a quick ramping up period over the rigours of my studies. I got lucky in that my undergrad school was very close to where the national team trains.” 

Studying an MPhil in music

Claire has now swapped Vancouver and the west coast of Canada for Cambridge, which is geographically closer to her hometown of Montreal. The Centre for Music and Science at Cambridge was the lure to the UK. She is studying an MPhil in music, working with Dr Peter Harrison, the director of the centre, on music cognition and how music is interpreted and processed in the brain. 

Claire explains:
“I really felt the course was the best suited to my interests and my specialities –  a singer whose undergrad is a performance degree. 

I did a dual degree in science and music as an undergraduate and I felt that music cognition, and specifically the Centre for Music and Science, was the perfect way of bridging together what I had already learned.  

My research project will be on tonality and emotion, so why different scales produce different emotional responses in the listener. We just finished designing the study so it will be an online experiment that we will be running next year.” 

It has been a smooth transition to life in the UK for Claire, who has been able to carry on singing with the College Choir at Fitzwilliam. 

She says:

“Cambridge has been amazing. The training has definitely been more rigorous and intense than I would have imagined, which has been a pleasant surprise and I’ve really enjoyed it. 

Academically, it’s taken me by surprise a little bit in some ways too, just the intensity of everything, but I love it and, overall, I just really enjoy being very busy and wearing different hats and having different roles that I play.” 

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