Keynote Student Conference

It was an enjoyable day yesterday joining of a team of experienced musicians and teachers to talk about the performing, composing and analysing/listening components of the A Level Music courses. The audience of over 250 students and teachers were appreciative and got involved with enthusiasm and humour with the various activities. What made the day so special was the number of A Level Music students in one room! Rarely are classes that size, and having the chance to speak about composition to such a large group was a real privilege.

My session followed Liz Fairweather’s talk on composition, which concencrated on the examiners’ perspective of what makes an outstanding composition. Very useful guidance indeed, and what stuck with me was that the composition side of the A Level Music course, as Liz pointed out, is not about having complete freedom in ones’ artistic choices: the composing is a chance to demonstrate an understanding of musical conventions and the manipulation of musical elements to fulfil a brief. There are many ‘great’ works of music by established composers that would not score highly on the marking criteria for composition at A Level it would seem. With this in mind, I still see the composition coursework as a change to be creative, artistic and produce coursework that our students can be really proud of. The fact the coursework should be a vehicle to demonstrate understanding is an added bonus for me.

There seemed to be a real demand for talking more about how we can develop our initial ideas in composing, and I spent some time exploring how I might do this myself. There can never be one way to do this, nor one path one must take when composing with small ideas/motifs. If students and teachers are after answers, generic strategies they may be disappointed. All we can do is listen, listen, listen. Model our practice on what other composers have done. And keep writing…

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