Author: David Ashworth
This resource is ostensibly for a large scale-composition, which would go well beyond the brief for composition in the A level specifications.
However, there are possibilities for using just parts of the resource:
- Students could take just a few of the activities suggested and work with them as exercises, or use them for smaller compositions.
- The sections could be divided up between students in a class. When the work is completed, their pieces could be brought together to form a composite whole.
- The activities and suggestions outlined in this resource could be transferred to any other composition activities students happen to be working on.
- As always, these activities can be simplified to make them more suitable for younger students.
The aim of this resource is to provide guidance on using some elements of the craft of composition that can be applied more generally across a range of briefs. Approaching composing is not just about writing down the notes. Planning and preparation are vital parts of the composing process. This resource outlines how some composers might go about this.
Using a story as a stimulus, we break the compositional process down into sections, and sketch these sections out on timelines. In our resource, we have one timeline spanning the months leading up to the truce, and a second timeline zooming in on the events of that particular day. We then take each section in turn and explore the possibilities for interpreting and retelling the events and the moods they contain.
For some sections, we take a look at how other composers have attempted to describe similar scenes in their own work. For example, when considering the drama of wartime action, we look at some of the salient features from Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7. Composers are often like magpies, always appropriating ideas from other sources and tweaking for their own ends. For example, Bartók takes one of the themes from this Shostakovich piece and parodies it in his Concerto for Orchestra. It is good for our students to develop their craft in the way that many composers do. Composers are often like sculptors – they take some basic rough materials and make something of them – as opposed to a painter who begins with a blank canvas.
Students and teachers should consider some of the works and composers covered in the Areas of Study (AoS) for their particular exam board. This ‘two-way street’ approach to working can strengthen and reinforce the work done in each of these contexts. For example, the forthcoming AQA specifications reference several composers who have worked with wartime themes, including Shostakovich, Messiaen, Britten and Thomas Newman. By listening and analysing, students and teachers could explore how these composers have achieved their aims in creating music for similar contexts.
The other idea worth noting is that composers often do a lot of work before putting their first note on a stave. There is much thinking, planning, listening and research that has to be done upfront. Students often begin the process of writing notes way too early and seem unaware of the preparation processes that artists in all art forms share. Hopefully, this resource provides a good model. Read less...