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Truro organist wins first Northern Ireland International Organ Competition

30 August 2011

Benjamin Comeau, 18, from Truro, won the senior class (post-Grade 8) of the Northern Ireland International Organ Competition (NIIOC), held in the cathedral city of Armagh on 22 August. His programme, played on the Walker organ of St Patrick’s Church of Ireland cathedral, included part of his own transcription of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, which made a big impression on the competition judges: Thierry Mechler (chair), professor of organ at the musikhochschule in Cologne; David Hill, former organist of St John’s College, Cambridge, and Winchester and Westminster Cathedrals; and Belfast City Organist Colm Carey. But they also praised Ben’s musical interpretation and the ‘profound musicianship’ which he demonstrated in his 20-minute performance, which also included Bach’s Trio Sonata No.4 in E minor BWY 528.

A former chorister of Truro Cathedral, Ben was one of the first 15 members of South West Music School and has just left Truro School, where he was taught the organ by the cathedral organist Christopher Gray. He is about to take up an organ scholarship at Girton College Cambridge. His NIIOC prize consists of £1,000 and hosted recitals in St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge.

Second place in the senior competition went to Benjamin Bloor, St George’s Chapel, Windsor and third place to Ghislaine Reece-Trapp, Guildford Cathedral. Richard Gowers of Eton College received a special mention from the Jury for his outstanding playing of the Toccata by his grandfather, Patrick Gowers.

The intermediate competition for Grades 6-8 was won by 12-year-old Donal McCann from Belfast, a pupil of Nigel McClintock. A chorister in the newly-formed choir of St Peter’s Cathedral, Donal took up the organ just three years ago and has recently achieved Grade 8 distinction in organ, piano and singing.

The junior competition for Grades 4-5 was won by Killian Farrell, 17, from Dublin, with Martina Smyth, 16, from Dublin highly commended. The senior competition attracted 15 entrants from conservatoires, cathedrals and schools around the UK. Competition chair Richard Yarr said that he was thrilled by the interest in the event, which came about as a response to demand from local organists who wanted to encourage, challenge and celebrate the talents of young performers in a competitive environment. ‘There are very few opportunities for young organists from Northern Ireland, and further afield, to show what they can do and the NIIOC fills that gap.’


Campaign to review EBacc achieves national coverage in first 24 hours

16 August 2011

Music Teacher magazine (MT) and the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM)'s campaign to introduce a sixth pillar of creative subjects in the English Baccalaureate, launched yesterday, has achieved nationwide press coverage in its first 24 hours.

The Independent was first to report the campaign, with the Guardian following shortly afterwards. Guardian journalist Jessica Shepherd wrote:

'Musicians have launched a national campaign to persuade ministers of the importance of studying music at school.

'The coalition government announced in December that schools would be measured according to how many pupils achieved at least a C at GCSE in English, maths, two sciences, history or geography and a modern or ancient language.

'Musicians are furious that the new measurement – known as the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) – excludes music and other creative subjects, such as art and drama.'

The BBC news website was next to report the story. Like the Independent and the Guardian, it quoted an official response from the DfE:

'The EBacc is there to make sure that every single child gets a chance to study the core academic subjects which top universities demand. But the EBacc is not the be all and end all.

'The White Paper made clear that this is "only one measure of performance and should not be the limit of schools' ambitions for their pupils".

'We've protected £82.5m funding for music services this year and are reforming the system so money is targeted where it is needed most in the future.'

Full details of the campaign, including a link to a template letter you can write to your MP, are here:


ISM and Music Teacher magazine call for EBacc revision

15 August 2011

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) and Music Teacher magazine are calling for the government to review the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) with the aim of including music in a sixth pillar of creative and cultural academic subjects.

Everyone can help campaign to get music included in the E-Bacc by writing a letter to their MP telling her or him of their concerns. The ISM has created a template for what people might like to say, which can be downloaded from www.ism.org/news/article/ebacc_revision.

The EBacc ranks schools on the proportion of pupils who get an A* to C grade in five pillars of subject options: maths, English, a language, a science and a humanities subject. But the respected (and higher level) International Baccalaureate (IB) has six pillars of subjects for pupils to pick from, including a creative and cultural option.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the ISM, said: ‘We want to see music included in the English Baccalaureate as part of a sixth pillar of creative and cultural subject choices. Not only is music challenging and enriching as a subject in schools, but to forget music at GCSE level is to forget the creative, social, academic, economic, emotional and intellectual benefits of an excellent music education; this is to say nothing of its own unique musical value.’

Christopher Walters, editor of Music Teacher magazine, said: ‘Essentially a performance measure, the EBacc will inevitably have negative consequences for any subjects that are excluded from it. Music Teacher is therefore delighted to be part of a campaign not only to include music but to introduce an entire sixth pillar of creative subjects, which we believe would greatly improve the impact of the E-Bacc in our schools.’

The influential Education Select Committee, a cross-party committee of MPs, published a report last week calling on the government to revise its current arrangements and ‘think again’. The committee also called the decision to omit music ‘odd’ and could not see a ‘rationale’ behind this decision.

Deborah Annetts welcomed the report and said: ‘The Select Committee report was clear: the government must revise its decisions around what constitutes an English Baccalaureate. At the same time, they must be open and transparent in accepting that the current proposal does not constitute a ‘Baccalaureate’ but rather a league table or performance ranking.

‘The government has said it is prepared to listen and that is why we are asking musicians to write to their MP to ask them to support the review of the E-Bacc with the aim of including music in an additional subject option.’

Education Select Committee criticises music's exclusion from EBacc

28 July 2011

Following a recent inquiry, parliament's Education Select Committee has recommended a review of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), stating that it was 'not clear on the rationale behind the exclusion' of some subjects and questioning the seemingly 'odd' decision to exclude music from its remit.
The committee’s report includes the following key recommendations and comments:
'The Department for Education’s decision not to include music and art in the English Baccalaureate could be seen as odd in light of the government’s view that "Involvement with the arts has a dramatic and lasting effect on young people" but perhaps even more so considering Michael Gove’s own words when announcing the English Baccalaureate last year: "I'm proposing that the government look at how many young people in each secondary school secure five good GCSEs including... a humanity like history or geography, art or music."

'[The committee] therefore recommends a review of the complement of subjects in the English Baccalaureate, following the completion of the national curriculum review, which should seek input not only from teachers, parents and pupils, but also from higher and further education institutions, employers, and learned societies.

'[The committee does] not believe the English Baccalaureate — the hybrid of a certificate and a performance measure, named after a qualification — is appropriately labelled: it is not a baccalaureate, and as it stands the name can therefore be misleading to parents, professionals and pupils.'

The committee also criticised the lack of consultation prior to the English Baccalaureate’s introduction and warned that 'In future, the government should aim to give appropriate notice of, and undertake consultation with key stakeholders and the wider public on, any new performance or curriculum measures.'

The Education Select Committee's concerns will be seen by many within music education as a sign that campaigns to include music on the EBacc could still be successful, despite a final 'no' from education secretary Michael Gove last week. Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, which has been instrumental in the campaign for music's inclusion, said:

'Darren Henley was unequivocal in his recommendation that music be included in both the English Baccalaureate and the national curriculum. We look forward to the government giving further thought to its current policy in light of this inquiry.
'Music education in the UK sets the standard for the rest of the world and, as well as developing children's musical understanding, has been shown to improve attainment in key areas such as literacy, numeracy and social skills. At the same time, the government must also not forget that the music education in our schools feeds right through into our creative and cultural economy.'

Royal Philharmonic Society awards nearly £70,000 to young musicians

26 July 2011

The Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) has awarded nearly £70,000 through grants and bursaries in order to support young musicians and composers. This year, 18 young music students will receive awards totalling £21,000 towards the purchase of new instruments, and three outstanding young musicians, receiving a total of £35,000 from the RPS Julius Isserlis Scholarship, will be supported in study overseas. Three young composers will each receive £3,000 commissions to write new works for the Philharmonia’s Music of Today series, and a fourth will write a new work for 2012 Cheltenham Festival.

John Gilhooly, chairman of the RPS said: ‘The RPS is taking a lead in supporting young musicians, but it is important that we all recognise that investment in young talent is key to the future of music. While pleased to be able to support some of our most talented young musicians and composers, we are very aware that the need far outstrips resources.’


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