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Ward Swingle 1927-2015 ‒ a cappella king dies at 87

2 February 2015

Ward Swingle deserves to be remembered for far more than the scat singing of JS Bach which for many remains the trademark of the various Swingle Singers incarnations. When in 1973 he formed an English ensemble to succeed the French original, Swingle expanded its repertoire dramatically, not least in the area of contemporary classical music – Luciano Berio’s Cries of London, for example, was something of a calling-card. The host of Swingles recordings also embraced madrigals and part-songs as well as jazz and pop arrangements.

Born in Mobile, Alabama, Swingle was infected by jazz and big band music while still at school, going on to the Cincinnati Conservatory before studying keyboard in France with Walter Gieseking, The Parisian Swingle Singers were born following the demise of the groundbreaking vocal group Les Double Six, in which Swingle sang.

Having established the UK-based ensemble (originally as Swingle II) and seen it develop the worldwide career it still enjoys, Swingle returned to the USA (in 1984) before moving with his wife to France in the mid-1990s. Invitations to direct choral groups and workshops took him round the world, the remainder of his time being devoted to composing and arranging. 

 Tributes come from two members of Swingle II. ‘I have so many cherished memories of Ward,’ says Heather Cleobury. ‘He knew what he wanted, but he was never the big boss, never difficult – always easy to work for.’‘

 Ward was a wonderful musician-pianist and a perfectionist in the way he prepared,’ adds John Lubbock. ‘Along with Gene Purling he was probably the best vocal arranger in the world. I was so lucky to have those few years working with him.’In a statement, the current Swingle Singers said Ward Swingle ‘redefined what singers could do, made us hear music in a new way. Ward was incredibly supportive of the current Swingles, always excited to hear about our latest projects and encouraging us to take risks. His passing is a huge loss.’

BBC Music Calls for Primary Schools to Get Creative With Classical Music for 2015 Ten Pieces Proms

30 January 2015

BBC Music’s classical music initiative Ten Pieces will culminate in a celebration of children’s creative responses to ten pieces of music in two BBC Proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in July 2015, it is announced today.   

The two concerts will take place over the opening weekend of the 2015 BBC Proms. They will showcase the original ten pieces of music, as well as a range of children’s creative responses - through compositions, dance, digital art or animation - to the music.   The Saturday concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and the Sunday concert will be recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 2.   

The BBC Orchestras and BBC Singers are running a series of Ten Pieces Orchestra Take Over days with musicians from the BBC’s six Performing Groups visiting schools across the UK to hold workshops with children to create their own Ten Pieces-inspired works. These pieces will be filmed so that they become resources to inspire other schools.  The Performing Groups are also putting on a series of 18 celebratory free Ten Pieces Schools Concerts across the country, offering schools an opportunity to hear the ten pieces performed live and highlighting a range of children’s responses to the ten pieces.   

Online resources are available to encourage children to learn more about the repertoire and composers, before developing their own creative responses to the music, often working with music, dance and arts organisations that have signed up as Champions for Ten Pieces in their communities, and who are running lessons, workshops, teacher training on the theme.  

Responses to the works can be submitted via the Uploader on the Ten Pieces website  (bbc.co.uk/tenpieces) as either films, audio recordings and/or stills images. The deadline for uploading content is 27 March 2015.  

Lesley-Ann Smith joins Kent Music as Head of Teaching and Learning 

29 January 2015

Lesley-Ann Smith joins Kent Music as Head of Teaching and Learning 

 Music teacher and double bass player Lesley-Ann Smith has joined Kent Music as its new Head of Teaching and Learning, leading a network of more than 150 instrumental and vocal tutors working with up to 12,000 people a year across Kent and Medway. 

 Originally from Prestwick in Ayrshire, Lesley-Ann graduated with a Bachelor of Music Degree and Post Graduate Diploma in Music Performance from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2007. She has played as a freelance double bassist with professional orchestras across Scotland, including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Scottish Opera. Her early career was spent working as an instrumental instructor with multiple Instrumental Music Services and as a community musician for Artlink Central. 

 As Education & Projects Officer at Enterprise Music Scotland, Lesley-Ann designed and managed their first music education conference, Music Education Matters, in 2014. There she designed and administered over 90 music education workshops annually across Scotland as well as chamber music projects and training events. She was most recently Team Leader Music Development at West Dunbartonshire Council where she managed the Instrumental Music Service. 

 Peter Bolton, Chief Executive of Kent Music, said: “Lesley-Ann is a talented musician with wide experience of organising music tuition at all levels and I am delighted to welcome her to Kent as our new Head of Teaching and Learning.”

Government publishes new GCSE, AS and A Level subject content

28 January 2015, Thomas Lydon

The Department for Education has published details of the subject content for the GCSEs, AS Levels and A Levels in music to be taught from autumn 2016. It is anticipated that exam boards will soon publish their own specifications, based on these guidelines.

The headline here is that the much-criticised compulsory 1700 to 1900 area of study at all levels has been widened to the more conventional stylistic boundaries of 1650 and 1910, largely due to the efforts of the ISM's Protect Music Education campaign. The other specification at all levels has also been re-framed, now stating that one other area of study ‘must not be drawn from the Western Classical Tradition’. Otherwise, there are no huge surprises here, with the final content guidelines being based  largely on the consultation documents published last July.

Some of the more proscriptive language around the demands on the composition element at all levels has been dropped (no longer must students be able to show that they have achieved their work through one or more of a set list of ‘means’, including experimenting, developing, or critical refinement).

At GCSE, the ‘musical elements’ have been updated to include sequences (listed at A Level in the consultation) chord progressions and simple modulations.

At AS and A Level, we're pleased to report that the ISM’s sub-campaign to save the gerund has been successful, and the terms ‘performance and composition’ from the consultation documents have been re-phrased as ‘performing and composing’, presumably in response to the ISM’s stated preference for stressing the ‘musical processes’ rather than the ‘end products of study’. Elsewhere, in the ‘musical elements’ section, all reference to identifying sonorities of different instrumental groupings has been removed, and there is some genuinely interesting new wording in the 'musical context' section. Lastly of note, in the ‘appraise’ section, the requirement to be able to make critical judgement about your own work has been removed.

The GCSE content can be found here

The AS and A Level content can be found here

If you want to play a game of 'spot the difference', here are the consultations documents for GCSE and AS/A Level.

Glyndebourne opens training scheme  for young singers

28 January 2015

Glyndebourne is now recruiting for a new scheme to help young singers pursue professional training.       

The Glyndebourne Academy is for singers with exceptional potential aged 16-26 whose circumstances, whether economic, social or geographic, have prevented them from following a traditional path towards a career.   

The scheme was devised in response to a seminar discussion about the lack of diversity amongst young opera singers in professional training at the 2008 conference, The Singers of Tomorrow, held at the National Opera Studio and attended by Glyndebourne’s vocal talent consultant, Mary King. 

Following the event, Mary and Glyndebourne’s education team sought to pinpoint the reasons for this lack of diversity and design a programme which might help.  Contributing factors included the patchiness of music  education provision in schools, a decline in school singing outside the curriculum, cuts to local music services, making subsidy for individual singing lessons harder to come by, and the intensity of competition for conservatoire places. 

 Mary King, artistic director of Glyndebourne Academy, said: ‘Operatic voices don’t spring up ready-made. If you go to a fine school with a great music department and your interest is awakened and recognised early, then all can be well. But if not, and you don’t discover your potential until the age of 15 or 16, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. With no access to good musical education and advice, it is difficult for a late starter to really compete at conservatoire entrance-stage. We wondered; could we identify a small group of exceptionally talented singers who had fallen through the gaps and take them through a process that would make a difference?’. 

A pilot run of the programme in 2012 provided a select number of young singers, several of whom were entirely new to opera, with intensive instruction in operatic vocal technique and performance. More than half of the participants have moved on to further training. 

 The deadline for applications to Glyndebourne Academy is Monday 16 February 2015. Visit glyndebourne.com for further information.

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