We were exploring composition for solo instrument; a difficult creative task, as we realised when both our bassoon and trombone tutors told us they often had to borrow cello pieces to play at auditions because so little interesting/lovable solo music had ever been written for their own instruments.
We set to work. After an introductory hour of examples, small groups of composers entered practice rooms around the Royal College of Music equipped with nothing but pencil, manuscript paper and a professional musician. It seemed a severe challenge – I myself would find it very difficult to start writing a solo piece under those conditions (although having a live trombonist in the room with me could occasionally be useful.) I was fully expecting a few participants to refuse the fence ; but none did, and I felt that every one of our 60-odd students (split between morning and afternoon sessions) had totally engaged with the task. Someone who had never worked in bass clef wrote a trombone piece; a jazz drummer produced some idiomatic bassoon music. There were some sophisticated performing concepts – we ended up with two hours’ worth of music, all of which was played to the whole group by the performers it had been written for.
BBC Proms Inspire is a year-long programme which can be accessed around the UK and is now a national mainstay of composition teaching for secondary school pupils. Acting Proms Director Edward Blakeman, visiting both our sessions, remarked to the students that the Proms had been founded with new music at its heart (Sir Henry Wood founded this annual series of concerts so that he could play ‘novelties’, ie new music, alongside the classics) and that is how it would remain.
Many thanks to tutors Zoe Martlew, Rosanna Ter-Berg, Lois Au, Sarah Freestone* Kate Moore* and Mike Lloyd* [*= BBC Concert Orchestra]; and to Becca Hill at BBC Proms Inspire.