Girls’ education being a relatively recent concept (indeed it has yet to arrive in some parts of the world) I was impressed to learn that Godolphin School was founded in 1726. But then I remembered Vivaldi teaching at the Ospedale della Pieta at roughly the same time; and even before that, Purcell’s famous first performance at a girls’ school in Chelsea. (In fact Ms. Godolphin’s original bequest in favour of women’s education to the Chapter at Salisbury Cathedral was then ignored by them for much of the following century.)
Godolphin, an independent school, has the particular advantage of small class sizes, which probably accounts for the mellow atmosphere I encountered on a quiet Friday afternoon. Notwithstanding, music teachers Robin Highcock and Olivia Sparkhall had assembled an impressively numerous cohort of about 25 students taking music as an exam subject. We spent two hours in a very orderly workshop (again, how impressive is that, on a Friday afternoon) looking at their compositions. It was indeed a luxury to pass any works written for piano straight over to Chris Guild, a recitalist I have frequently worked with in London concerts, who also holds a position at Godolphin.
Most of this year’s GCSE candidates were writing compositions inspired by Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint. I’m presently in a phase (pun unintended) of general impatience with the unquestioned stature now held by minimalist practice; but on this occasion I had to agree that this piece made great teaching material, allowing true focus on the smallest changes which unfold so clearly in the wide open spaces of the score. And, after seeing fifteen or so versions of it, there are clearly right and wrong ways to proceed. We found that only a narrow band of (brisk) tempi would allow the pitch structure to remain audible. And the level of dissonance was difficult to manage, strangely unknowable from the opening theme. As is often the case, I left the school feeling I had learned some new things.