Young Composers' Project

Young Composers’ Project in Birmingham happens in the Conservatoire. It is a series of day-long composition sessions for secondary school pupils, one Sunday a month in termtime, during which there is discussion of a fundamental topic, time to write a little music and then to workshop it continuously during the day with professional level players, followed by a final playthrough. Crucially the mentors and players are themselves postgrad students at the Conservatoire, led by Kirsty Devaney, already a notable name in composer education, but still a PhD student at BCU.

I found YCP to be an excellent composition teaching model – much more informal than the usual, and certainly sufficient teaching for a developing teenage composer who doesn’t otherwise have access to a specialist music environment. Astonishingly, the sessions are provided free of charge. The cost is presumably to the Conservatoire which opens its premises in its typically free-spirited way, and perhaps to the young teachers who I imagine are volunteering their time– but to their advantage, as this is a great way of learning to teach. I’m sure too that teenage students relate better to young teachers. At my advanced age I found the two groups difficult to tell apart until the end of the afternoon when parents arrived, and some people were driven home – those must have been the students.

My photo I think captures the inside of the Conservatoire – the Stasi-type lighting, the concrete walls, the trailing wires, it has looked like this for the 20 years I’ve known it, and I sometimes wonder if the effortless art-school type creativity of this institution (in the area of composition, at least) is thanks to these workmanlike un-fancy surroundings. Well, to quote Chekhov “they’re cutting it down” – as with much of Birmingham’s central concrete, the building will be coming down soon, starting with the Adrian Boult Hall. Of course a new Conservatoire is coming – the architect’s drawings show the usual laid back users and passers-by, dressed for California and one of them in this case walking a spaniel. I hope it’s not like MIT’s famously decrepit Building 20 – thought to be the most inventive spot in that great institution- which eventually had to be torn down, and replaced by Frank Gehry's fanciful architectural representation of creativity, the Stata Center. Removed Building 20 resident Noam Chomsky, no less, complained about his sloping wall in the new building which meant he couldn’t put bookshelves on it, and said that he missed the squirrels which used to run around inside the walls of his old office, preferring henceforth to work at home.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020