New Thinking in Glasgow


Things have come a long way at the RCS (formerly the RSAMD) since I taught there in the 1980s. On a short teaching visit this week I learned that the composition department hadn’t officially existed till the year 2000 – so I’m not sure what we were up to in those earlier decades. But it’s obvious that a great deal of rethinking has gone on around this college, which now teaches a list of performing arts disciplines (ballet being the most recent arrival) whose range can only be matched by The Julliard School. Those folk in the big offices (see photo) clearly deserve their parking spaces.

During this week’s RCS visit, I had the interesting experience of spending a one-to-one session with each first year undergraduate composer. On similar quests elsewhere, I tend to meet postgrads at the far end of their studies, some of whom can seem rather exhausted by the amount of (excellent, well-intentioned) teaching they’ve received. Given that nearly every intending professional composer nowadays proceeds to graduate level, many postgrads have had up to seven years of weekly meetings discussing this or that compositional issue. I sometimes wonder if there’s quite that much to discuss in an activity where progress can (and possibly should) be so slow. In this respect, composition studies seem different from learning the violin or singing, where it’s essential to have your teacher ‘check up’ on you every week for a long while.

So, it was great to meet a very fresh-minded group of people who had arrived in Glasgow for unusual reasons, and often from distant places; Hong Kong, India, France. A significant proportion had not previously prioritised formal music training; the group (all of them technically able and committed to composition) included two engineering graduates, a mathematician, a studio producer and an actor. I need to revise my instinctive response that routes like these into composition studies are ‘unusual’. What’s becoming increasingly unusual is to find students from the UK who have inched their way through GCSE and A-Level music (or their Scottish equivalents) plus ABRSM/Trinity grade exams. Which is all the more reason to keep music in schools, as a lively, practical activity available to all.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer