My first journey in 2019 was to New Malden. Coombe Girls' School looks fairly utilitarian from the outside, but from my visits there I know that there must be some excellent, imaginative teaching going on inside. Today I met four A level Music students who’ll take the exam this year, and they’ll be followed up by a Year 12 class of seven candidates. These are remarkably high, and consistent, numbers anywhere outside the specialist music schools, let alone in a ‘non-selective’ state secondary in south London.
On the A Level menu this year was writing a composition based on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The famous symphonic poem by Dukas remains amongst my un-favourites, but the girls had gone back instead to Goethe’s poem and storyboarded it to find a structure. We were up against some pretty firm exam constraints; no longer than 3 minutes (that’s not much time to fit in all those overflowing pails, splitting brooms etc) and ‘it must be within a historical [here presumably Romantic] style’. It was particularly frustrating pointing out some excellent passages of music which might have to come out to fulfil this diktat. I’m still thinking of a gorgeous Szymanowski-like sequence of chords which, I had to warn the composer, were “probably too late in style to be what the exam board thinks is Romantic”.