My fantastic colleague Andrew Toovey alerted me to a composition project he has been doing this term with a group of young composers from three state secondary schools in west London. Andrew is unusual, probably unique, in my acquaintance of major British composers, in that he (happily, I think) spent 25 years as a fulltime music teacher in London comprehensive schools, before joining the staff of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire a few years ago. But he said to me what a buzz it had been to work once more with teenage students, who can be so instantly and cheerfully creative – a perception I share.
On another cold, wet day I travelled over to Ealing to hear one of two concerts featuring eight new student compositions for string orchestra, played by the admirable Nonesuch Orchestra under excellent Dan Shilladay. This is an amateur ensemble (if it’s still allowable to use ‘the A-word’) of very high quality. CoMA, the national all-ability new music organisation, had also supported the event, giving some extra éclat to these carefully organised premieres.
I was taken aback by the skill and ease with which each young composer had faced this medium; it can be so tricky, especially for non-string players. As so often, I thought “I couldn’t have done this when I was their age”. Of course, Sibelius notation has helped the beginner composer, and modern music encompasses a much greater range of styles than it used to. (Two of the most delightful works, by Luca Latchman and Joseph Bazalgette, featured tango and Miles Davis-type modal jazz.) But I believe, despite seeming efforts to the contrary by the DfE , school-age students are ever more creative and expressive, if they are lucky enough to learn music in the first place. Congratulations therefore to all at Chiswick School, Twyford C of E High School, and Christ's School, Richmond.