This is the current A-level Music class at Coombe Girls’ School (which has a mixed-gender sixth form.) Five people sitting the exam in any school is good going, but such numbers seem to be the norm at CGS, which I’ve visited for several years around this time, to discuss A-level work. Rather than ‘free composition’, the school teaches the ‘set brief’ option. Sometimes I hear this referred to as ‘pastiche’, which I believe is the wrong way to describe it. I think it as ‘techniques of composition’, and it’s a really good training for those who can relate to historical classical music at all.
It’s also searching and tricky. This year’s work asked for ‘elements of stretto’, if you please, in an extended ensemble composition. These uniformly excellent students didn’t seem (at least by this point in the school year) fazed by their tasks. Four out of five were string players, so helpful for anyone studying music, and models which they’d personally chosen to follow included Haydn, Dvorak and Mahler. By mid-March, their compositions were mostly quite close to completion, and during our interesting morning, we mainly discussed small tweaks before the work would be submitted.
During this week I visited three schools, and though Covid-19 was at last beginning to be ‘a thing’ in the UK, attention was still largely focused on exam submissions and end-of-term concerts. At the moment this photo was taken, I did not dream that, in a few days, the nation’s schools would all close until further notice, and that GCSE and A-Level would be cancelled. At the time of writing, it’s by no means clear what will take their place. I do hope whatever measures are devised will somehow manage to be expressive the quality of the work already done by individual students, such as those pictured here.