Despite all official attempts to discourage arts studies, the A Level Music course still exists, and it's a cheering experience to revisit some of the schools where it's a popular subject. Amongst these is Vyners School in Hillingdon, where this week I met an A-Level class of 10 people studying the free composition option. That's a remarkably high number given the technical demands of this subject.
But government STEM enthusiasts will be glad to know that entering the music room at Vyners School is a bit like visiting a science lab. Students are spaced around the edges of the room, working independently on computers in an atmosphere of friendly concentration. Peering into the various screens, there are constantly interesting points to discuss. For instance, a conversation I had with one student about her harp writing in an orchestral piece, involving what I felt were too-rapid harmonic turnarounds necessitating pedal changes that just couldn't be physically managed. Her solution? "OK, maybe I'll use two harps !" (Cue another spiel from me about the need to observe orchestral economies.)
The next day I attended a performance of Die Walküre, 5 hours of exceedingly tight harmonic turns and sharp corners, but including gorgeous continuous harp passages in the Magic Fire Music. I peered into the pit; to see four harps doing exactly what that A-level student had suggested, managing chains of modulations by alternating several harps with different pedal settings. How wonderful to meet young people working first and foremost with their own ingenuity.
Pictured - an earlier, springtime visit to Hillingdon, perched on the River Pinn