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The National Trust at 125 – Honouring British Composers

The National Trust was founded on the 12th January 1895 by Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley. As the Trust reaches its 125th birthday, we share its celebration of famous British composers and the work it does to inspire a new generation.

Octavia Hill

Leith Hill Place – Ralph Vaughan Williams

Leith Hill Place in Surrey was the home of Ralph Vaughan Williams from the age of two until he was 20, when he went to study at Cambridge. He arrived at Leith Hill Place with his mother after the death of his father, when they moved to live with his mother’s parents. His early music education came from his aunt Sophy who taught him piano. He also learnt violin, viola and organ. After schooling at Charterhouse, he went to the Royal College of Music and then to the University of Cambridge.

Ralph had a passion for bringing music into people’s lives. In 1905 he helped his sister, Margaret Vaughan Williams and Lady Evangeline Farrer to start the Leith Hill Music Festival, an annual competition for amateur choirs. He remained as Festival Conductor for nearly fifty years and the Festival continues to thrive.

Leith Hill Place has been in the hands of the National Trust since 1945. Set in beautiful countryside, the house celebrates the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams with a timeline of his life. At the house you can also see Ralph’s piano on which he composed works such as Lark Ascending and his Symphonies 1-9. The piano, which remained in the family, has now been restrung and fitted with a new tuning plank so it can be played. On the second floor of the house is an audio guided tour of Ralph’s life and music.

Leith Hill Place is also notable for it’s links to other members of Ralph’s family. His grandfather was Josiah Wedgwood III (of the ceramics company) and his grandmother was Caroline Darwin, sister of Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin conducted experiments in the grounds of the house.

The Firs – Edward Elgar

Edward Elgar was born on 2nd June 1857 in The Firs in Broadheath, an early 19th Century Worcestershire cottage. At the time, his father, a musician, was a piano tuner, church organist and amateur violinist, his mother was a farmer’s daughter who wanted her children to grow up in the country.

Although Elgar was only two years’ old when the family left The Firs, his mother often sent him and his siblings back to Broadheath for summer holidays, when they would stay on a farm. This developed Elgar’s lifelong love of the area which led to his request on receiving his Baronetcy for the title ‘Baron Elgar of Broadheath’.

In 1934, before his death, Elgar confided to his daughter Carice that he wanted to be remembered in Broadheath, and so in 1935, Carice with the help of Alderman Hubert Leicester, persuaded the corporation of Worcester to purchase the cottage. She also requested that all memorabilia relating to Elgar be returned to the cottage.

The Firs continues to celebrate the life and work of Elgar through maintaining artefacts, talks and concerts. A key part of the National Trust’s work is to help visitors to appreciate the area that so influenced Elgar with a series of walks around the Worcestershire countryside.

575 Wandsworth Road – Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian

In 2015, the National Trust and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) developed a composer in residence project. Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, an LSO Soundhub associate, created works inspired by 575 Wandsworth Road, London. The house was owned by late Kenyan-born poet, novelist, philosopher of mathematics and British civil servant, Khadambi Asalache, and was acquired by the National Trust in 2010.

Asalache bought the house in 1981 and turned it into a work of art. The project started when he fixed pine floorboards to a damp wall and he went on embellish walls, ceilings and doors with handcarved fretwork patterns and motifs .

Horrocks-Hopayian took part in a two year residency, working with LSO musicians to interpret the history of the house and the work of Asalche. Her first composition from the projects combined a recording of Khadambi Asalache’s thumb piano with extracts from his poems.

Alongside her composition work, Horrocks-Hopayian work with the local community such as the Festival Chorus Wandsworth, work which further inspired her compositions.

Michael Price – Tender Symmetry

In 2018, Michael Price released his work Tender Symmetry, in answer to National Trust locations across England. The works were both informed by and recorded in spaces such as of Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire to the Fan Bay World War II shelter, in the chalk cliffs of Dover.

Michael Price explains: “For Tender Symmetry, I stopped admiring and started participating in these buildings. This began as an exploration of writing and recording out in the world beyond the studio. I am interested in where we build our homes in an increasingly virtual world and the spirit of place we feel as we walk our local streets, our schools, temples and public spaces…Taking inspiration from a place, and the stories it told, then going back to that place to record, sometimes in less than ideal conditions, made the two-year adventure much more like shooting a film than making a record.”

Fountains Abbey

The locations for Tender Symmetry are:

  • Speke Hall, Liverpool, Merseyside – a Tudor manor house on the banks of the Mersey, restored in the 19th century, so combining both Tudor and Arts and Crafts features
  • Quarry Bank, Cheshire – a great industrial heritage site, containing an 18th century working mill and the homes of a complete working community
  • Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire – the largest monastic ruins in the country, founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York
  • 2 Willow Road, London – an innovative and influential Modernist home, designed in 1939 by architect Ernö Goldfinger for himself and his family
  • Sandham Memorial Chapel, Hampshire – a world famous chapel which houses an epic series of large-scale paintings, by acclaimed war artist Sir Stanley Spencer
  • Fan Bay Deep Shelter, Kent – a tunnel complex constructed inside the White Cliffs of Dover in  1940/41 as accommodation for the gun battery above
  • All Hallows, Gospel Oak – the only location not owned by the National Trust, where Shade Of Dreams was recorded.

Composing the Future

On 1st October 2019, Sound and Music announced the findings of their National Music Educators’ Survey, Can Compose. The report, which is based on responses from over 500 educators, is the first of it’s kind to look specifically at creativity and composers.

Sound and Music believe that composing should be a core element of every child’s music education – and 97% of their respondents agreed.

One of the areas of the report is the identification of 5 key barriers (from the over 600 barriers that were reported) that prevent young people’s progression in composing:

  • Many young people lack the skills, knowledge and confidence to compose their own music
  • There are concerns about the relevance of opportunities for young people 
  • Many educators lack support and training in how to teach composing 
  • There is limited, patchy and unequal access to resources and opportunities 
  • Composing as a core part of music education is undervalued 

These are worrying findings for those of us who believe in the importance of opportunity for creativity and access to music for young people, however not a great surprise to the MWC team who see a wide range of musical opportunities for young people in schools in many areas, but speak to teachers who do not have the skills to teaching composition or do not have access to the necessary resources.

Sound and Music suggest that these findings point to the need for changes in perceptions, provision, practice and policy.

As well as identifying the barriers to young people composing, Sound and Music’s report also identifies 5 outcomes to address the barriers:

  • There should be more opportunities for young people to compose in and out of school 
  • Opportunities for young people to compose should be more relevant and diverse 
  • There should be improved provision of training, support and resources for educators, music education hubs and schools 
  • There should be improved progression pathways through better networks and signposting 
  • More value should be placed on composing

Sound and Music state:

“We want to see a world where more young people have the opportunity, skills and confidence to create their own music; where their creativity and imagination can flourish; and where the composers of the future, key to the success of many of the UK’s creative industries, are nurtured.”

This is a sentiment that we, at MWC, fully support.

Key Findings

Key findings from the report include:

97% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that creating and composing music should be a core element of music education

96%  of respondents agreed that creating and composing music enables children and young people to develop their identity and their wellbeing

97% of respondents also agreed that there should be more opportunities for students to compose their own music

Young peoples’ confidence and performance opportunities

An important point for consideration is that young people’s confidence in composing declines throughout their time in education up to the age of 16. By age of 16 and over, the confidence in composing seems to return a little, however, the number of young people participating in music education in schools at this stage is a very small proportion of all young people. One concern is that many students lack confidence in themselves as composers and worry about being judged. The report suggests this lack of confidence to experiment and make mistakes when learning to compose has its roots in a number of the issues identified throughout the survey. The report further suggests that this lack of confidence is compounded by the systemic deprioritisation of composing compared to performing.

Also highlighted in the Sound and Music report is the fact that opportunities for young people to hear their own compositions performed live are extremely limited. The research found that there is a mismatch between students composing and works being performed.

Teachers confidence and CPD

The research suggests that teachers and educators are not accessing training and Continuing Professional Development focused on composing with only 41% of respondents reporting that they had received composing-focused Continuing Professional Development (CPD) within the last 5 years. Educators seem to value to CPD with 45% of respondents agreeing that “CPD for themselves and colleagues” that be the activity that would most benefit young people. Linked to this is a lack of confidence in educators regarding assessing composing, particularly for exams. Educators’ confidence can be undermined by exam boards’ assessment methodologies, which are not always perceived to be reliable or transparent.

As educators do not always feel confident teaching composing, the report found that schools increasingly rely on external music tuition to fulfil curriculum and examination requirements, which particularly impacts composing,

The question “what would most benefit young people to compose music?”, 38% of those respondents directly involved in teaching music, and 45% of those respondents working for organisations, said that better teaching resources would help them support composing activity.  This was broken down with categories most frequently given as school facilities, equipment and space (34% of responses within this category), including the need for more technology and equipment; insufficient breakout spaces for group composing activity; and a lack of accessible instruments for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. This last point is highlighted in the finding that music educators struggle to support young people who face disabling barriers to composing and creating music.

Also identified as something that would help young people compose was access to composers. The report suggests “Providing young people with more opportunities to work alongside composers, and supporting composers in developing their skills as educators, are two important steps that educators feel the music education sector needs to take.”

Concern about the future of music in schools

A concern that MWC has raised in numerous blogs is the challenge that music as a curriculum subject is being deprioritised. In the Sound and Music report, 78% of respondents identified the deprioritisation of music as a curriculum subject or lack of time for music within the school curriculum as barriers to young people composing their own music.

Recommendations

The report goes on to identify ways to create opportunities and support young people to compose. These recommendations link to key areas:

  • Creating more opportunities for young people to compose both in and out of school
  • More relevant and diverse opportunities for young people to compose
  • An improved offering of training, support and resources for educators, music education hubs and schools
  • Clear signposting to improved progression pathways with better networks
  • A higher value to be placed on composing

To read the full report visit http://soundandmusic.org/projects/can-compose-national-music-educators-survey

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