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Poetry and the Joy of Human Expression

World Poetry Day falls on March 21st 2020. The annual celebration, which was adopted by UNESCO in 1999, is an opportunity to revive oral traditions, promote the reading, writing and teaching of poetry, and foster the convergence between poetry and other arts, including music. Poetry can act as a uniting force, expressing common human experiences – a vital force for connection in difficult times – and so UNESCO extends the invitation to everyone to take part.

In celebrating World Poetry Day, March 21, UNESCO recognizes the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures.

UNESCO

Music and poetry are compatible – rhythmically, expressively and emotionally. Song lyrics have elements of poetry – some are even poems set to music – and many works of classical music are based on poems. There are even pieces called ‘poems’. Tone poems or symphonic poems are single-movement orchestral works, normally from the Romantic period, that illustrate or evoke the content of a poem or other non-musical source. Their descriptive power is clear from the use of tone poems like Also Sprach Zarathustra and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in pop culture. The awe in the opening notes of Strauss’s tone poem hold a common human experience that speaks of the vast emptiness of space in Kubrick’s 2001 and the rising of the sun in its original context.

In popular music, some of the most notable songwriters have either been celebrated as poets or published books of poetry. Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

In his acceptance speech, Dylan explained:

If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important. I don’t have to know what a song means. I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs. And I’m not going to worry about it – what it all means.

Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, “Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.

Bob Dylan

Leonard Cohen, a contemporary of Dylan’s was a poet first and a songwriter second. A post on BBC 6 Music’s social media asking people to list their favourite Cohen lyrics attracted hundreds of varied replies. Such was his command of language and the extraordinary feelings he could evoke with a simple twist of words. Cohen had his opinions on fellow artists. After Bob Dylan was awarded with his Nobel Prize, Cohen commented,

To me,” he said, “[the award] is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain.

Leonard Cohen

In March 2015, Cohen wrote a poem in reply to comments made by rapper Kanye West in a talk at Oxford University. In the talk, West had expressed a wish that he’d studied art, saying:

My goal, if I was going to do art, fine art, would have been to become Picasso or greater. That always sounds so funny to people, comparing yourself to someone who has done so much, and that’s a mentality that suppresses humanity.

Kanye West

In response, Cohen wrote this poem:

Kanye West is not Picasso

I am Picasso

Kanye West is not Edison

I am Edison

I am Tesla

Jay-Z is not the Dylan of Anything

I am the Dylan of anything

I am the Kanye West of Kanye West

The Kanye West

Of the great bogus shift of bull**** culture

From one boutique to another

I am Tesla

I am his coil

The coil that made electricity soft as a bed

I am the Kanye West Kanye West thinks he is

When he shoves your ass off the stage

I am the real Kanye West

I don’t get around much anymore

I never have

I only come alive after a war

And we have not had it yet

For many, poetry may seem irrelevant, romantic, difficult and inaccessible. But Dylan wrote about war, politics, ecological concerns and protest, and Cohen penned lyrics full of irony, love, joy and intense agony.

In difficult and conflicting times, perhaps it’s time to delve deeper, to explore the incredible wealth of poetry that exists within the world of musical compositions and song writing and to express our anger with poems as well as placards.

Featured Image by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash

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

The State of the UK Music Industry in 2017

In October, we looked at options for study at Higher Education for those interested in studying music. This month, we look at the Music Industry in the UK thanks to UK Music and their Measuring Music 2017 and Wish You Were Here 2017 reports.

Each year, UK Music produce a report giving an overview of the UK Music Industry, exploring factors such as the value of the Music Industry and where revenues are being generated. It’s an exciting time for the UK Music Industry with a 6% growth in Total Gross Value Added (GVA) contribution in 2016, a total of £4.4 billion. This breaks down as £2bn from musicians, composers, songwriters and lyricists, £1bn from live music (including festival organisers, ticketing agencies and venues), £640m from recorded music (including music labels and online music distribution), £474m from music publishing, £121m from music producers, recording studios and staff and £96m from music representatives (including collection societies, music managers and trade bodies).

Alongside the contribution to the UK, £2.5 billion was made in export revenue in 2016, with £946m generated by musicians, composers, songwriters and lyricists.

For those thinking of entering the Music Industry, the report shows good news. Employment was up 19% in the sector in 2016 with 142,208 people employed within the UK Music Industry (up from 119,020 in 2015). This includes 89,800 musicians, composers, songwriters and lyricists from big name artists to lesser known musicians. Other large areas of employment include 28,538 people working in live music, 11,300 music producers, recording studios and staff and 9,100 working in recorded music. This really highlights the range of career opportunities across the sector.

The Live Music sector is a very important growth area for the UK Music Industry with a total audience of 30.9 million attending live music events in 2016, up 12% from 2015. This includes 27 million attending concerts and 3.9 million attending festivals in 2016. Of the attendees, 12.5 million people were music tourists in 2016, of these 823,000 were from overseas. The popularity of live music and music tourism in the UK means that 47,445 people are employed full time in music tourism.

While we might think of major festivals being key to music tourism, small venues are also vitally important to the music economy in the UK. 6.2 million people attended events at smaller music venues in 2016 with 107,000 of these being overseas music tourists. Sadly, numbers attending events at smaller venues are declining with a 13% drop in total audience for smaller venues in London last year leading to a 16% drop in spend at smaller venues.

This challenge is being address by the Music Venues Trust – http://www.musicvenuetrust.com, a registered charity, which was formed in January 2014 to protect the UK live music network by securing the long-term future of iconic grassroots music venues such as Hull Adelphi, Exeter Cavern, Southampton Joiners, The 100 Club, Band on the Wall and Tunbridge Wells Forum. However, Beverley Whitrick, Strategic Director of the Music Venues Trust emphasised

For the first time in ten years, the number of GMVs operating in London stabilised; the capital finished the year with the same number of spaces for new and emerging talent as at the start of the year, halting a 15-year decline in the number of spaces. This picture of a more stable sector was reflected across the UK, with regions reporting small but significant increases in audiences in the grassroots and small music venue sector.

The Measuring Music report also explores how people are accessing music. Drawing on findings by AudienceNet’s June 2017 survey, the report highlights the different ways various generations are accessing music. For example, radio accounted for just a tenth of 16-19 year old listening time, while on-demand streaming accounted for 62% of their total listening time 2017. However, for over 65s, more than 65% of their listening is via Radio, with 4% utilising on-demand streaming.

The report also highlights the importance of online access to music, with 31% of people using YouTube to listen to music and only 16% using Spotify and 15% CD. YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music and the combination of Amazon Prime Music and Amazon Music Unlimited hold 87% of the streaming market, according to the AudienceNet survey.

When exploring how people access music online, there are again inter-generational differences, with 59% of 16 to 19-year-olds using for Spotify or Apple Music against 33% who used YouTube for on-demand music with just 34% of the over-45s listening to the two most popular subscription services (Spotify and Apple Music) compared to 39% who get their music from YouTube.

Key highlights for the UK Music Industry include 20 million cumulative track streams in week one for the release of Stormzy ‘s Gang Signs and Prayer. Stormzy is the first grime artist to reach number 1 in the UK Album Charts.

Music is a vital part of the UK’s Economy and it’s continued development is vital. The UK really are world-leaders when it comes to music – did you know, one in every eight albums sold worldwide is by a British artist?


The Music Workshop Company team is passionate about music and music education. If you have any questions for us, would like to pick our brains about a career in music or are interested in booking a workshop, contact us today!

Higher Education: What’s Right for You?

Although the deadline for applying to conservatoires and music colleges has passed, the closing date for university applications through UCAS (UCAS.com) is the 15th January 2018.

This gives plenty of time for potential applicants to consider whether they want to study at university, and if so, which university and which course best suits them.

Alex Baxter, Programme Leader Music Technology Programmes at the University of Hertfordshire advises:

The best degree courses expose their students to the huge range of connected areas which make up music technology as a whole – including those that students may not know even exist when they start their course.  Industry accredited degrees highlight that the broader industry sees the course content as being relevant to current industry practice, and this also offers excellent opportunities for industry input, and live projects where students’ developing techniques can be applied.  Universities which foster collaboration opportunities between courses (ie music technology students working with film & TV and animation students) offer that great extra dimension, as does the opportunity to study abroad or take a work placement.

UCAS offer 1,763 courses with ‘music’ in the title. These range from BMus(Hons) and BA(Hons) in Music to courses in Music Production, Songwriting, Music Performance, Community Music, Music Psychology, Music Technology, Music Composition, Music Business, Musical Theatre, Commercial Music, Digital Music, Popular Music, Sound Design, Composition for Film & Games and Music Industry Management…

That’s before looking at Joint Honours Programmes: Music and another subject.

[Image: Emily]

 

Supporters of universities suggest that benefits for students include the opportunity to study an area of interest, meeting people with both similar and different interests, making connections with fellow students, lecturers and industry, and improving job prospects.

With current fees in the UK at £9,250 per year for many degree courses, plus the additional costs of study (text books, resources, accommodation, travel etc.), it’s important to consider whether university study is for you.

There is a big difference between studying for A-Levels or BTEC and studying at university. Although universities offer a range of support services, particularly for those with learning needs, university studies are much more focussed on individual study and research. This requires self-discipline and focus.

Choosing the right university for you is also important. Different universities have different specialisms and contacts within particular Industries or Sectors. For example, if you are considering studying Music Business or Music Industry Management, you may want to study in or close to London to take advantage of the opportunities in London for internships and attending Industry events.

Universities also have different ‘feels’. Attending open days where you can meet staff and current students and check out the facilities can help you get a good feel for each institution.

[Image: Ольга Жданова]

The teaching staff are also a key element of your university experience, so research the teaching team. See what research they have been involved in, what their position in the industry is and how active they are outside the university. Also find out about industry speakers and alumni. Developing your network while still at university is crucial to developing a career on graduation.

When selecting a university, key questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do you want to live at home or move away?
  • If you want to move away, does the university have halls and suitable accommodation nearby?
  • If studying music, what aspect of music do you want to study? What might you want to do as a job?
  • Do you want an academic programme or a more vocational one?
  • Do you want to study with particular tutors/lecturers?

Key questions to ask the University include:

  • How much contact time do you get on the course? What wider support is available?
  • What experience do you get on the course? For example performing opportunities, recording, managing live projects?
  • What opportunities does the course give for Studying Abroad or a Work Placement as part of the degree?
  • Does the course focus on a specific discipline or does it give you a wide overview of your chosen area?
  • How involved in the programme are named tutors?
  • How many students are in each cohort / class?
  • What jobs do recent graduates get? Where are alumni working 3 – 5 years after graduation?

[Image: Danchuter]

The key to finding the right path for you is in looking at the most important aspects of study thoroughly. The most important decisions centre around whether or not to go to university, which course to study and where to study. It’s vital to take time to visit any universities you’re considering, and to seek advice from family, friends and people in your preferred industry.

The author of this blog, MWC’s Maria Thomas, is a Senior Lecturer on the Music Industry Management course at the University of Hertfordshire. 


If you would like to speak to the Music Workshop Company about anything in this blog, or to book a workshop, contact us today:

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