The music degree: the successful (long-term) marriage of man and instrument. Looking back, it feels as if the weekly hours of practice, the expenses of instrumental lessons, maintenance of an instrument and purchasing hundreds of scores have not all been in vain. One thing that all students do certainly achieve on the course is enjoyment.
However, as with all graduates, music students can struggle when arriving in the ‘real world’. During the course of the three years, students question career prospects and begin to worry about the value of their degree.
music can open up a number of avenues, whether that is admin, instrumental teaching or other jobs in the field of the Arts. What ultimately is most important are the life skills and personal development that each student achieves while studying at university.
Each year, a number of student composers emerge from Nottingham and continue to study Composition at Postgraduate level and beyond. Despite their different styles, they all face a similar problem: making their own artistic voices heard in the face of the current music scene. IMPACT met with four graduate composers to hear their obstacles and plans for 2013.
Sources of Inspiration
ED DENHAM (MUSIC BA AT UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM. STUDYING FOR MMus IN COMPOSITION AT BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE.)
“The University and particularly the department have been very important in my development,” says Ed. His involvement with many music societies at Nottingham throughout his three years provided “exposure to such a range of forms and idioms” which he recognises as an inspiration to his compositional style.
However it is always best to be cautious about defining style. Ed comments: “people only really talk about the style if the music itself is bad.” The contemporary scene by its nature is a challenging field to impress, with audiences still preoccupied with the recognised concert-hall museum of the big household names: Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.
The students have been fundamental in Ed’s development as a composer, stressing: “It is so important to hear your pieces realised.” When entering a professional, musical environment, the opportunity to hear pieces being rehearsed is limited, possibly even to one-hour rehearsals before performance as a result of the lack of funding in Arts.
Since graduating, Ed has become Musical Director of Hearts in Harmony Hospital Choir in Birmingham, a community vocal ensemble, in addition to writing his first opera, CARNIVAL, which was performed by the University Opera Society in December 2012. These musical opportunities have acted as a platform for Ed for 2013, after being commissioned to write an opera to be performed on the Birmingham canals, in addition to a ballet for a local company.
Away with the Old
ALEX KOLASSA (MUSIC BA AT UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM. STUDYING FOR PhD IN COMPOSITION AT UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM)
“I characterise myself as an ardent modernist, I like my music to be angular, idiosyncratic and challenging in the sense it is engaging for the performer (and audience).” During the last century, musical composition has become an intellectual, esoteric expression of an artist; a composer whose ambition is no longer to primarily provide PLEASURE for the audience (or at least not in the same manner as before).
In the face of the modern musical climate, style can often be a determining factor in success. While the Nottingham music scene has not been hugely influential in Alex’s development as a composer, the most profound influence has been his lecturer, Dr Nick Sackman, and the Department of Music, in particular the exposure to a wealth of musical sources and material.
In spite of finishing his PhD this year, Alex balances the practicalities of completing his portfolio and thesis alongside gaining experience composing for ensembles. During 2013, Alex’s compositions will be performed by MusSoc students and the Arco Ensemble, in addition to a ‘pervasive media’ drama collaboration to be performed in Bristol and Nottingham.
Adaptability is the key to success
ANGELA ELIZABETH SLATER (MUSIC BA AT UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM. STUDYING FOR PhD IN COMPOSITION AT UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM)
Aware of the balance between composition and audience enjoyment, Angela’s style varies “from piece to piece depending on what you aim to achieve and who the music is for”. Although within all compositions there is “a sense of emotion and/or abstract narrative”, Angela is a diplomatic composer who is aware of the difficulties of a rigid ‘style’.
“The music department is full of great performers who are willing to give up their time.” Angela’s involvement with the University Choir, Coro Sorelle and Wind Orchestra has been important in her inspiration to compose and the students of the University have been essential to hear her compositions performed. In addition, the professional and amateur concerts of the Nottingham area have provided Angela with “an insight into the local and national contemporary composition scene”.
For Angela, an awareness of her musical surroundings has been key to her development as a composer. During 2013, Angela will be composing for BlowSoc’s Wind Orchestra and the University Philharmonia in addition to external choirs and an exciting local instrumental project in Nottingham.
A success story
ALEX PATTERSON (MUSIC BA AT UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM. MMus FROM BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE.)
“I owe a lot to being a music student at Nottingham. The course itself is great and the facilities are wonderful but it’s the extracurricular stuff that allowed me to really develop as a musician.” As a student at Nottingham, Alex’s prowess was developed by conducting the music societies’ ensembles and being a performer at the University and as a choral scholar at St Barnabus Cathedral. The diversity of choral music has in particular been influential to Alex as a composer.
Alex soon became composer-in-residence and Assistant Director of St Barnabus and has since become one of the most exciting composers in Nottingham. Despite graduating, Alex “still maintained links to the department, the ensembles and Lakeside, [who] have helped me develop my craft”. Contacts and opportunities in the music industry are always extremely important and should never be overlooked.
Alongside being a music teacher at St Joseph’s School, Nottingham, Alex is also the musical director of Radcliffe Ladies Choir and Conductor of Nottingham Youth Voices. One of Alex’s main attributes is his skill as an all-round musician; as a teacher, a composer and a performer.
Despite keeping his plans under wraps, the success of the previous year; including the selection of ENTR’ACTE (pub opera) as part of the World Event Young Artists in September, promises that 2013 will be another successful year for Alex as a composer.
The main issue facing composers in the 21st Century is primarily discovering a personal, artistic voice that is accepted and performed. Without this, a career can prove difficult to sustain. Although the facilities at the University have been important in the development of these composers, the true underlying inspiration has been the students who support and premiere these works for the world to hear.