What a wonderful evening we had with the performers for our first summer concert. The music ranged from some inspiring own compositions by our talented musicians, to music from stage and film to Impressionist and contemporary piano music.
There were seven compositions showing off the amazingly versatile skills of our pupils, all of which were written at the beginning of the year in the period January to March.
Composition is a fantastic way of teaching people to understand how music has developed to the point we are at today, as well as allowing them to show off their imagination. I teach composition in three ways; firstly where the student has free choice of what they are going to write for and how they are going to go about constructing the piece, secondly where there are rules/guidelines given and the composition has to stay within those boundaries and finally the composition has to tell a story, this can be inspired by their own written words or by using those of other poets and writers.
Programme part 1
The programme started with a performance of Debussy’s Cathedrale Engloutie by Chris, this is a piece that depicts a sunken cathedral which only becomes visible once in a generation as the waters of a reservoir drop low enough to reveal all of its mysterious glory.
We were then treated to a young lady making only her 2nd appearance at a music concert singing some of her pieces for her grade 1 singing exam, Eva was initially joined by Grace to sing the vocal exercises and then was brave enough to sing I’m Late, from Alice in Wonderland on her own.
It was at this point that we heard our first own composition by Maya – it was written for the woodwind trio of Flute, Clarinet and Bassoon. This composition was born of the instruction to write a piece for a trio, she was then given a choice of 4 different combinations, from where we arrived at a woodwind trio. The next part of the instruction was that it had to have each instrument showcased at least once in the piece. The rest of the construction of the piece was left to her.
Writing for instruments that you do not play is not easy as you have to learn (on the job) what works and what doesn’t while at the same time keeping balance between the instruments that you use. I think that you would agree that it worked very well.
The second composition of the evening was written by Grace and was The Song of Asia, this was a wonderful journey into the sounds of instruments from Asia, immediately transporting you to the shores of Japan or China. Grace followed her composition by singing the aptly named Amazing Grace, Close Every door, from Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat and Morning has Broken, all of which are from the grade 4 repertoire lists and are working on extending her current vocal range and depth of breathing.
The third composition was written by Rhea and is for piano, it has been written for the purpose of being included in her grade 2 piano exam.
It is a piece that is in the style of a classical piece of music in 3 sections, the third section is a repeat of the first.
To write a piece of music to be included in an exam it needs to meet certain criteria:
It must be in a key that is appropriate to the grade.
It must include some of the technical demands that are illustrated in the technical exercises.
It must be of a comparable standard to the other music that is performed.
The next performance of the evening was by Autumn, she was the first of our singers to offer a new skill that has been adopted by three of our students this year, that is; singing while accompanied by a track from a digital source. This is a difficult skill as there is no opportunity to be flexible in the performance and no way for the accompaniment to be manipulated if the performer goes at all off track. What it does is open up a whole new range of music to be sung to as well as offer the chance to sing with backing singers or duets without needing other performers to be present.
Autumn’s piece was All of Me, by John Legend, a difficult choice by Autumn as it has a number of places where you are telling a story in a controlled vocal range with only really the chorus allowing you to show off your vocal quality.
Mya was our next performer she was also singing with a digital source for her first piece which was For Good, from Wicked, this is a beautiful and quite emotional duet between the two main characters of the story – Glinda and Elphaba (Mya), the vocal balance between the two lines was really well handled, to such an extent that the tone of the two voices became as one as the end of the duet approached. Mya completed her performance in the first half with I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables, another very emotional song of lost love and destitution, which takes the singer and audience on such a journey, while at the same time leaving room for quite different interpretations.
Our penultimate performer in the first half was Carmen singing two wonderful songs from Disney films, Candle on the water from Pete’s Dragon and Part of my World form Little Mermaid. Both of these songs are part of the grade 2 repertoire lists and are great tools for developing breath control and learning to lead a song as in the little mermaid there are a number of places where the accompaniment is only playing a chord at the beginning of the bar as the story unfolds with clear vocal control and quite free timing within each bar.
The final performance of the first half was left to Olivia to introduce us to a Character who is mentally unstable, the range of emotion needed to make this piece work is quite incredible while at the same time needing to be able to control the dynamic range to make it match what you are saying without getting carried away. What a way to close the first half !
Programme part 2
The second half followed using the same order of musicians and some more of the students own compositions.
Chris began the second part of the concert with a wonderful contemporary piece called Big Band Sounds by Kapuskin, a piece that evokes all of the amazing rhythms and sounds associated with the Bigs Bands from the fifties. You can almost hear the trombone section or the Saxes playing different melodies, the piece has an almost improvisatory feel about it yet maintaining the structure that was required by these bands as they played for dance evenings.
Maya’s second composition – Doodle for Piano, is one where a lot of control was placed on how it could be written as it is a descent into the music of the early twentieth century using a Tone Row. This is where you have a pattern of notes that are repeated throughout the piece, with various compositional devices to prevent the music from becoming predictable.
Our next contribution is from Grace this time on the keyboard, playing the same piece from Joseph that she sang in the first half of the concert – Close Every Door, by playing and singing the same piece of music you learn to understand how different instruments require different approaches to the same piece and what works for one doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for another.
We were then treated to a duet performance by another adult pupil. Rondino Is a typically classical style piano duet, with a very fluent primo part with a quaver beat chordal accompaniment. Really delighted that Sophie agreed to play for us this evening as it meant that she could show herself how much she has improved as well as delighting the audience by her performance.
Two further songs from great stage musicals were then performed very well by Autumn, returning to Les Miserables she sang the song Castle on a Cloud and then we returned to Joseph for Any Dream Will Do. Both of these songs are exploring the importance of varying the levels of dynamics within the song so as to help to present the story.
The next composition we hear is by Olivia, what a number this is – any one who knows Olivia recognised her wonderful personality in this piece called AFW (Amazing-Flabbergasting-Wonderful).
It was followed by a composition by Isla called There Was An Old Man With A Beard, based on the nonsense poem by Edward Lear. The piece was developed by taking the words of the poem and adding a rhythm to them, and then as the piece develops various parts of the poem are repeated so ultimately developing a melody. Once this was complete Isla then developed an accompaniment that was sometimes just that at other times challenging g to take over the melody. A great balance was achieved in the way in which she was able to develop the themes and the tonal balance was maintained throughout.
The concert finishes with three of our singers presenting a combination of very different programmes, Carmen performs first with A Whole New World from Aladdin and then changing style totally to sing the traditional English song, The Ash Grove. The first being the description of a magic carpet ride, the second a tale of lost love in much more archaic language, difficult for current pupil to get their tongues around.
Mya then showed the world from the Sound of Music, introducing us to Maria with the title theme and then the song just before the whole family disappear over the mountains into Switzerland – Edelweiss. The vocal contrast required for these two songs is immense as you need to have the clarity and joy of being on the hills hearing your voice rolling all around you, to a song that is in effect saying goodbye to my previous life and to my country.
The final performance of the evening Was delivered by Olivia, with her interpretation of I Dreamed a dream introduced to us by Mya in the first half, followed by a piece all about a mythical bird – The Phoenix, a bird that watches over humanity and takes joy form their successes but has great sadness when he sees their many failures. The concert finishes with a wonderful performance of the title piece of the stage musical Legally Blonde, A difficult piece to navigate through as there are many tempo and key changes but again one that really showcases the performer once they understand how to tell the story.
The concert was also a big moment for Olivia as it was her last concert with us before she moves onto full time dance school in Leicester. I couldn’t have wished for a better send off for her and I am sure that all will wish her the very best for the future and will remember her wonderful performances over the years.