Although I tackled a variety of material during my first year at Birmingham, which ranged from Medieval music to Electroacoustic composition, my favorite module was by far Paper Composition.
The module is really challenging, which means working independently and proactively to produce interesting ideas, before hearing them played by other students during composition workshops. The composition tutors give you constructive feedback, which helps to shape and improve your initial ideas to create a cohesive and intelligent composition.
The module is structured through various assignments, which exercise and develop certain skills and techniques. For example, we received a melody assignment which encouraged us to approach melodic writing in a unique and interesting way, while taking influences from three different composers; Debussy, Berio and Varese. We could then apply what we learned to our final composition at the end of the module.
Hearing your ideas playing by a real ensemble rather than a computer running Sibelius is much more rewarding, and really helps to improve ideas, particularly when working on articulation and dynamics. Furthermore, the players in your ensemble immediately highlight technical difficulties, which might otherwise go unnoticed when writing for an unfamiliar instrument. I’ve found this to be particularly useful when writing compositions for competitions or in support of other applications, because its given my recent compositions a new found quality which I lacked before coming to University.
The feedback provided by the tutors is also immensely useful; they explain in detail any issues with your work and how to solve them, while also highlighting the positive features of your work. I feel I’ve developed significantly as a composer due to concise and helpful feedback from tutors, and its encouraged me to continue to pursue composition due to the progress I’ve made.
In addition to any feedback I received, I was also introduced to some fantastic new music and composers, which I’d never studied in detail before. This allowed me to approach my assignments with new influences in mind. Some of the most interesting pieces I was introduced to included Luciano Berio’s Sequenzas, a set of virtuoso compositions for solo instruments and Stravinsky’s orchestral work, Les Noces.
Overall, the module itself has been interesting and challenging, while also introducing me to new composers and different compositional techniques. My understanding of the different elements of composition has improved significantly, due to helpful feedback from my tutors, which in turn has encouraged me to pursue composition more seriously. The independent nature of the work, and the keen focus on clear presentation, has far reaching benefits beyond composition, while the close work with other individuals in weekly composition workshops allows a greater understanding of a broad range of instruments.
As a result, the Paper Composition is the module which I’m most excited to be studying as I enter my second year of University, and one which I hope will bring me some great opportunities in the future.