Tag: Why I like this module

Why I like this module: Paper Composition

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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.

Why I like this module: 2nd year choices

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After a first year comprised solely of compulsory modules, picking four of your own choice can be a pretty big deal. When we chose ours, there were thirty-four to choose from, which was both a blessing and a curse.

Because music as a discipline covers so many areas, having this many options is a good thing because the curriculum can cater to everyone’s interests. A selection of our choices were ‘American Experimental Music’, ‘Shakespeare and Music’, and ‘The Sixties’, and the overall list spanned everything from the medieval period to present day, as well as including more creative/practical options.

However, as someone who overthinks everything and is generally indecisive, this list was very daunting. Naturally I could rule out some modules straight away (‘Recording’ wasn’t the ideal choice for a technophobe like myself), but there were still plenty of others that looked interesting, and since getting a time-turner wasn’t an option, I had to firmly tell myself that I couldn’t take twenty choices.

After considerable thinking/agonising about my future studies, I eventually decided on three modules that I absolutely wanted to do. This left one empty space on my module form, which I chose to fill with something a bit different to what I usually like to study.

Here’s what I ended up doing:

  • Solo performance – doing this meant that I could continue my instrument lessons (as well as the definite advantage of not having timetabled lectures for it). Even though the idea of doing a recital is quite scary, I think it will eventually help me get over my stage fright. Also, all my other options are coursework-based, so it’s nice to not have to stress about essays for the entire year.
  • Paper composition – I enjoyed this (and was quite good at it) in first year, so I decided to continue it to a more advanced level.
  • Music and the Brain – this module is about how music affects people who listen to it, with particular regard to emotion and music’s health-giving benefits. I did GCSE and A-level Psychology, and have always been interested in how the brain works, so this seemed like a perfect option for me.
  • Sacred Music in Secular Britain – this is to do with the relationship twentieth-century religious music had (and still has) with its contemporary society, and is the ‘unusual’ option that I decided on after all the others. I tend not to think much about the cultural context of music, so I chose this to help give me a wider perspective on musical works.

In short, my advice to people unsure about which modules to take would just be to do things you’ll enjoy, and don’t be afraid to do things that are going to push you a bit. If you know exactly which career path you want to go down, that’s great, choose things that will help with that, but it’s also worth venturing outside of that sometimes.