Composition at the Guildhall School
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Composition at the Guildhall School

August 26, 2019

I chose to study composition at Guildhall
because I was really interested in being able to collaborate with world-class young musicians who were interested in workshopping and experimenting with music, and I thought that would really
broaden my musical knowledge and enable me to take it further. The study of composition
at Guildhall, in terms of our degree programmes, centres around a combination of one-to-one
study, principal study, with a composition professor, but then departmental classes.
On the undergraduate course that involves technical subjects like harmony and counterpoint
and twentieth century musical materials, and electro-acoustic music. But it also involves
workshopping. We have open workshops quite often where we all sit in for a day and listen
to each other’s works that we’ve written for a specific ensemble, and this normally happens
two or three times a year. As teachers and students are there we all get to kind of comment
and have a look and get to work things out together on all of our pieces. They workshop every big piece that
you write for your portfolio, which is the most essential thing in your
development as a composer, in my opinion, because that moment where the notes that you
write on paper become physical sound is just the moment of realisation that what you’ve
done either works, which motivates you to write more of it, or it doesn’t work, which motivates you to work harder on what you’re writing next. Generally I think it’s very
valuable that a lot of our staff members are active compositionally as well, so that us
students can see where has their work led them, what did they do to get to where they are now, how can we incorporate that in the way that we make our way in the professional world. Obviously the main course provides a chance to enhance our abilities at writing
for specific instruments or specific ensembles, leading up to orchestra of course which I’m
writing for at the moment in fourth year. Alongside that there are other opportunities
that I’ve taken advantage of, such as writing for theatre at Guildhall, writing for the
drama productions, which I’ve written for a couple of. Guildhall is a cross-arts conservatoire
with schools of music, drama and technical theatre, so quite a number of our student
composers get involved with the drama department and write incidental music for student productions. But we also have a number of strategic partners that we develop other compositional projects
with, so all of our composers find themselves busy not just with the composition projects
they’re doing for their degree courses but all kinds of other activity that grows around
their coursework. Some of the highlights from my time here have been writing music for players
from the London Contemporary Orchestra, that was really amazing to have my music workshopped
by such high-level performers, and also writing music for other students in the School and being able to really collaborate with them closely. At Guildhall you kind of receive
this training which really prepares you for the professional life, I mean you have very
strict deadlines to meet, and also the players expect (and quite rightly so) everything to
be on time and accurate and well-prepared. Also we get lessons in electronic music and
things like that which really help cultivate say that if you wanted to go do media composition
or composing for advertising or TV or that kind of thing, there’s still that option open
to you, and that’s an option I’m hoping to take. Once every couple of months you just
get an email saying, “This amazing pianist is coming in to Guildhall to workshop some
new pieces, can you write a piece for him?” and you get two weeks to do it – and these
are the most stimulating moments for me when I just have to get to work straight away and
get it done. That’s when I feel most creative and most open and free.

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