rarescale’s annual summer school for composers and flute players is held each August at Harlaxton Manor in Lincolnshire. The week long residential course offers taught courses in both acoustic and electroacoustic composition, a composer’s retreat and a flute course for advanced players, under the tutelage of rarescale’s composer in residence, Michael Oliva (who is also a professor of composition at the Royal College of Music) and Artistic Director Carla Rees, the OCA’s Music Programme Leader. OCA students are offered discounted rates to attend the course, where they are given opportunities to collaborate with other musicians and have their work performed at the end of the week.
Deborah Johnson, a student on the Composing 2 course, writes this of her experiences:
“The rarescale summer school (which I attended for the second year running) is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in composing, music-making and socialising, all in the extraordinary Hogwarts-like surroundings of Harlaxton Manor. You can opt for composition, as I did, or tuition and performance on flutes, or a combination of the two.
Carla Rees and Michael Oliva provided expert and friendly tuition throughout, both on a group and a one-to-one basis. There were also exciting opportunities to hear new music performed by rarescale, to attend concert rehearsals and to take part in an informal final- evening concert – a memorable conclusion to a week of great fun as well as some quite hard work! Add to all this the odd visit to the village pub when a break is needed, together with the experience of making new musical friendships and deepening existing ones, and you have a perfect recipe for a really enjoyable and fruitful week.
For the student composer the week provides an invaluable framework for working at speed to a tight deadline, with the experience of hearing your work rehearsed and performed live by experienced musicians. It is less daunting than it sounds, as help is always at hand, and the atmosphere is altogether friendly and informal. Last year I surprised myself by managing an electroacoustic piece for flutes and electronic tape (my very first introduction to electronic composition). This year I wrote an acoustic piece for nine flutes, as there were nine flautists on the course and I wanted to write something for the whole consort. I learned a great deal from the experience. The guidance provided by the tutors was highly motivating, and it was instructive and illuminating to hear the newly-formed consort working together in rehearsals to bring the various pieces to life in performance. All the musicians were there to provide helpful feedback in a to-and-fro process of creating new music together.
I would like to thank OCA for supporting the rarescale summer school and helping to make it available to OCA students. There were three of us OCA students on the course and it was great to get to know each other and to compare notes!”
Deborah’s composition, The Spinning Bowl, makes particular use of the different timbral qualities of different members of the flute family, including flute, alto and bass.
Like Deborah, John Woodall, a student on the Composition 1 course, spent much time listening to the flute ensemble rehearse before writing his folk song setting, (S)lightly Poached. He says:“When the invitation came to participate in this year’s rarescale summer school, I reckoned on new experiences, but perhaps not ones to be described as exotic. But the chance to stay for a week in an English stately “pile”, Harlaxton Manor, which (even if the plumbing is somewhat elderly) makes Downton Abbey seem downright plain, was only the start. Until now, moreover (except that I’d once participated in a performance of Holst’s Planets and realised that there was a rather odd-looking addition to the flute section) I had hardly thought about the low – alto and bass (mostly) – flutes that represent the focus of rarescale’s activities, or indeed flutes of any kind other than the “normal” ones.
Nor had I begun, really, to think about the sound-world that excites composers, such as Michael, working with both microtones and electronic techniques. In addition, as a first-year student of the OCA’s Composing Music course, and with no capacity to play a flute (except perhaps a rusty memory of primary-school recorder-playing from several decades ago), I was by no means confident of “fitting in”. Of course, I should not have doubted that Carla and Michael would envisage a full role for our small band of OCA-affiliated “acoustic” composers, and such uncertainties faded entirely as the week unfolded in a gloriously open, inclusive and encouraging way.
For now, I remain wedded to the ambition to develop – through the OCA course – the skills I need for composing in an acoustic and tonal framework. But even then, new realisations – not least the possibilities for a choir of mixed flutes (through hearing Carla’s arrangements and a little basic experimentation) –have really set me thinking in ear-opening ways, and ways that will refresh my enthusiasm for the upcoming units of the composition course-work.”
Charlotte Adams spent the week working on the electroacoustic composition course, focusing on creating field recordings and using software to mould them into a piece of music. She describes her piece Empty Monuments as:
“A piece of musique concrète made at the rarescale summer school, with Logic and sounds collected with a zoom recorder, contact microphone and hydrophone from Helsinki, the Farne Islands and Harlaxton Manor. I got so much input in this week, with supportive tutoring and a fascinating interaction of electroacoustics and flutes.”
Charlotte’s piece, Empty Monuments:
Dates for next year’s course will be available soon.