Study visit review: OCA music composition workshop

In late July, OCA music students from across the UK and Europe met up at the MAC Birmingham for a day of music making and discussion with music tutor Chris Lawry and saxophonist and publisher Keri Degg. The day was focussed on writing for saxophone with a particular emphasis on composing music for educational and examination purposes. Students got to hear their compositions workshopped and received feedback and advice from tutor and performers, as well as bound scores and recordings to take away for further study. One of the most pleasing aspects of the day was the fantastically wide ranging and productive discussion which took place between everyone attending, with the Q&A session at the end of the day particularly amusing! It is really amazing how much can be covered in just one day and from the following student feedback it was clear that it had been a very supportive and affirming experience. Well done to all. Recordings of a selection of pieces from the day can be found at the end of this blog post.

“This is the third year that I have attended this Workshop, and I’ve learned something new each time. As in other years, we were a mixed bunch: from some who were just starting out on their OCA music degree to others who were at Level 3. The challenge set for us budding composers was to produce a graded piece for saxophone. The things that I appreciate most about these workshops are hearing our compositions played live, hearing performers comment on the practicalities of the composition, and seeing and hearing how my colleague composers have tackled the brief.” (John Clarke)

“A roomful of OCA’s composers met again for another worthwhile and very helpful music study day, dealing with the brief of writing educational grade exam music for saxophone. Queries and helpful suggestions were voiced by those present, along with great appreciation of other people’s music and praise for everyone’s pieces. One of the best things about the day is receiving excellent feedback from all present, not just our tutor and saxophonist! In addition, Chris demonstrated some useful layout advice on Sibelius. The whole atmosphere was supportive and welcoming. We all eagerly awaited hearing each other’s compositions, and there were impressive first submissions from newer students. Just as a day of listening to music, it would have been hugely successful, but with all the constructive tuition we also receive, these study days are invaluable. Many more please!” (Fionagh Bennet)

“The day could not have been more instructive, helpful and enjoyable. The opportunity to hear and dissect 14 compositions, all written to the same brief was wonderful. Not only did we discuss a wide range of subjects as a result of the points highlighted by each other’s compositions, but the interaction between the students present was enlightening as everyone has something different to offer. To be part of a like-minded group, all working towards the same goals was great and I am sure we all not only enjoyed the day but came away encouraged and inspired.” (Lindsey Berwyn-Jones)

©2017 Lyndsey Berwyn-Jones

“I grabbed the opportunity to attend the study visit in Birmingham… I was nervous, but wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. The brief was to compose a grade piece for saxophone with piano accompaniment, which I approached more as a duet. I was very excited about hearing the recorded version of my piece played by Chris and Keri. I wasn’t expecting a live performance. I feel it was performed beautifully and I found hearing my work played by such fantastic musicians, quite emotional. There was, on the day, constructive criticism and reflective comments on all of our pieces from both hosts and students, but I think the message I got from it was “good work, keep it up”. Very encouraging and very respectful of us as students and composers. It was a privilege and a pleasure to be a part of the workshop and to feel part of the student body rather than a guy at home with a laptop. It made all the difference. Bravo OCA.” (Tom Bryans)

“The workshop was my first study visit with the OCA. I was a bit nervous as I hadn’t done a lot of composition. I thought it would be good to meet my fellow music students and tutor as with all distance learning, the study visit is a valuable component. Meeting and sharing our thoughts and ideas. I was greeted by student rep and met my tutor and fellow students who were all welcoming and friendly. I believe as composers, events like this are worth their weight in gold. Seeing how others did things and their experience gave me a lot to think about in my own work and in moving from music foundations to the degree course.” (Jason Kenny)

© 2017 Fionagh Bennet

“In summary, it was a fantastic experience to have my work prepared and played so beautifully by excellent musicians, and discussed by other music students. A really well organised and well structured experience, allowing for plenty of participation and giving fantastic insight into the composing process. We were encouraged to change our compositional process from time to time to experience the writing process from a different viewpoint. I tried doing this recently by improvising more and it did feel different and encouraging – like opening a new window! An interesting point that Chris made was that music is a ‘living entity’ that changes how people feel and you do want to be able to create an effect with your composition.” (Vicki Downey)

Students wishing to participate in the follow up discussion about publishing and educational music can join in by contacting tutor Chris Lawry (chrislawry@oca.ac.uk)

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