This Spring saw the launch of the Stylistic Techniques music course at the OCA. It’s a core unit designed for all music students and is intended to be approachable by post foundation course level students.
The course has several aims ranging from introducing students to the fundamentals of tonal harmony to developing practical skills such as score reading as well as developing awareness of musical style. A steady flow of students are beginning the course which mixes research, practical application and critical and reflective writing.
Gesualdo’s Beltà poi che t’assenti
While we as composers may or may not choose to engage directly with style in the manner of Schnittke, Stravinsky or Adès, it is hoped that the course will help us recognise where our own style comes from and aid us in fashioning a personal compositional voice. It is also intended to inspire a deeper appreciation of historical composition and assist students in developing a critical attitude towards musical culture and tradition.
The course is structured upon broad musical periods though it is not presented chronologically. Composers from different centuries brush shoulders creating new connections and contrasts, mirroring the way many of us listen to, perform and compose music.
Style is discussed from angles such as the compositional technique, historical context, audience reception to the music at the time, and our contemporary attitudes. Passages from a range of compositions are analysed and specific techniques discussed to deepen our understanding of different styles and how they compare. The focus is also widened to research areas as diverse as globalisation, the connection of music with religion and impressionism in jazz. There are many opportunities for students to get ‘hands on’ with the new ideas, ranging from composing in an impressionist style to arranging part of a Beethoven string quartet.
Richard Strauss’ Don Juan
Students are encouraged to explore widely and to pursue avenues they personally find interesting. Independent work is supported by a reading list selected for students’ differing experiences and a core listening list. Tutors’ feedback reinforces the learning process.
In writing the course, with several centuries of music to cover, there were pressing questions to address, not least ‘How to distill such riches into five chapters’? One of the most rewarding elements was creating the many original musical examples and exercises which range from Renaissance polyphony to an imitation Chopin nocturne. Part of the enjoyment was devising the kind of material which gives students the chance to apply what they have learnt while leaving space for creativity in the responses.
Steve Reich’s Different Trains
The research process was deep and thorough. I discovered much I did not know, and brushed up on a lot of detail.
I drew upon some of my earliest musical experiences to inform the content as well as reflected upon my activity as a composer and performer, and there were many conversations with colleagues to refine ideas.
Writing the course has, in fact, influenced my activity as a composer. Aspects of the Baroque technique of figured bass may be found in my latest pieces and researching the emergence of new musical forms in the Classical period has informed the way I use interactive electronics.
It is hoped that the course will have a similarly enhancing effect on students’ own activities.
The course details may be found on the OCA website.