Study visit review: vocal composition recordings
On Saturday 2 April, OCA music students gathered together from far and wide to pack out Music Room 1 of the MAC Birmingham. Students had a unique opportunity to write pieces for mezzo soprano and piano which would be recorded, premiered and discussed on the day with tutors and fellow students.
“As last year, the Music Study Day at the MAC was again full of interest and good advice – and a rare opportunity for us OCA music students to mingle together. We had been asked to set one of eight poems to music, which Samantha Joy (mezzo soprano) then recorded, prior to the Study Day. A set of scores for all 14 songs were provided for each of us (a massive undertaking by Chris, which we all really appreciated). The day’s main activity was listening to the song recordings and then hearing Tutors Andy Glover’s and Chris Lawry’s observations on each arrangement. Chris was also able to relay to us Samantha’s comments on some of the songs – plus some amusing out-takes from the recording sessions. All the comments were encouraging, constructive and supportive – allaying the fears of some that they might be in for a grilling!
Personally, I really appreciated being able to hear a professional presentation of the arrangement I had made some three months ago. An added bonus was that three colleague students had chosen the same poem as myself – and we had all come up with different approaches. At the end, we were all provided with a CD of all 14 performances.” (John Clarke)
“In a very supportive atmosphere, composers were able to voice any queries they had, discuss their work with other students and receive helpful suggestions from our tutors, whether it was on the management of the score writing programme, Sibelius, or what was possible or difficult for the voice, how to support the singer in our writing, the form of the pieces, and the balancing and writing for voice and accompanist. The session finished with a talk from Andy covering all aspects on setting text for a song, which will provide a comprehensive reference for future work.
In conclusion, I would not miss these study days for anything. For distance learning musicians, it is a marvellous opportunity to meet together, air ideas, receive inspiration and support from each other and our tutors, and appreciate the diversity of our music and approaches. These are very nourishing days, and I thank Andy and Chris sincerely for all their hard work and organisation. Plus, we have follow up and ongoing contact!” (Fionagh Bennet)
“As a newcomer to composition the vocal workshop day was great. I took the plunge submitted a piece and I received very encouraging feedback and comments – I learned so much from the day as a whole I would really like to repeat it again so I can submit something else. I was very impressed with the range and quality of the student work, and each piece was so different it provided lots of points for learning and discussion.” (John Napier)
“The OCA’s composition workshop was really worthwhile and very enjoyable. Having the opportunity to listen to a recording of my piece of music and the chance to hear those of others has been crucial for my development and learning. The environment was really friendly and I felt inspired when I left. Thank you for a great day.” (Claire Allen)
“I enrolled with the OCA just a few months ago, so this was my very first study day and I went along as an ‘observer’, full of curiosity and not really knowing what to expect. Being quite new to the course it was great to meet some fellow OCA students and share experiences, it’s definitely given my motivation a boost! I very much enjoyed listening to all of the compositions, and it was fascinating to hear Samantha’s insight about the practical performance aspects of the songs. I was also very encouraged to see how supportive and enthusiastic everybody was in the discussions about the compositions. Many thanks to Chris and Andy for organising it – I’m already looking forward to the next one!” (Emma Arandjelovic)
“This was a rich, full and very enjoyable day that left us with much to go away with and to explore at our leisure. I especially appreciated all the hard work and inspiration that had so clearly gone into the day and the wealth of resources (scores, recordings, downloads etc) that were given to us to enjoy at the time and to take away afterwards. The recorded performances of the scores were most impressive, all the more so given the number of scores sent in and the limited time that had been available to the musicians. Chris and Sam brought all the music very movingly to life in performance.” (Deborah Johnson)
“Each song presented for the study day was recorded, these are invaluable assets and excellent study materials for each student. We were able to listen the performance of each song and follow up the scores. Students were allowed to take all prepared material back home and make a deeper research and analysis. Such a study day is a great opportunity to meet other students and get acquainted with their study experience. Likewise, it is a great opportunity to meet tutors in person and discuss any relevant issues. I am looking forward to the next study day.” (Helmuts Feldmanis)
“I thought there were some very good compositions from which I could learn much and it was good to meet some of the other students. I don’t have many opportunities to have my work played so this was a very good chance to see how some of it worked. All the feedback was very useful and I hope I would not be caught in the same pitfalls as I clearly had been, in future works. It was very useful to find out some of the limits beyond which it can be counterproductive to stretch performers. Having exceeded some of these limits I think I know where they are now. Similarly such strengths as the song had I can build on as well. There were many things in the other songs that inspired me to go further, harmonically for instance, than I actually had. It is also more than useful to have the recordings, which were of a very high standard, to review along with the scores. Altogether a very worthwhile day.” (Chris Barchard)
OCASA: Widening Opportunities
“A new feature of this years’ workshop was that all compositions submitted by students were recorded in advance. Excellent performances by our two soloists (Samantha Joy and Chris Lawry), together with a truly professional recording and production job by Chris, allowed us to listen to each composition during the workshop, together with some amusing out-takes that Chris shared with us in order to illustrate the very helpful feedback given by the performers on each composition. This was a very difference approach to last year, where the musicians gave live performances at the workshop itself, which were then recorded. Interestingly, the consensus from students attending the workshop was that the pre-recorded approach worked extremely well and perhaps resulted in a more polished performance than is possible with live recordings. Thanks are due to the Open College of the Arts Student’s Association (OCASA) for providing funding for the recording and for securing the necessary rights to allow for the music to be distributed.” (Martin Richardson)
OCASA’s help also meant that additional students who were unable to attend the study day were able to benefit from having pieces played and could receive a recording and study materials. All involved would like to thank them for their invaluable help in making this study day a success and widening access and opportunities for the students.
A selection of the compositions can be heard on the player below, one from each of the texts set. Look out for several follow up blogs where some of the student compositions will be looked at in more detail.
Samantha Joy – Mezzo Soprano
Chris Lawry – Piano
Andrew Glover-Whitely – Anglo Saon Lyre
Next Music Study Day: 11 June 2016 – Gamelan Workshop at the South Bank Centre, London. Details here.