World premiere of 13 flute pieces by OCA students
It was a great honour to be invited to lead the first OCA Music Workshop on 12th November. The day focused on compositions for solo flute, and students were asked to submit short pieces which would be discussed during the workshop.
A fantastic group of 16 music students descended upon the OCA’s Head Office in Barnsley, along with Andrew Watson, the OCA’s Director of Operations (and resident harpsichordist!). Two other music tutors, Patric Standford and Douglas Seville, also attended and gave helpful comments through the day.
My work as a contemporary music performer means that I often encounter new pieces in various styles and by composers at different stages in their careers. My experience shows that very often composers in the early stages of their development are surprised at the range of contemporary sounds that can be achieved on the flute, so I began by introducing the composers to the standard C flute and the alto flute, demonstrating a range of techniques including multiphonics, whistle tones, key clicks, microtones, articulations and air sounds. Later in the day we also explored three seminal solo flute pieces from different eras, by Bach, Debussy and Berio, to try to find some common elements which would answer the question as to ‘what makes a good solo flute piece?’ A lively discussion ensued, providing a few answers and areas for further exploration.
The main part of the day, however, was given over to the new works by OCA students. For some of them, it was their first opportunity to hear their music played on a live acoustic instrument (rather than just a computer-generated performance on notation software), and it was interesting to note the differences between a ‘real’ instrument and a computer, in terms of both practicalities, and sound. The pieces (13 in all) were of a consistently good standard, and each of the composers gave a distinctive and interesting introduction to their works. The informal atmosphere allowed for constructive feedback, and each of the live run-throughs of the pieces was videoed.
An example of one such piece is Elaine Goodall’s Oriental Butterfly. This is a very well constructed piece, with an evocative title. Elaine has used pentatonic scales to create an oriental feel, and the gentle movement at the beginning of the piece creates a mesmerizing image of a butterfly gently fluttering in the sun. Instrumental pieces are often connected with animals, and the flute is often associated with birds and butterflies, and often in ways which demonstrate the agility of the instrument.
I like the way that Elaine’s piece breaks away from the stereotype by keeping within a gentle mood, but still retains a sense of character and uses the flute’s rich sound to good effect. The music has a lovely sense of direction, moving towards the more animated section in the middle, with shorter note values increasing the pace and making use of the full pitch range of the instrument. The opening mood returns at the end, and strong melodic features in this piece help to make it memorable.
For me, the workshop day was a wonderful opportunity to meet some of the students, and to explore their work. A sense of community seemed to develop very quickly, and I have no doubt that the students will benefit from making new contacts and from learning about each other’s compositional journeys.
I hope very much that this is the beginning of a new phase of the OCA’s music provision, and that there will be many more workshops in the future.