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Britten-Pears Contemporary Composition and Performance Course

Updated: May 17, 2023

(originally posted Nov 2022)

I’ve spent the last few days singing a huge amount of choral repertoire with The Thirteen ( a DC based choral ensemble of 12 singers and a conductor). A program that usually would only have one or two of these pieces in it included Bruckner’s Three Graduals, Barber’s Reincarnations, Brahms’ Two Motets, and Britten’s Sacred and Profane. These were just a some of the pieces! It was a real choral workout but super satisfying to work with some amazing friends and colleagues to create some real moments of magic…and how fun it is to sing Britten right before I go home to Snape and Aldeburgh for a couple of weeks.

I was just reading a post from Colin Matthews about the Britten-Pears Young Artists Contemporary Composition and Performance course. It occurred to me that I never tell people what I do when I’m working on it and as Colin mentioned that I’ll be there I thought I’d tell you about this part of my working life:

My function is a mixture between administrative and pastoral with some music-making thrown in. But, to me, the most important thing is that I’m there to make sure that everyone is comfortable.

For the young artists who are composers, this means supporting them in the beginning stages of the course by reminding them that they can come to the daily reading sessions with as little as a single chord; reminding them that they have the ultimate toy box (okay, a full orchestra would be the actual ultimate for most composers but this is pretty good) where they can hear and try things out on the spot. How exciting is that?!

For the performers and tutors, it's things like scheduling updates, making sure people are in the right place at the right time and cheer-leading! This course is intense and it’s important to encourage EVERYONE when energy levels seem to be dropping.

For everyone it’s also about making sure that people remember to find the right balance between the intensity of rehearsals, individual time for practice and also time for themselves - even a tiny break can do wonders for most people. And…perhaps people need a treat! I can’t help myself. I often have sweeties (candy to my US friends) on hand for those lulls (or just for fun, to be honest).

As Colin mentioned in his post, the last course that took place pre-pandemic was the first without my Dad. For a lot of the tutors it was devastating at first, probably because they were used to coming up to Snape and seeing Dad. That was his home. For me it was surprisingly less devastating until the moment that the young artists started to rehearse “Coursing” - a piece by OK know to been incredibly difficult but also super fulfilling to play and wonderfully exciting to listen to. Usually, those are the moments when I relish hearing his music in person. But this time, it was almost a delayed shock. He wasn’t there and the course was happening. That was difficult but then I got used to the new feeling and the course was wonderful. The young artists became besties and still work (and play) together three years later. We all had a lovely time and it felt right.

Who knows how this upcoming course will go, but I’m excited to see what happens, what music will be created, what rep will be studied and there are some changes too. Every course has some different elements and this year the course is taking place in November instead of July. Will the dark cold evenings have an effect on us positively or negatively? Will we need hot chocolate? (probably!) Will my housing be nice? The change in my life that I love the most is that this course is a time for my music family to grow and I can’t wait!

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