A crucial element of all pupils’ education here at the school is the art of composition. It was Yehudi Menuhin’s belief that musical creativity enhances musical interpretation, and composition tutor John Cooney works with all students to develop their composition skills.
John is an award-winning composer who has been commissioned and played by a wide range of performers including the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Allegri String Quartet, the London Sinfonietta and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. As well as his work here at the School, he also teaches composition at the Royal Academy of Music Junior Department and is in demand as a visiting lecturer.
John has the younger students working on projects of interest to them, sometimes related to the repertoire they are learning or composers they are studying, while GCSE and A level students produce compositions eventually submitted as recordings for their exam portfolios.
John explains: “The process of creating their compositions includes rehearsing the pieces for performance and recording. The students play each other’s work and, as they are all such accomplished performers, the composers get a really clear idea of how their pieces sound, and whether they are workable for the instruments.”
The School also works with visiting performers who are specialists in instruments not offered at the school – such as wind and brass. This year it’s been the turn of trombonist John Kenny, well known for his work on the Celtic trumpet, the Carnyx. John has been working with senior students to help them understand the capacities and character of the trombone, and recently returned to the School to record the pieces they’ve composed.
Pictured above is John with the performers in the piece Sub-twang Mustard - a poem by the Canadian performance poet Peter Jaeger, set to music by Daniel Penney. Last year Daniel won the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers’ Competition with his composition The Complications of Life in an Enclosed Space. Daniel’s first instrument is guitar, but has really enjoyed studying composition as well. “I use recordings of real instruments and mix them with synthesized music,” says Daniel. “I couldn’t have created music without the education I’ve had at the Yehudi Menuhin School. I’ve learnt about music theory and music harmony here and that’s a really important foundation.”
As part of its outreach activity the School also offers six local schools the opportunity for GCSE and A-level composition students to come along and have their pieces workshopped in performance by our pupils and later recorded for their exam portfolios. Gordon’s School Music Director Rachel Brazendale writes: “For Gordon’s students, this is a perfect opportunity to hear their music played by live performers rather than relying on their imaginations or low quality soundcards in computers.”