The NYCGB Fellows perform Nathan's group's workshop piece in the Royal Hospital School chapel.

The Fellows lead schools composition workshops, and watch out for polar bears...


On 21 November, the Fellows were once again reunited for a day of composition workshopping with over eighty students from different schools in the Ipswich area, led by composer Toby Young at The Royal Hospital School.

With little time to spare, we started the day in the boomy acoustic of the school chapel, where finally we were given the opportunity to lead a real-life warm-up with students (a particular highlight being Lizzy’s rendition of the penguin run – watch out for that polar bear!). Toby interacted with the students by giving them ideas for their own future compositions for GSCE and A Level, and we demonstrated contrasting types of choral music, from early to modern, which hopefully gave the students a bit of inspiration! 

After a short re-fuel of much needed tea and biscuits, we gathered in the school’s auditorium for a more in-depth workshop with Toby on techniques. From structure, texture, to setting the scene, students voiced their own compositional ideas. One suggestion, setting a scene of ‘castles and unicorns’ was particularly amusing.

Next, the octet was split to work with groups of ten students each, and challenged to create a short composition in the space of just two hours. A daunting prospect for those of us who don’t identify as composers! Nevertheless, equipped with trusty manuscript, pencils, and most importantly, lyrics, each of us immersed ourselves into the world of all things composition. For me, keeping a group of students engaged for two hours is what I found most challenging, but when a few students came out of their shell, some cracking original ideas were thrown into the mix.

With time up, I walked out of the classroom to find seven other fellows excitedly rushing to put the finishing touches to their own groups' compositions. Luckily for me, during my session I had one brilliant student who was able to transcribe everything at top speed while I was leading – a Beethoven in the making!

We ended the day with probably the most exciting bit: performances of each group’s completely new compositions at sight, with absolutely no rehearsal time whatsoever, in front of all the students and teachers. If that’s not putting you out of your comfort zone, then I don’t know what is! Laughs and inevitable mistakes aside, we pulled it off, and some great compositions were born. It’s amazing what can be created in such a short space of time!