The Fellows sing for students at Royal Hospital School.


From 2019, the Fellows will start to work with the NYCGB Young Composers as they develop new music for vocal ensembles. Ahead of that collaboration, at the end of 2018, the octet travelled to the Royal Hospital School in Suffolk to gain experience of working with composers in a classroom context, as Clare Sutherland reports:

Clare: We had been invited to Royal Hospital School in Suffolk to work alongside composer and lecturer Toby Young, performing and workshopping ideas with the school's GCSE and A-Level Music students, and with other students from other music departments around Suffolk. While the students all got to know each other with a workshop from Dominic Ellis-Peckham, the Fellows headed to the chapel, where we were to give our first performance as a group.

Most of the repertoire had been picked by Toby because it highlighted different aspects of composition you had to consider - whether that be tonality, texture, use of text or voice leading. It was really interesting singing each piece and hearing him talk about how they all demonstrated something different, and it helped the students start forming ideas in their heads. The acoustic wasn’t half bad either, with the Chapel famous for its 10 second echo.

After our performance we moved into the main hall, where Toby gave a talk on how the students could start their compositions. He started by asking the students what they thought about when they composed, and listed different aspects of writing for voices parts in particular. The list included texture, tonality, melody and use of text, and as part of the exercise Toby had handed round a piece of paper with two short texts. It was so the students could start having a think about the upcoming afternoon workshops, where they would have to set one of the texts.

Leading on from the list Toby had made, the students were then asked for some scenario ideas. The Fellows would then improvise as a group, based on the ideas given, after Toby had asked the students how they would characterise those scenarios musically. The exercise definitely threw us into the deep end, as we had to take on board the musical ideas given to us, conveying what the students wanted, but we also had to listen to each other and work quickly as a team.

After lunch we split into eight groups to start work on our own compositions. The idea was for the students to brainstorm ideas, setting one of the texts to a choral composition, culminating in the Fellows performing each groups piece. It was a very limited time for us to compose, and some groups were less enthusiastic about the prospect of composing than others. My group seemed shy, and it was a real challenge not to just offer them my ideas to put down on paper. It was also a challenge to transcribe the music so the rest of the Fellows could sight-read a passable performance. However, it was really interesting to see how each group had approached the set texts, and although the performances of each piece weren’t to an entirely polished standard, it was a great opportunity for the students to see how their pieces could come to life within hours of them coming up with ideas.

All in all it was a really interesting, albeit challenging, day. We have started to gel well as a group of performers, and the workshops taught us how to work with students on their own compositions, even if they weren’t always very forthcoming with their ideas. I know we have a concert at the end of our Fellowship year at Royal Hospital School - it’s going to be great to revisit the place we officially started our year as Fellows.