Rhosygilwen Arts Centre, near Cardigan, 5 April 2014
Brian Noyes is a composer and Committee Member for Young Music Makers of Dyfed; an annual scheme for young people in Dyfed.
It is that time of year again: the time drawing the school spring term to an end, with Easter imminent. The time when young musicians in the Dyfed area of west Wales – the three counties of Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, and Carmarthenshire – congregate in the idyllic oak-and-glass setting of Rhosygilwen concert hall to hear their compositions, and perform their recital programmes as part of the remarkable local scheme for young musicians that is the Young Music Makers of Dyfed. Now in its eleventh year, it seems to be going from strength to strength, with more and more students participating in the scheme. This success and expansion does, of course, bring its own difficulties, but these are surmounted by a dedicated committee which is passionate about its work on behalf of the participating students – and of music itself.
Briefly, the scheme is in two parts, composition and performance. For the former – Dyfed Young Composers – a professional composer is sent into participating schools throughout the Autumn and Spring terms to work with pupils on an individual basis, nurturing their work, developing it, and giving them the benefit of someone with professional experience in composing. This year Lynne Plowman has taken up the baton to drive the extensive geographical area to schools as far apart as Aberystwyth, Pembroke, and Carmarthen. Undaunted through the winter months, she has brought over forty compositions to fruition, as much for the purposes of GCSE requirements as for this scheme. A selection is made by an outside composer (this year Gabriel Jackson), of about a dozen pieces which are then rehearsed for a concert performance. This year Lynne has been aided by the gallant Galliard Ensemble, a wind quintet, which has given showcase events in the schools throughout the period, introduced pupils to the instruments and shown them examples of good composing for the group.
The other branch of the scheme, Young Musician of Dyfed, concerns performers. Entry is open to any pupil from the area, who is then given the opportunity to perform in a masterclass situation with distinguished international recitalists/teachers. Matthew Jones (viola) and Andrew Wilson-Dickson (piano) this year spent an informal, exciting day in November working with twenty-one students before selecting six to perform in the concert this weekend. I remember that November occasion as being both heart-warming and jaw-dropping in the scope and musicality of the participants’ performances, considering their age. Both coaches gave practical insights into the music performed, made the event fun, and imparted confidence to the student performers.
The concerts this weekend, at the beginning of April, represented the culmination of the work done throughout the year. Indeed, work continued throughout the rehearsal day on the compositions with the members of the Galliard Ensemble, who played the pieces time and again, lightheartedly questioned the composers, suggested helpful insights into the type of writing suitable for wind instruments, and most importantly, suffused the day with professionalism, dedication, and musicality.
Looking back over the scheme since its inception, composer Mike Parkin sees that there have been long term benefits to the musical education of the area, as well as individually to the pupils: ‘Year on year I notice the gradual raising of standards. In the past there have always been one or two pieces that were so badly conceived or written that it was impossible to perform them, but now, most pieces are well crafted because of the quality of the tuition that students experience from their class teachers, who crucially have benefited from the teaching of composition by the professional composers that have been sent into the schools. The teaching of composition in schools here in Dyfed is perhaps the best in the country, because it has been taken seriously. One advantage of the format is that the professional composer-in-residence brings their own individual flare and nuance to the teaching of composition, and imparts that to their individual students, as well as forming long term artistic relationships with both teacher and school.’
It is heartening to see that the students who participate also see improvements to their work. As one student who has had several compositions performed over the years, remarked: ‘If it didn’t exist I wouldn’t be doing composition. It gives you confidence because, in school, you think you write rubbish – but someone else gives you the confidence in yourself to write the music! The groups they find are great; encouraging, and nice, helpful people. In my first year it was a percussion group, and that was exciting, but there have been other groups over the years who were all marvellous. Composition lessons with proper composers are very good because school teachers are not necessarily composers. Meeting people in the world of composition also shows you a possible career path.’ Similarly: ‘You don’t get this opportunity elsewhere, and the players put you at ease with your work, which gives you confidence.’
From the point of view of an experienced UK professional musician: ‘It’s an amazing scheme, and I can’t think of another one in the country, that I have come across. To have these professionals playing the music that the pupils submit to GCSE is just fantastic.’ Lynne Plowman, who will be composer-in-residence for a further two years, has seen the progress first hand as she first participated in the scheme some years ago: ‘It’s just fantastic that the pupils can have their music played by professional musicians and, at their age, that is a vitally important first step. The other major thing about this scheme is that it links in with the pupils’ GCSE work, and so everyone benefits. One thing that seems to happen is that music and composition is taken more seriously in the schools, and it lifts the status of composing within the school environment, and with the student. I have noticed that the standard of writing has improved since I last took part in the scheme, and one member of the ensemble thinks that it is at a higher level than he has experienced in some universities!’
Certainly, I feel that the standard is very high considering the age range of the students, and compared to other work that I have done. The concert of compositions on April 5th proved without doubt that the standard is high, and in my mind, that has improved even since last year, because here there were several major pieces of impressive length that were well crafted in terms of pacing and harmonic interest. In terms of style, there were minimalist and serialist pieces, as well as compositions which were tonally based. But what was impressive to me was the imaginative use that the individuals made of their chosen style, without being slaves to doctrine. The audience was treated to an exceptional display of creative talent in this concert, with a range of very idiomatic, atmospheric, and expressive chamber music that was a delight to hear. Both halves of the event were completed by particularly inspiring and spectacular compositions (the latter being partially improvised), which left the audience buoyant and uplifted. The Galliard Ensemble was in fine spirits, and on exceptionally good form.
The second concert of the weekend concerned the Young Musicians of Dyfed, performers who had been selected after that masterclass last November. The adjudicators this year were Peter Esswood, Andrew Wilson-Dickson, and Lee Mottram (a previous winner of the competition), who had the unenviable task of deciding who might take the three prizes on offer. But it must be emphasised that this scheme is not one wholly concerned with first past the post, but rather with participating. Being part of the final concert was in itself held to be a prize, since having the opportunity to perform in a public concert, and gaining experience of such practice is invaluable to young musicians. And what a concert it was! With performers aged between 10 – 18 years of age, performing 20-minute programmes from memory, the audience was treated to substantial and artistically enthralling recitals. It was a memorable two hours of music making, with an abundant variety of well thought-out programmes of classic repertoire mixed with the more unusual, from South America to Europe. In the words of Lee Mottram, ‘the scheme is just marvellous if you think that the winner is given a recital in both the Fishguard Festival and the St David’s Cathedral Festival, which can be another significant step for a young performer. In fact, this scheme was responsible for starting my performing career.’ These days, the winner also has a third recital in Tenby, which includes a commissioned piece from one of the scheme’s young composers. In anyone’s book, this offers an exemplary start for a career in music; a laudable enterprise, and with many past winners having become professional performers, it seems that the Young Music Makers of Dyfed is going from strength to strength, performing a first class service to the musicians and public of the Dyfed area.
For information about Young Music Makers of Dyfed see: http://www.ymmd.org.uk/
Brian Noyes’ new CD/download of orchestral music, Journeys after… is available on Amazon, iTunes, or at http://www.briannoyes.co.uk/www.briannoyes.co.uk/Home.html
Banner illustration by Dean Lewis