WeCompose pilot success
20 Jul 2023
A pilot WeCompose initiative from Music in the Round has helped 183 young people from ten schools to write then finesse their own music to be performed live by musicians from our Bridge Ensemble.
WeCompose is our newest project for schools. Launched in January 2023 for Key Stage 3 students, the project also includes training for teachers.
For the pilot, students worked with the five wind players of the Bridge Ensemble, a Music in the Round-supported group of musicians from backgrounds under-represented in chamber music.
Sheffield schools that took part in the pilot project are: Sheffield Park Academy, Chaucer School, Newfield School and King Edward VII School.
Oakwood High School in Rotherham, Trinity Academy in Doncaster, Hungerhill School in Doncaster, Ash Hill Academy in Doncaster, Outwood Academy Danum in Doncaster and Trinity Academy St Edward’s in Barnsley were also part of the scheme.
Students were visited by three professional composers: Georgia Denham, Laurence Osborn and Ellen Sargen, who helped to develop their work. Some students had little or no experience of music outside of compulsory school lessons, so traditional composition methods were adapted.
Ellen, who also managed the project, said: “We had to find different ways to engage students in the project. We did a lot of rhythm work such as clapping exercises, a lot of harmony work, and soon they were writing melodies. It was incredible.
“I’m so proud of the students who had never done anything like this before. They’ve written four pieces of music now.”
One group of students used the digital creation studio GarageBand to craft their work, and the piece was then transcribed into music for the Bridge Ensemble. Others wrote dance music which was then adapted.
Ellen added: “When students heard their music for the first time they were blown away.
“One of the teachers told us that students are now writing music independently.
“All of the music they made was so different – the students had such fantastic imaginations and they really embraced the idea they could write a piece about whatever they wanted.
“It was very diverse and creative.”
The final stage of WeCompose was a culmination day where students heard their music in a workshop, shaped it further and then saw it performed in a concert by the Bridge Ensemble.
The premiere included other composers’ work, so pieces both 100 years old and mere days old sat side-by-side in one concert.
Ellen added: “At the start we asked students what they thought a composer is, and a lot of them said they think a composer is someone who is dead.
“Getting them to understand they could be composers too was quite a big thing, they definitely hadn’t considered it before.
“We like to say there are 183 new composers in South Yorkshire now.”
In an inspirational twist to the project, Georgia Denham, another of the composers involved, was given an early experience of composing at school by Music in the Round over a decade ago. The then 14-year-old was a student at Stocksbridge High School when Music in the Round visited classrooms to introduce children to music composition as part of a previous project.
Georgia, who is now studying for her PhD in composition at the University of Cambridge, said: “It was such an important and transformative experience for me in school.
“Actually hearing the music that I’d written for the first time was a defining moment.
“At that point I didn’t know you could become a composer – that it was a real job people could have.
“After that piece was performed I think everyone realised I was really into this.
“One of my teachers found out about a summer school for composition, and there I found out more about studying it.
“Music in the Round’s work was the catalyst for all of that – someone saying to me ‘you are a composer’ was the most powerful thing.”
Like many children taking part in WeCompose, Georgia did not have access to musical opportunities such as owning an instrument. She would race into the school’s music room every break time to write songs on the computer there instead.
The 25-year-old added: “I remember having some lessons but it was a financial pressure for my family, and when my lessons stopped it was really sad.
“There are children who have a love for music inside them and it’s so important that there is some way for them to express it, whether they become a musician or not.”
Georgia said she hoped that the new project would have a long-lasting legacy, especially in the shadow of cuts to musical education.
She added: “A lot of composers come from very privileged backgrounds.
“Feeling your music is important enough for someone else to play is a big barrier, there are also financial barriers and demographic barriers.
“So something like this, where composition is accessible to all, is very special.”
WeCompose will return to the same schools next year at a more advanced level for Key Stage 4 students, as well as being introduced to more South Yorkshire schools at Key Stage 3 and expanding nationally. To find out more please email firstname.lastname@example.org
WeCompose is a composition project for Key Stage 3 students run and managed by Music in the Round with funding from Sheffield Church Burgesses Foundation, Sheffield Grammar School, Vaughan Williams Foundation, Sheffield Town Trust, Earl Fitzwilliam Charitable Trust, Sheffield Bluecoat and Mount Pleasant Educational Foundation, the Freshgate Trust Foundation and the Music Education Hubs of Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley.