Saturday, August 18, 2007

Another summer school

Earlier this month I was not at one, but at two summer schools in the UK! The other one was in connection with my Open University Course A214. This is a course which can count as part of an undergraduate degree, and/or a music diploma, and it takes you from nothing to harmonisation, writing music in the style of ...., and being able to give reasons why you think a particular piece of music is from a particular style, country, composer (I slightly exaggerate... but now I can explain why I think a piece of music is from.... or by....whereas before I just knew due to decades of exposure).

Part of this course was the summer school in Durham, north of England. Durham has a very old cathedral from about 1000 years ago. I did not go in, even though I was staying right next to it. Not much into ancient history, me.

The summer school was based at Durham University, Hatfield College, which had both old and new residential accommodation, and institutional food to be proud of (the Dartington course has a considerably higher class of food). But it was good to have lashings and lashings of custard. Though the Jamie Oliver good food revolution has pass university by, by the experience of it.

As is the wont of the OU, we had people from all walks of life doing the course, from surgeons to writers to lawyers to judges (not exactly ALL walks of life), but also some younger ones - though probably for most people this course is not part of their immediate earning career (though at least one is working on a career change in the music direction, while his piano teacher is working on a career change to gardener. Been there, done that!). However, there were even some music teachers on the course who were trying to add to their qualifications.

We had classes of about 8 - 10 people and spent many happy hours harmonising, looking at chords, spotting the characteristics of different styles, listening to lectures, getting remedial training on chord recognition. The lecturers spent many happy hours showing off their piano skills, looking forward to their retirement, giving us (generally) extremely useful information, doing the political talk about lack of funding, preparing for concerts and daft songs by Purcell (imagine what '9 inches' might refer to).

People had brought all sorts of instruments, from the normal orchestral ones to electric and acoustic guitars etc. For our concert we got a wide range of people together, from soloists to a percussion group, the orchestra, the choir, bits of chamber music here and there. It was wonderful! Your correspondent not only found herself leading the viola group, but also having to pick up a solo part in a particularly hushed moment at the end of 'Dido and Aeneas'. And she survived! (The photo shows her on the far left with the slightly apoplectic face; thanks Ian and Paula). Don't ask why the violas are behind the first violins...

The course (A214) is very highly recommendable to anyone who likes to do music and has never studied it formally. It is not a performing course, needless to say, but it gives you a good grounding in musicology, and the chance to give a more informed opinion of a piece of music than 'Oh, I liked that!'.