The importance of Composition

Alison Cox, Head of Composition at the Purcell School and founder of The Commonwealth Resounds, on why learning to compose is important and what’s being done to encourage more young people to get involved.

Why compose?

Instrumental and theoretical musical experiences can be enriched and personalised in a highly creative way through writing music. Musical composition can be a deeply personal form of expression, helping to build confidence and self-respect, increase musical skills and open doors to new opportunities.

Young people have strong individual ideas which can be expressed articulately and imaginatively in their own compositions. With sensitive training and encouragement they become increasingly able to pick up new skills and ideas and apply them creatively. Musical composition has natural allies with other art forms such as dance, poetry, drama or visual art and can also generate exploration of non-musical starting points such as the environment, politics, science or mathematics.

A concert of brand-new items composed and presented by children can be a delightful experience for audiences, composers and performers alike, adding energy, warmth and colour to concerts and cultural events. Audiences are always enthusiastic when a young composer comes up to take a bow at the end of their new piece!

Throughout my own lifetime, musical composition has been increasingly recognised and included in the UK’s musical curriculum and exams. In my own school days, even in the most high-achieving, academic schools, it was unusual for young people (especially girls) to compose music, although everybody learned visual art and creative writing. This was also true when I first started teaching. However when musical composition first appeared in the GCSE Music syllabus alongside performing and listening, it began to be recognised more widely as a very exciting and largely unexplored form of creative expression for young people.  

Experiences at the Purcell School

In 1988 I began teaching at the Purcell School for Young Musicians and in 1995 became the school’s first-ever Head of Composition. Throughout the years I have created and organised numerous composition-based outreach training programmes in schools and communities throughout the UK and overseas. Purcell is an exciting international community, full of young people who regularly enter the profession as potential music leaders and innovators. It is a privilege to work with these delightful, caring young musicians, who are very keen to share their skills and inspire others through interactive performances and pupil-led outreach partnerships with other schools. None of this would be possible without support from the UK Government’s highly-acclaimed Music and Dance Scheme.

Supporting composition

I love teaching at the Purcell School and as a result of this and from programmes run via my own organisation, The Commonwealth Resounds, have come to realise increasingly how much can be done to help and support young people’s compositional development throughout the UK and overseas.

The Commonwealth Resounds supports young composers through initiatives such as Go Compose, as unfortunately, there are still many young musicians around the world who have never composed their own music. If young people are taught at an early age how to compose music, it can become as natural and enjoyable for them as creative writing or visual art. The Commonwealth Resounds are offering some incredible opportunities for teachers and pupils around the world to take part in Go Compose Online - free 'kickstarter' workshops run by leading professional composers and musicians to help build up these skills. Any child can learn to write music!

Previous participants at Go Compose workshops have said:

“It was a fun way to use your creativity. Everyone was very nice and made you feel welcome as well as providing encouragement and positive, helpful feedback” (Jonty)

“It was a great experience with lots of support to help me get my ideas out” (Amina)

“I enjoyed it very much as I had the opportunity to hear professional musicians play my piece and make suggestions” (Amanda)

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