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Third Year So Far …

My third year at The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire started off very differently to my first and second years. I moved back to Birmingham from my family home in early July 2020. Moving house during a global pandemic is quite different to normal, and luckily my family were able to help me as I was the first person to move into my shared student house.

Me and Mum in Brindley Place, September 2020

The start of first term was exciting as we were able to have some in-person classes and were allowed to go into the Conservatoire building and actually see our friends. As the risk of the virus became higher again around half way through the term we were told that in-person teaching had to stop but we were still allowed to use the building as a second study space. I found this really helpful and made the effort to go in a few times each week so that I could get a change of scenery from my bedroom.

It has been difficult getting used to studying in this way compared to before the pandemic hit. I have found that motivation is rare but I have learnt to be aware of this more and not force myself to work when I am not feeling creative. However, I have found that when I do get inspiration for a project the processes appear to happen a lot faster than before. I seem to be more engaged in each of my ideas and projects.

Throughout the UK’s first lockdown I had moved back to my family home and in some ways it was like going on holiday away from Birmingham. Living in the countryside even if I am just going back there for a short while always reignites my love of nature. I started to work on a few projects when I was at home in Suffolk yet I put very little pressure on myself to complete them. I wanted to set myself up so that when I came back to Birmingham I would be able to crack on and start producing music again.

The house that I moved into in Birmingham is a lot further away from the city centre than where I lived in both my first and second years at the Conservatoire. Away from Birmingham city centre there are beautiful areas of nature reminiscent of what I was used to before moving away from home. This means that over the course of the academic year so far I have been able to still immerse myself in nature and open spaces.

The bulk of my creative energy during the pandemic has been directed towards creating visual art, both paintings and drawings as well as digital based work. During this time I began to feel that the focus of my music creating was not where I wanted it to be. I realised I had to push myself and start working in ways that I hadn’t before to help myself to create a style for myself. I started to combine elements of the graphics, paintings and drawings that I love producing with elements of composition. I began to realise how much I valued notation and how important the visual aspects of the score are to me as the composer.

I have discovered that for my inspiration to really take off into a piece I need to have it in a physical form. So, I have been producing art as a way of developing my ideas. I found that having inspiration in a physical format and being able to touch and see my ideas in person really helps me to stay motivated on each project. It also provides me with a store of ideas and details that I can dip back into when I want to work on that project.

With this academic year starting during the pandemic things have run very differently in regards to projects within the Conservatoire. Unfortunately there have been no orchestral projects, which means opportunities like when I worked with the Orchestra of the Swan haven’t taken place this year. However, the composition department have still worked really hard to create chances for our music to be performed.

One of the big opportunities that was organised by the department was to put each year group of the composers with a different instrumental department. Each year group is able to make connections with the performance students in that department. The third years have been grouped with the early music department and have been asked to write a piece for either an ensemble of their choice or for a solo performer. I have chosen to create a graphic score for solo recorder.

This piece is a development from a project I started working on during the first lockdown. I looked at the hands of performers and the different positions that people hold and play their instruments in. I was also interested in the way that people can make music from their instruments without playing them in the generic way. I started the process for this project by producing drawings of a performer’s hands. I then experimented with the different ways I could combine standard Western notation with the drawings.

Going forward in 2021 has seen very little change in the state of the pandemic, with England going into the third national lockdown, university is staying online for the near future. Starting the new term online has been quite an odd experience but we are all hoping we will be able to go back to in-person teaching when it is safe to do so.