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Icons of composition lead sessions at TL

Fri 5 March 2021

Howard Goodall and Eric Whitacre deliver workshops to the Faculty of Music from both sides of Atlantic.

Trinity Laban composition students were treated to not one, but two virtual masterclasses with award-winning composers on 25 February as the conservatoire welcomed Howard Goodall CBE and Eric Whitacre.

One of Britain’s best-known composers, Howard Goodall CBE has penned choral music and stage musicals, as well as TV and film scores for treasured shows like Mr Bean, Vicar of Dibley and Blackadder. He is also a distinguished music historian, author and broadcaster.

During his 40-year career he has won a Classical BRIT Award, an EMMY, a Gramophone Award and a BAFTA. He was appointed CBE in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to music education. He served as England’s first National Ambassador for Singing and was Classic FM’s Composer-in-Residence for many years.

In the morning’s workshop, UK-based Goodall shared this advice with students –

“As you grow as a human your style becomes more you. We live in a different world to Bach and Strauss. Our job is to write music for our time, music that reflects our present. They were writing in their own time. Write for your community, and for your world.”

He also encouraged students to experiment with a variety of music, including those they are unfamiliar with, and discussed how he started out –

“When you’re young, 20, 25, 30, there are no such thing as mistakes – it’s all part of the process of learning… There was a lot of time when I would sit in my room in Kilburn with little money, writing 1000’s of songs. None of the things I did were planned. I just said yes to everything.”

Goodall shared his views on the impact of Brexit on the music industry, following his frank discussion earlier this year

“For Britain, whose creative industries are so huge a part of our economy, Brexit has been particularly worrying. The UK will always need a successful touring music industry.”

In response to the session, Goodall commented –

“I thoroughly enjoyed the session and I particularly liked that we were able to expand on themes in some detail thanks to the extended length of it, for once, we weren’t rushing to wrap up the discussion. Impressive number of students participating!”

Following Goodall’s talk, students returned for an evening session with Grammy Award-winning Eric Whitacre. Described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘a rare thing…both popular and original’, Whitacre is one of the most successful choral composers and conductors of the twenty-first century.

His works are programmed world-wide and his ground-breaking Virtual Choirs include singers from over 145 countries. Whitacre graduated from Juilliard School of Music (New York) and recently completed his final term as Artist in Residence with the Los Angeles Master Chorale, following five years as Composer in Residence at the University of Cambridge.

Speaking from his Californian home to TL students during the afternoon’s session, Whitacre explained his view of composition –

“Once you’ve engaged the listener, you can take them on a journey. It’s like a great novel.”

Whitacre is known for his choral works and the afternoon session began with a discussion his piece A Boy and a Girl.

He described what makes the choral genre so special for him –

“The combination of human voices in choral music allows you to go directly into the soul.”

When asked how to stay motivated, the award-winning composer admitted, “it’s really hard right now. This sense of isolation and dread for the future. We have the pandemic, and what about climate change.”

But he had this advice for students –

“When you lose inspiration, remember you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip. Step away and be productive elsewhere. Be useful and a service to something other than yourself.”

Speaking after the session, Whitacre said –

“Working with the students and faculty at Trinity Laban was a dream! Brilliant, thoughtful, highly motivated thinkers and artists – such a joy to spend the time with them.”

The talks form part of the ongoing All Composers’ series hosted by Trinity Laban’s Composition Department that sees a variety of guest artists lead sessions.

In response to the sessions, Masters student Emily De Grunchy shared –

“Both the talks were so inspiring. What I personally liked most about Howard Goodall’s talk was the fact that he was so open about how versatile you can be as a composer within the music industry.

“The way that Eric Whitacre connected with us as a department was absolutely phenomenal. Even though it was over Microsoft Teams the energy that was there – it just resonated with us all so much.

“One of my favourite things about Trinity Laban is having these lectures and seeing all these amazing people.”

Head of Composition Dominic Murcott comments –

“Digital learning has opened up a wealth of opportunities for our students to engage directly with exciting and influential guest artists from around the globe, offering new possibilities for development and enhanced training.”

Find out more about our Composition Department.

Image L-R: (credit), Eric Whitacre (credit Marc Royce)