Dancing, Old Royal Naval College

In the second year of Dance undergraduate study at Trinity Laban, there is a required component called “Resourcing Performance”. Basically, this introduces the students to the role and experiences of the performer through creative practical workshops, studio-based exploration and discussion. We focus on the interaction and clarity of audience/performer, on varied modes of performance (including site-specific performance), and also on issues such as proximity, etc.

Dancing, Old Royal Naval CollegeOn Monday (20 October), we took the whole group to the Old Royal Naval College for an improvised workshop within and around the Music Faculty. We gave the students only three ‘bodily poses’; seemingly simple, but very precise in how they were embodied. One was low (a plank), one mid-level (crouch) and one high (standing with the right arm in a wave gesture…weight transferred onto the right leg). They could play with how long to stay ‘in them’, as well as with how they transferred in and out of them. They could also shift the plane on which they were performed. In between they could also walk or run to various sites.

The duration was one hour, and they had specific locations in and around the Music Faculty to engage with during the improvisation. They were instructed not to converse with the public, but for their gaze to be as open and receptive as possible. The challenge was to stay within the simple (but specific) context of the embodiment, while coping with the unpredictability of the public and other performers.Dancing, Old Royal Naval College

When we came back to the Laban building after the event, there was some great discourse around a number of issues:

  • The ‘conflict’ of being observed, and the feeling of being treated ‘as an object’ instead of as a person/performer.
  • The interactions between the dancer’s body and the landscape of the site.
  • The interactions with the public.
  • The difference between the inside space of the Music Faculty building and the outdoor open spaces.
  • The difficulty and yet pleasure of staying ‘in the moment’.
  • Not predicting what one should do, but reacting quite intuitively within the parameters.
  • Pushing the still moments into longer durations and listening to the activity that occurred around them.

I spoke to a spectator who commented that the performance seemed to be about ‘intention’. Others spoke about how even though simple, it revealed a sense of drama, almost political in nature.

Overall, a successful experience!

Susan Sentler

Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Technique


Last week, I had the opportunity to sit in on a rehearsal with the Contemporary Music Group (CMG). The group are currently rehearsing for their first concert of the season, entitled Livin’ On Adrenalin, which celebrates the 21st birthday of CoMA (Contemporary Music for All), an organisation that enables musicians of all abilities to explore and actively participate in the music of today.

As a lover of all things contemporary, I was eager to speak to the group’s conductor, Gregory Rose, about CoMA, contemporary music and the students at Trinity Laban.

Contemporary Music Group with Gregory Rose

Contemporary Music Group with Gregory Rose

What is CoMA?

“CoMA began 21 years ago and it came out of an organisation called ELLSO (East London Late Starters Orchestra). This ensemble mainly did Baroque music so Chris Shurety, the founder of ELLSO, thought it was about time we played the music of today.

“Because it was amateurs playing contemporary music, the actual music around that was possible was very limited because it’s hard to expect amateurs, even at a high level, to play pieces by composers like Stockhausen, Berio, and Xenakis. So a system was set up of commissioning pieces from distinguished composers and also having a call for pieces for anyone who was interested in writing for the ensemble.

“Chris also set up the open score project, calling composers to write for unspecified instruments. There are currently 14 different CoMA ensembles across the country and one in Holland, each one with a different set up. One of them might have a piccolo, a guitar and a double bass, and another might have two saxophones and a guitar so you had completely different ensembles all trying to play the same music. The open score project meant that any ensemble could pick these pieces up and play them.”

What kind of relationship does Trinity Laban have with CoMA?

“Trinity Laban doesn’t have a direct relationship with CoMA, but it seemed apt for us to do it for two reasons. Firstly, because we’ve done quite a lot of educational projects and we’ve tried to encourage different youth ensembles to take up CoMA’s repertoire – the pieces are written for amateurs after all. Another reason was that I’ve been conducting the London CoMA ensemble since 1999 and I’m also a professor of conducting here – it made sense to bring the two together.”

How have our students reacted to the pieces? Have the rehearsals been going well?

“The players haCMG wind sectionve been fantastic – I’m really pleased. They’ve taken to it very quickly even though it has a different type of notation than they’re used to. There’s a certain freedom of pitch, for example, and also on occasion a freedom of time. Some musicians find that very hard, especially when they’re highly skilled. They’ve done very well. We’ve just had one rehearsal now, and I’m very pleased with the start they’ve made.”

How much contemporary music are the students exposed to here at Trinity Laban?

“There’s a lot of contemporary music at Trinity Laban I’m glad to say. I help run the CMG along with Dominic Murcott (Head of Composition and Music Technology at Trinity Laban) and about eight years ago we made the CMG part of the Composition Department. This was for several different reasons, the main one being that it seemed sensible to have a contemporary ensemble allied to the composers. Dominic and I run it together and it’s been a very successful partnership – it really has. I think there’s some good contemporary music here. It’s not just the CMG though – a lot of other departments do some very good contemporary music projects. Yes, I think this conservatoire has some very good projects for the music of today.”

How important is it that students get to perform this repertoire?

“For me, it’s absolutely vital that any student at any conservatoire should be exposed to the music of today. And that’s just not because it helps their whole way of thinking. Once they get outside the conservatoire they might suddenly be invited to work with groups like the London Sinfonietta or Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and if they haven’t had exposure to the music they just won’t know where to start. So it’s very important for students to have good exposure to it. I’m not saying they shouldn’t play their Bach suites and their Brahms but it’s really important that they play contemporary music too.”

What’s it like working with Trinity Laban students?

“I’ve been working at Trinity Laban for 21 years now and so I’ve had a long time to work out what people like to do. The attitude nowadays towards contemporary music is fantastic. Students find it enthralling. If they’re excited then you can do anything. If they’ve got a blockage then it makes it hard. But from my perspective as a conductor, it’s great.”

Moving onto the concert, what should the audience be expecting on Friday?

Gregory Rose

Gregory Rose

“I think the audience will expect to hear some sharp edged pieces and this particular programme is really celebrating the 21 years at CoMA. These pieces are all what we call CoMA ‘classics’, which were particularly well written for CoMA. So we’ve got some of the best pieces from the last 21 years and I think the audience will enjoy it.”

Contemporary music is a broad term – are there any particular styles or influences you’ve leant towards for this concert?

“I’m inclined to use the term ‘music of today.’ Nowadays there is such a wide spectrum of contemporary styles being used. You think of the tonality of Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt through to the very complex music of Krzysztof Penderecki and Brian Ferneyhough. That means that there is a really broad canvas which people can start. The great thing about CoMA is that it encourages people from all different types of music to compose. We’ve had our professional composers – such as Jonathan Harvey and Michael Finnissy – through to students and amateurs who have never composed before. It embodies the complete spectrum of available styles.”

Trinity Laban’s Contemporary Music Group in conjunction with CoMA will be performing this Friday at 6pm at Blackheath Halls. To find out more information and to buy tickets, visit the Trinity Laban website.

Heather Stephenson

Marketing and PR Intern

Side by Side with the Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra

Last Friday I took part on the “Side by Side” Symphony Orchestra at Blackheath Halls. The side by side is a relatively new project that involves students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance playing with staff members in a Symphony Orchestra. Its aim is to give students the chance to experience what it feels like to sit next to an experienced professional. It also simulates the fast pace in which top British orchestras rehearse their repertoire before the performance. We only had one day of intense rehearsal followed by an evening concert.

Manuel Arellano

Manuel Arellano

The programme: Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony. The composer called it “a Soviet artist’s creative response to justified criticism”, after his Fourth Symphony had been banned by Stalin’s regime for being “formalistic”. However, it is possible that Shostakovich couldn’t help but to show his aversion to the dictatorship between the lines. It is a fascinating work where grandiosity contrasts with moments of utmost suffering.

I was very pleased with the result! The orchestra sounded really well at the concert. Being surrounded by all these senior musicians encouraged me to concentrate through the rehearsal and to perform as well as I could.

The rehearsal wasn’t an ordinary one. At the beginning the conductor, Jonathan Tilbrook, encouraged all the staff members of the orchestra to speak up. “I don’t want just my voice to be heard”, he said. And that is what happened. Throughout the day the senior members shared their experience with us. Jonathan found the right balance in which he was able to stay in control of the rehearsal but at the same time allowing his colleagues to express their concerns and make suggestions.

Side by Side performance_credit_jk-photography

Since it started a year ago, there have been three “Side by Side” projects organised by Trinity Laban: Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, “The Planets” by Holst and now Shostakovich’s 5th. This is the first time I have been involved in one, but I attended the two previous performances. One thing these three concerts had in common is how popular they were for the audience. Blackheath Halls was crowded every time!

There was a really good atmosphere during the day, and a great experience overall. I’m happy to have been a part of it.

Manuel Arellano
PGAD Violin

#MakeSomeNoise with Classic FM

What. A. Day. Today has been the kind of day that you dream about whilst being a music student… You know, the kind where you get to record a single for the biggest classical music radio station in the UK. Oh and record with the likes of Katherine Jenkins, Myleene Klass, Charlie Siem, Milos and Alfie Boe. And let’s not forget Laura Wright, Sol3 Mio and the Classic FM presenters. AND raise money for a great charity, #MakeSomeNoise, in some of the most wicked studios in London.

Air Studios

Air Studios in Hampstead Heath.

Well. Check. Check. CHECK. Being an intern at Classic FM definitely has it perks and when Sam Jackson, the Managing Editor needed musicians, I knew of no better place to ask than TL. Travelling to Hampstead Heath for 7.45am is slightly rough but the ever so effective bacon buttie bribe worked and all the musicians turned up, ready to record with conductor Julian Reynolds, and multi-nominated grammy producer Anna Barry. IMG_1605 So it was Cans on (headphones y’all) and take 1, 2 and 3. The acoustics of the old church were insane! Then, with the magic of recording studios, the Trinity Laban instrumentalists overdubbed themselves. Seriously it sounds like a full orchestra on the single but there were only eight musicians. They were such pros, it was over before you could say I LOVE CLASSIC FM, so it was breakfast round two and time for the singers. IMG_1612 A quick rehearsal at the piano, a change of octaves for the girls (‘sing as MGM as you can’), and then ACTION. With some reverb, it’s amazing how good singers sound at 9am. Then we did what some might say is every singers dream, we sang along to ourselves… Again, magically, eight singers became a whole choir… One of the quickest recording sessions ever. But obviously there is always time for a #conductorselfie… IMG_1615 Then the solo artists came in (including Laurence Llewlyn Bowen who needed help with the Glock) and rocked their lines with guidance from the most amazing tech team who were doing nine days work… in one . There were lots of sweets, coffee and sweets and coffee and…you get the idea. The single, Steadfast, is out on Friday and you can download it from iTunes- we really need everybody to get involved so that we, through the wonderful power of music and social media, can raise money to help disadvantaged children and young people up and down the country. It was such an amazing experience- thank you Classic FM!!! And dudes and dude-ettes, it’s 99p…no excuses.