Players from the CBSO record the Fifths’ string quartets.

by Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham

Music is, depressingly, becoming less prevalent in the curriculum in this day and age. Yet, contrary to popular belief, I have concluded that the reason for this isn’t the content of the course itself, but the students who choose to take it. Sometimes I struggle to understand how Dr Leigh has the motivation to teach us, let alone spend more time with us than the bare minimum. Yet, through his will and determination, he fearlessly led our ragtag crew into the expanse of the Ruddock Hall on an especially dreary Friday afternoon.

Now, if I am giving the impression of reluctance thus far, I wish to say that this was an especially exciting day, for we were to present our ‘serial’ compositions to a select group of musicians (from City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Dante Quartet) consisting Shulah Oliver, Zhiko Georgiev, Adam Romer, and Richard Jenkinson), so we could experience our IGCSE compositions realised in full surround-sound audio, contrary to the pained wailing of a so-called ‘violin’ that Sibelius does its utmost to render.

At this point I should mention the nature of serialism (No, not Special K and the like), as I am sure the introduction of this technical language has caught many of you off guard. I believe the art of serialism can be best summarised by a quote from Schoenberg, the founding father of serialism himself:

‘My music is not lovely.’

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham: string quartet recordings by CBSO

Unlovely music

In layman’s terms, serialism is designed to sound pretty rubbish. One can go into the joy of retrogrades, rows, combinatoriality, and inversions, but essentially serialism is crafted around a foundation of a twelve-tone scale, and doesn’t follow the conventions of traditional western harmony, resulting in something that sounds a ‘bit dodgy’, to use the words of Jonnie. Yet Schoenburg also said:

‘My work should be judged as it enters the ears and heads of listeners, not as it is described to the eyes of readers.’

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham: string quartet recordings by CBSO

Fragile and unreliable

So, I humbly concede to the fragility and unreliability of words, and move on to the topic of the music itself. Our class, being as it is, showed serious apprehension to the dea of purposely bad music, however on the realisation that we were able to ‘bung any old note in and they can’t criticise it’, we discovered a newfound glee at the idea of having one fewer thing to think about when composing.

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham: string quartet recordings by CBSO

Newfound glee

And so we presented our crisp copies featuring, but not limited to:

“Alas, my teapot has run off with a spoon. (A Lament of Youth)” by Nathan Cornish
“O why does my toenail itch so?” by Isaac Elliot
“No! Layers, Onions have layers!” by Jonnie Green

And prayed that these fine players would be able to work their way around our indiscernible blotches. Thankfully, despite Jonnie’s initial worries that they may not have a full grasp of dotted rhythms, they realised our work with aplomb, and we left feeling fulfilled, enriched, and most definitely tired.

Matthew Igoe, Fifths

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham: string quartet recordings by CBSO Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham: string quartet recordings by CBSO

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham: string quartet recordings by CBSO

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham

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