Composition Degrees

Firstly, hello! My name is James and I'm new here. I wasn't really sure where this discussion belonged, so I put it here, since business of composing seemed the most appropriate. The thing is, I am currently studying music at A level and am wondering what to do afterwards... I have decided that what I would like to do most, is take a degree in music, with composition as my primary study, preferably at one of the various great conservatoirs England has to offer (I am particularly interested in Trinity, Guildhall and LCM- not technically a conservatoir, but rather a specialist college I think). Here is where my question comes in:


All of the conservatoirs require an audition and request that you send samples of your compositions (most ask for about 4, or more than 2), but I'm not sure to exactly what standard they expect my composition to be and what would best show the conservatoirs that I deserve to be there. I have asked my music teachers but they are all performers and don't really know how it would work so much... I was considering sending one orchestral piece, one for a solo instrument, one contempary orchestral piece and a piece for a contempary ensemble (such as a jazz ensemble or maybe a pop group), but I really have no idea what they want! I want to know now, so that by the time I have to apply in October, I will have had time to write the most appropriate pieces that really show off my skills as a composer. Also, does anyone know how they asess the pieces? I mean, if I send a symphonic poem making use of the enigmatic scale with lots of avant-gardeness, will they take that to mean that I'm just a little bit mad and don't know what I'm doing? Alternatively, if I send an orchestral suite with lots of I-V-I etc. will they take this to mean that I only really know about music theory and thus am not actually very creative? Any help from anyone who knows about composition degrees would be appreciated. I would be especially greatful to anyone who had first hand experience in such matters!

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  • Hiya. I'm studying postgrad at the RNCM and would highly recommend it ;) In terms of performance provision I think it is the best institution around (I may be biased...). I did a degree in music elsewhere first, which worked for me, but if you're sure you want to compose then a conservatoire is the way to go! Bear in mind though that you can apply through CUKAS and UCAS in the same year so you could apply to universities with good composition departments as well as conservatoires and make a final decision later in the year, when you know a bit more about the courses/institutions.

    What do you mean, an orchestral piece and a contemporary orchestral piece? What's the difference?

    Send the best pieces you have. They should give you good feedback if you ask for it, even if you don't get a place. If there's a bit of variety in the portfolio (i.e. not 3 pieces all for the same lineup) that will be good for you because it will show different aspects of your style and give them a better idea of how you'll get on at degree level. Tonal and non-tonal stuff will both be fine as long as it's YOU and not pastiche.

    Get in touch with the Students' Union, find out when student compositions are being performed and go - this should give you an idea of the standard.
  • Some schools will specify what they're looking for in your audition/work samples. If they do not, learn something about the school and the faculty. What are their areas of specialty? What are their philosophical outlooks on music and teaching? What is the school known for? What kind of music does the faculty do themselves? Try to send works that would appeal to that. That means that you're not going to submit the same material to every school. And by the way, the answers to those questions should also be limiters for the schools you consider. Many schools will not be the right choice for many candidates. You need to focus on schools that specialize in what you want to focus on.

    It's the same thing you'd do if you were trying to get published, get a record label, get a "normal" job, etc.--you've got to do your research. You've got to figure out what the folks you're soliciting are interested in. Not everyone is interested in the same things, and in most situations, people will respond better to a submission that seems like the candidate is familiar with who they're submitting to and knows what they're specifically looking for rather than a submission that seems kind of generic, like the candidate probably planned it to do mass submissions with little knowledge or regard for the folks at the other end. It's a matter of working in a smart, precise way rather than trying to kill an ant with a sledgehammer.
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