The purpose of this study was to examine the phenomenon of orchestral composition pedagogy through a case study investigation of a five-day composers' school situated within an Australian professional symphony orchestra and led by eminent Australian composer-teachers.
Much has been written about characteristics of creative practice and principles of orchestration. However, research that investigates the ways in which orchestral composition is taught, particularly with non-novice students and within the context of a professional rehearsal-performance workshop, is scarce. Amabile proposed that both creativity-relevant and domain-relevant skills and knowledge are necessary for creative practice. Creative and expert practice both aim to extend domains, thus expertise development is necessary preparation for practice at a ‘Pro-c’ or professional level. Little research has addressed aspiring professional creators, unlike that investigating aspiring experts. Thus to better understand teaching and learning for students aspiring to Pro-c creative practice, this study brings expertise development perspectives to the creative domain of music composition. For this reason, two questions were formulated to underpin this case study investigation:
1: What teaching and learning practices occur in this Composers’ School?
2: How have these teaching and learning practices contributed to the developing expertise
and voice of this cohort of emerging composers?
The study investigated orchestral composition pedagogy by exploring Composers’ Schoolparticipants’ perceptions of teaching and learning through intensive observations and interviews. Participants interviewed included current composer-students (5), composer-students from prior or later iterations of the case-study School (5), composer-teachers (4) including the conductor and school director, orchestral players (4), and the orchestra's education coordinator. Composer-students brought completed orchestral works and orchestration exercises for rehearsal and performance by the hosting orchestra. During the five days of the School, composer-students also attended orchestration demonstrations and lectures, masterclasses, and individual lessons with composerteachers. Observation data were generated with participants throughout School activities; interviews were conducted at the beginning of the School and several months afterwards to examine enduring impacts.
The study found that orchestral composition pedagogy within this School environment can be described as mentored immersion in an orchestral environment. Most activities occurring within the School, such as orchestral rehearsal calls, masterclasses, and individual lessons can be grouped under one of two macro-processes:
1. Rehearsal and performance of students’ original works and
2. Orchestration education.
In considering both the design of the School and practices observed in the School, two overarching teaching strategies were identified:
1. Immersion in an orchestral environment
2. Mentoring by expert composer-teachers
As mentors, composer-teachers provided modelling, interpretation, explicating standards, problemfinding, possibility-generation, promisingness sharing, and invitations to greater participation in the wider composer community.
Composer-students reported changed perceptions of the orchestra and of orchestral composition, and resolution to take greater care with details in notated presentation. Composer-teacher and orchestral player feedback was often direct and critical. Some students experienced feelings of discouragement, yet all appreciated the feedback and have persisted in composing for orchestra.
Orchestral composition requires extensive knowledge of instrumentation, historical repertoire and contemporary orchestral culture. Mentored practical experience in an orchestral professional performance environment enables composers to assimilate necessary aspects of orchestral culture to better inform their creative work away from the orchestra, and to maximise possibilities for creative collaboration with expert performers within the cultural constraints.
This study recommends the incorporation of genre-specific music cultural education and immersion in authentic professional contexts into composition teaching. It also recommends further investigation into the process of acquiring expertise through workshops with professional performance communities, research identifying signature pedagogies of different musical practices, and ways musical practices may inform the most effective pedagogies.