Guest blog: Discover what it means to be a musician

Andrea Lee spent a year stretching her mind and abilities on a course aimed at leisure-time musicians

I have just completed the Certificate: The Practice of Music Making, a one-year programme developed by Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance (Making Music Corporate Member), in partnership with the Open University.  

It’s been a wonderful year meeting musicians from across the UK and beyond, from different genres and, like myself, playing regularly in the community in some kind of ensemble. On the 2017/18 cohort there were singers ranging from a covers duo to church music, jazz and opera, instrumentalists playing in concert bands, rock and folk groups.

It’s this mix of backgrounds, and the emphasis on creativity and collaboration, that stretches your mind and your abilities as a musician. You may be introduced to new ideas and techniques that you may not have encountered before. For example the best ways to give feedback in rehearsals, using diagrams to analyse music, different perspectives on performance anxiety and how to create an identity for yourself as a musician. 

One day my living room walls were covered in squiggly diagrams to inspire improvisation and on another I was recording the sound of a bus engine as a source for an experiment in ‘musique concrète’. I found that keeping an open mind to whatever the course presented brought fun, intrigue and fascination.

Hard work? Yes, but you can take the superbly presented course material and your own learning as far as you want to. Each week there’s recommended reading and further activities if you have time. And the benefits of a distance learning programme mean that when and where you study is flexible. I tended to do my study at the end of the week on Fridays and the weekends and that worked fine.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the programme for me, and I know for most of my fellow students, was the week-long residential at the impressive surroundings of Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Music at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. It was a heady mix of group compositions, impromptu performances, ideas for improving rhythm, listening, and working on ensemble skills. Our daily choir rehearsals and small ensembles led to a performance at the end of the week. One of the pieces in my group was a song composed by one of our singers. Starting the week with a single line of melody, it was wonderful to perform our full version under the spotlights in a performance at Blackheath Halls.

The real take-away for me, and one that leaves a lasting impression, is that you just don’t know what’s going to happen when musicians get together in a room. This unpredictability becomes the joy and excitement that we can experience in creating music. 

This programme has been a voyage of discovery for me. It has opened up new paths to follow and brought a whole new enjoyment, drive and motivation to being a musician. I have newfound confidence, skills, knowledge and understanding, and more than ever I’m willing to embrace a creative approach. New paths have been forged into arranging and even composing. I ended the programme by conducting, for the first time, the concert band I play in each week. I never dreamt I would be able to do that!

Applications close on Tuesday 28 August for the next course starting in October 2018.

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