Where Are They Now? Summer School spotlight on Ryan Morgan

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Our annual Summer School residential course, now open for applications until 27th March, reaches its 15th anniversary this year. To celebrate, we’re speaking to some of our Summer School alumni about their memories of the week, advice for young composers and the exciting projects they’re currently working on.

Ryan Morgan is a composer, dramaturg and classically trained singer, whose practice explores extended vocal techniques, embodiment, and technology. He received a scholarship to complete his MMus in Creative Practice at Goldsmiths, University of London and has codirected and designed operettas for University of Birmingham G&S and submissions for National Theatre’s Connections Festival. His most recent work will be premiered by the Birmingham Opera Company.

Read our interview with Ryan below, and visit our information page to learn more about the Summer School and how to apply.

What year did you attend the Summer School, and which group were you a part of?

I came to the Summer School three times in 2016, 2017 and 2018. First I was in the Vocal group, then the Cross Cultural, and finally in the Jazz group. I had the experience of a good range of approaches.

What is a memory from those years that stands out?

The entire week of the first year I attended! I hadn’t really composed much before [the week], meaning that my first composition was for the application for the summer School – or at least my first time notating one. Consequently that whole week was special to me, particularly working with MaJiKer as he was one of the tutors that year. He said some really insightful things about worth as a musician, and the importance of not spreading yourself too thin. That really stuck with me.

The second thing that stands out was working in the Cross Cultural group, and how holistic the approach to composition was – it was very experiential. During one session we were like laying in lavender bushes, relaxing and meditating. That has stuck with me, because that’s very close to what I do now as a composer and a researcher.

What was the most important thing you learned during the week?

How good music education can be. It was totally different from my experience in GCSE, A level and even at University. I got a little insight into an example of good education and that stuck with me, especially as I now teach in a Primary School. I teach music with the same methodology, or perhaps philosophy, that the Summer School promotes.

How would you describe the Summer School’s philosophy or approach?

It places importance on what composition actually is, and how that is very different from just the structured, more formalised way that it’s taught in current curriculum and often in universities. I guess it is a much more holistic, non-performer approach. You don’t have to be a performer necessarily to be able to compose.

How did the week affect your future plans?

I hadn’t really composed much beforehand – I did enjoy creating music but I never saw it as a career. Now, I can actually say that I am a composer!

In university, many people come in not liking composition at all, mainly because of their experience in GCSE and A level music. The Summer School really allowed me to fall in love with composing, and also made me want to educate and teach because I could see the difference between what I was learning in school and what I learnt in the Summer School. It made me want to change something, so I began teaching at after school clubs in my whilst I was in Sixth Form and helping GCSE students with their compositions.

Since then, you’ve come to the Summer School as a member of the Vocal group’s artistic team. How has that experience affected your composition and teaching work?

It’s definitely developed my own skills as a composer, particularly working directly with Laura Bowler as she is one of my biggest musical influences. Performing the students’ compositions has also improved my performance skills! The experience feels beautifully circular, as the Summer School first sparked my interested in teaching and sharing knowledge.

Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in applying to the Summer School, but isn’t sure if it’s for them?

The Summer School is for everybody. You don’t need to be able to read or write music—I first started to use notation for the Summer School application. The tutors will support you and help you get your ideas across to musicians in the best way possible, so it’s very accessible in that sense.

It is the perfect week to experience and learn new concepts and knowledge in a space that’s safe, where there’s no risk of any penalisation for it. In A-Level Music, if you compose an experimental piece, you may get a bad grade as it may not align with the curriculum. In University, we also didn’t get to experiment too much, because again there’s a risk of not getting a good grade. It is a perfect week to let loose and really be wild with things because you won’t be you won’t be able to have the opportunity for a while. I’m only just starting to get the opportunities to do that again. The week is not about the outcome, as the final pieces are not getting judged or marked. It is about learning, experimenting and having fun.

If you could use three words to describe the Summer School experience, what would they be?

Ungraded creative exploration.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on two commissions at the moment. One is a micro-commission from the Birmingham Opera Company, so I’m writing a 10 minute piece for then which should be performed and recorded in the next month or so. I am still working on it, but it is themed about violence and education and includes a Baritone singer with Contrabassoon. I’m also working on another commission from Terra Invisus, who are a new music trio from South London. As a Dramaturg, I’m working as a literary advisor for a new hyper-pop opera installation performed by Cat Winter. That will be performed at the Vaults Festival in London in February. Some exciting projects!

The Sound and Music Summer School is a residential course that gives young people aged 14-18 the opportunity to explore their musical creativity over six days at The Purcell School.

Whether you create in a DAW, with a band, use notation, improvise or are curious about experimenting with creating music, we will support you to bring your creative ideas to life with the guidance of expert tutors from a range of musical genres.

If you would like to join us this year, be sure to apply for Summer School 2023 by the 27th March.

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