Category Archives: CPD

Discover Singing 2020 Repertoire Challenge

Over last year, I managed to read a surprisingly large number of books, thanks in part to the Popsugar Reading Challenge. This reading challenge provides a range of prompts to help you choose books to read. There are 40 prompts to choose from, with an additional 10 advanced prompts for the really avid reader.

My success in reading more got me thinking. How could I use the power of the challenge to help me sing more just for myself? Without exams to work for or regular performance opportunities my own singing has been on the back burner. I had previously come across the 40-Piece Challenge invented by Elissa Milne but that was a bit too vague for me, and in some ways too simple. I wanted something that would push me to work on songs that were a challenge. Plus, this was a piano challenge and I wanted especially for singers!

So, I put the two together! Here is the inaugural, experimental Discover Singing 2020 Repertoire Challenge for singers. The goal is to learn one piece for each prompt, up to the total 30 pieces. What “learn” means is a personal choice. I’m going for “sing fluently with minimal reference to the music” rather than “present in concert”!

The Prompts

  • A pre-baroque song
  • A creative setting of a folk song
  • Something atonal
  • A song with an unconventional score (e.g. graphic)
  • A song with at least two time signatures
  • A modal song
  • A song that wasn’t written for your voice
  • A song by a female composer
  • A song by a South American composer
  • A song with a performance direction you had to look up in a book
  • A song from outside your preferred genre(s)
  • A setting of a poem by a famous author
  • A song with the tempo marking allegro
  • A strophic song with at least five verses
  • A song with “love” in the title
  • A song written in the 21st century
  • A song that includes whistling or humming
  • A song with a one word title
  • A song inspired by a novel
  • A song that requires improvisation or decoration
  • A song with a title that starts with A
  • A song about money
  • A lullaby
  • A song you’d sing at a wedding
  • An overdone audition song
  • A song in a language you aren’t familiar with
  • A song by a composer you’ve never sung before
  • A song from a song cycle or show you’ve already learnt one song from
  • A song from your “wish list”
  • Polish up an existing favourite song

If you want an offline list, you can download a pdf version for your wall.

Follow my progress on Instagram, and share yours with #2020repertoirechallenge

Good luck, and happy singing!

Trinity AMusTCL Resources

Trinity LogoNow that my AMusTCL exam is over, I’ve collated all the useful links to essays and analysis I’ve found throughout the course of my preparations. Over time, I hope to provide links and book recommendations for the sections I didn’t do as well, along with a series of posts to give some better guidance on preparing for the exam.

Section A – Lutheran Chorale

Tom Pankhurst’s Chorale Guide – Straightforward, step-by-step method for completing chorale-based tasks. Work through all the worksheets and you’ll be on your way to full marks.

JSBChorales.net – Most of Bach’s chorales are online at this site. It’s really important to get a feel for how the original chorales look and sound and this site has plenty of mp3s and MIDI files to help non-pianists listen to the music.

Section A – Orchestration

I’ve yet to find much about this one, but a good knowledge of instruments is key.

Section A – Popular Song

Music Arrangers Page – A blog all about arranging for popular music. Not all of it is relevant, but it’s worth looking through the articles and applying the ideas to your own practice.

Section B – Schubert Symphony No 5 in Bb
Topic list blog post

This was definitely the trickiest section to prepare for. However, plenty of work on identifying chords and musical features is important in gaining the more straightforward marks on part b.

Scott Foglesong – Scott Foglesong works for the San Fransisco Conservatory of Music, and he’s put up a fantastic essay analysing Schubert’s Symphony no 5 in Bb. Saved me a lot of time doing the formal analysis, so I can concentrate on the thematic issues.

Section C – Musicals
Topic list blog post

The best way to approach this section is to watch as many of the musicals as possible. Lots of these are available on Netflix and LoveFIlm, and you can also find various versions on YouTube.

“Inside” series from New Line Theatre – there doesn’t seem to be an index page, but the link will take you to the search which brings up most of the pages. There are articles on Chicago, and Jesus Christ Superstar

Notes, analysis & essays for OCR A level Music – a Scottish-based webpage with useful articles on West Side Story and Les Miserables.

Sweeney Todd: an analysis of the dramatic and musical structure – Someone has very kindly put up their entire PhD thesis on this particular show, with detailed analysis on several of the key songs.

Michael Bennett’s A Chorus LIne 101 – Three pages analysing the songs and structure of the show.

A Chorus Line: Does it Abide By Equity? – Ok, not strictly speaking useful for the exam, but a really interesting read! (link is to a PDF)

Have you taken an AMusTCL? What resources did you find useful? Post them below.

AMusTCL – Topics for Section C

Trinity LogoTaken from the past papers (2009 sample, 2010 and 2011 so far), here are a list of the topics which have been covered by previous essay questions in Section C: Stylistic Development – Musical Responses.

Toccata: Jacques Loussier Plays Bach

  • Spontaneity and improvisation
  • Inspiration from Baroque features
  • Creative limitations of arranging
  • Commonality between Baroque and Jazz
  • Compositions in their own rights?

Popular Music

  • Worldwide appeal
  • Variety of cultural backgrounds
  • Innovation
  • Distinct musical sound
  • Musical qualities that lead to success
  • Non-musical qualities that lead to success (video/fashion/publicity etc)

Film Music

  • Hallmarks of film music as a specific genre
  • Importance of music in film as an art form
  • Integration of music within the film
  • Music and emotional response
  • Relationship to Programme Music
  • Role of music in enhancing drama

Musicals

  • Conflict between speech and music v. unified artistic whole
  • Treatment of ‘the outsider’
  • Social and contemporary issues
  • Role as ‘Protest music’
  • Ingredients of a successful musical
  • Popularity of the music v. other reasons for success

For details of the full questions, the past papers can be purchased from Trinity. I have no insider knowledge, so this is by no means a guarantee that these topics will come up again. However, it should give an idea of what kind of areas to focus on in preparing.

I hope this is helpful if you are preparing for this exam. I’m hoping to get a resources post up soon with links to websites I’ve found useful.

AMusTCL – Topics for Section B

Trinity LogoTaken from the past papers (2009 sample, 2010 and 2011 so far), here are a list of the topics which have been covered by previous essay questions in Section B: Stylistic Development – Set Works.

Schubert Symphony no 5 in Bb major

  • Relationship to music which came before and after
  • Treatment of sonata form
  • Chamber-like nature
  • Hallmarks of the classical symphony
  • Markers of later symphonic form

Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms

  • Novelty of orchestral features
  • Use of orchestration to provide colour
  • The setting of the text
  • Innovation in the music
  • Neo-classicism
  • Latin as a language choice

For details of the full questions, the past papers can be purchased from Trinity. I have no insider knowledge, so this is by no means a guarantee that these topics will come up again. However, it should give an idea of what kind of areas to focus on in preparing.

I hope this is helpful if you are preparing for this exam. I’m hoping to get a resources post up soon with links to websites I’ve found useful.

An Adventure into the Advanced, or, studying for an AMusTCL

Writing Musical Notes in PencilI didn’t discover the joys of Trinity Guildhall’s theory exams until after I had already taken the slow and arduous path of studying for ABRSM’s Grade 6 and 7 exams. I passed both of them, but the materials available for study made the whole process seem both mysterious and dull.

Then, I discovered Trinity’s exams and have hence forth switched over to them for all my students. Trinity’s Grade 8 is considered by ABRSM to be equivalent to AB Grade 6, and as I had already passed that exam, it was the diploma syllabus that caught my eye.

The AMusTCL is the first level of the diplomas offered by Trinity, and I’m planning to attempt it in November this year.

The syllabus has three sections:

Section A covers the harmony material required by ABRSM. There are five different questions, and candidates attempt either two or three depending on what they’ve chosen for section B. The options are: harmonise a Lutheran Chorale, orchestrate a piano reduction for a classical orchestra, complete an early romantic piano piece, compose your own melody using non-traditional harmony, and complete a popular song from the chords given.

Section B is a little different. This is a question on a set work. Currently, the set works are Schubert’s Symphony No 5 in Bb minor and/or Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Candidates can study one or both. Those who study both do two questions in section A, and those who study one do three questions in section A. There’s an essay question about the general form and shape, and then a more detailed analysis question on the harmonic structure in a given phrase.

Section C is a “listening” question, with options to choose from two set arrangements of a piece, a selection of modern popular music albums, a selection of film soundtracks and a selection of musicals. This is an essay question only, drawing mainly on the listening/watching and the relationship between the music and wider issues – everything from character and plot to the politics of the age.

Trinity don’t give much in the way of study guides, with only some brief notes and one past paper over and above the syllabus, so it’s going to be an adventure! The exam is in a little over 15 weeks, but I’ve bought my score for the set work, obtained copies of all the musicals and worked through the Trinity books up to Grade 8.

By taking the AMusTCL, I’ll have a theory qualification that will allow me to take an LRSM exam in teaching in the future, and I’ll also be much better equipped to teach my students not only about harmony, but also about reading scores and understanding music in context.

If you click on one of the social network buttons on the top, you can keep up with my adventure into advanced theory by liking Discover Singing on Facebook, following on Twitter, or adding my RSS feed into your Feedly (or other rss reader) account. I’ll be back in soon to let you all know how it’s going. Wish me luck!