Cumnock is to become an international centre of excellence for classical music composers

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IT is the small East Ayrshire town of 13,000 people with a strong socialist heritage due to its history as a mining centre.

The statue of the father of the Labour Party, James Keir Hardie, who lived in the town for a large part of his life sits outside the town hall.

Now Sir James MacMillan, the Ayrshire-born internationally-renown conductor who is one of the world’s most successful composers is planning to turn it into a centre of excellence in the learning and teaching of classical music composition.

Sir James, who read music at the University of Edinburgh and during an acclaimed career went on to be knighted in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday honours is behind the major initiative which is aimed at putting Scotland centre stage in the world of classical music composition.

The ambition is for Cumnock, where he grew up, to become a centre of excellence in the learning and teaching of composition, in a move not limited to Scotland but for fledgling composers and their teachers from across the world.

The composer is a behind a bid for best practice over composing classical music through a digital network, and will include a series of online seminars and films.

It is anticipated that over the next ten years the centre of excellence will support composers at the beginning of their careers, help those in teaching and also encourage those young composers still at school.

The first year of the new partnership involving The Cumnock Tryst festival, of which Sir James is founder and artistic director, and leading global music education provider Trinity College London will involve delivering a school-based composition project Build It Loud for Advanced Higher Music Students at Cumnock’s Robert Burns Academy.

A new book has also been commissioned a new book for music teachers and young composers from James MacMillan and Jennifer Martin to illustrate the compositional process and to support those teaching and learning composition in the upper years of secondary school.

Under the schools project, they are mentoring 15 Advanced Higher student as they write a new piece of music for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s brass quintet.

Sir James has already announced plans to launch an extra festival in the East Ayrshire town this summer, as well as the annual event in October, which has attracted leading singers, musicians, orchestras and choirs to Cumnock. Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Evelyn Glennie are both expected to perform in the new event in June.

He said: “It has long been an ambition of mine to take all the experience and learnings we have built over many years of teaching composition in the schools around Cumnock and East Ayrshire and make those available to teachers and students further afield. Teachers are under an incredible amount of pressure and for many composition is a challenging topic to tackle. We’ve seen fantastic results at both primary and secondary school levels through our work here and feel we can really help support and empower those tasked with teaching composition in our schools across the UK.

 MacMillan and friends making Cumnock the meeting place for music

“The resources we create will not just be focused on teachers, but also support students studying composition at a higher education level or even self-taught. As part of our work to date we have mentored many emerging composers and supported some incredible talent nurtured here in Cumnock, such as Jay Capperauld and Electra Perivolaris through commissions for our festival, the Cumnock Tryst.

“I really believe that here we have the skills and resources to create an internationally recognised centre of excellence which will benefit the potential composers in the area, but also those around the world.”

All of the Build It Loud completed works will be performed and recorded in a live event within the Robert Burns Academy in 2021 when restrictions allow.

The works by the young composers will then be collated in a growing archive of music written by pupils in East Ayrshire and in due course, it is hoped made available to teachers and students through the Trinity College London website.

The new will include much of the teaching processes used in the Tryst’s composition projects for schools and will be launched at The Cumnock Tryst Festival in October next year.

Sir James MacMillan added: “At a time when those who make music face so many challenges, we are very glad to be able to continue our plans to create a centre of excellence in the teaching and learning of composition. Working with Trinity College London we can make the resources we will develop available to a wide network of music and education establishments around the world to support the creation of new music everywhere.”

Stuart Pearce, Trinity’s director of UK & Ireland markets, said: “Our relationship with Sir James and the Cumnock Tryst is very important to us and we are delighted to be able to support this invaluable and ground-breaking work.

“The publication of this book is a wonderful way to underpin the centre of excellence initiative and we look forward to a long and valuable collaboration, making a real difference to the lives of young musicians everywhere.”

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