The Christmas truce
Using a story as a stimulus, we break the compositional process down into sections, and sketch these sections out on timelines. In our resource, we have one timeline spanning the months leading up to the truce, and a second timeline zooming in on the events of that particular day. We then take each section in turn and explore the possibilities for interpreting and retelling the events and the moods they contain.
For some sections, we take a look at how other composers have attempted to describe similar scenes in their own work. For example, when considering the drama of wartime action, we look at some of the salient features from Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7. Composers are often like magpies, always appropriating ideas from other sources and tweaking for their own ends. For example, Bartók takes one of the themes from this Shostakovich piece and parodies it in his Concerto for Orchestra. It is good for our students to develop their craft in the way that many composers do. Composers are often like sculptors – they take some basic rough materials and make something of them – as opposed to a painter who begins with a blank canvas.
Students and teachers should consider some of the works and composers covered in the Areas of Study (AoS) for their particular exam board. This ‘two-way street’ approach to working can strengthen and reinforce the work done in each of these contexts. For example, the forthcoming AQA specifications reference several composers who have worked with wartime themes, including Shostakovich, Messiaen, Britten and Thomas Newman. By listening and analysing, students and teachers could explore how these composers have achieved their aims in creating music for similar contexts. The other idea worth noting is that composers often do a lot of work before putting their first note on a stave.
There is much thinking, planning, listening and research that has to be done upfront. Students often begin the process of writing notes way too early and seem unaware of the preparation processes that artists in all art forms share. Hopefully, this resource provides a good model.