iCompose 2011

Winners of iCompose 2011 were announced at a ceremony at the National Gallery of Scotland in June.  Thursa Sanderson reports on the difference the Figurenotes notation system is making to the competition…


Composing music might seem to be a distant possibility for most people and especially young people with learning difficulties or on the autistic spectrum, but not for 12-year old Andrew Norris of Lilybank in Port Glasgow, a school for children with severe and complex needs.


Andrew’s piece ‘The Cat’ was a winner in iCompose 2011, a national composition competition run by SCO Connect, the education and outreach arm of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who are working in partnership with Drake Music Scotland to made the competition as accessible as possible. With other pupils in schools around Scotland, Andrew has been learning to play and compose music using Figurenotes, the revolutionary Finnish music notation system introduced to this country by Drake Music Scotland  iCompose, now in its second year, is run in association with the National Galleries of Scotland, with all compositions inspired by pictures in their online collection.


Andrew’s winning piece, along with those of runners up in the same category, Lewis Drummond and Murrie Robertson from Park School in East Ayrshire, was performed live by SCO musicians at a special winners’ concert at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh and as well as receiving a goody bag of musical prizes, his piece will also be recorded with the rest of the winning compositions by Linn records.  His music teacher at Lilybank Annona Thornton describes how Andrew composed his piece: ‘We began by looking at the pictures sometimes talking about the animals and how they might sound or move.  Andrew made a pattern using Figurenotes magnetic shapes.  We wrote it in Figurenotes software and after playing it several times, he changed the rhythm. He played a glissando on the glockenspiel and when asked about this he put out his hand like a claw and went “Hiss”…. To help him write a second part I put a selection of notes on switches which he played along with the melody, experimenting until he found the ones he wanted.  For this part he chose the bassoon. He particularly loves to play it along with a backing called ‘clubdance’ – it has been a very positive experience for the whole class.’


Drake Music Scotland’s Artistic Director Pete Sparkes adds, ‘We knew that Figurenotes had the potential to help pupils with support needs learn to play music, and we are very excited that it is opening the door to new areas of creativity for pupils in special schools as well. This is so important for young people whose communication is limited and have difficulties in other areas.   But as Annona always says, these pupils are not disabled when they are in the music room!’


iCompose 2012 launches in September.  Email info@icompose.org to sign up for the latest news about this year’s competition or visit www.icompose.org to see a full list of 2011 winners.