Building Creative Communities through New Music

BCU’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Composition Cluster is diversifying and broadening the participation of communities with contemporary music. The research has had an impact on the co-creation of new works between composer, academics, and a range of public groups in Birmingham.

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Summary of Research 

“for-Wards” reached an audience of over 40,000 through the participation of diverse community groups in a city-wide compositional collaboration. The research has changed working practices and developed careers of music creators in jazz, classical and popular music styles, leading to national and international performances, critical acclaim, and industry awards. Influence beyond the field of music can be found in public art, language preservation and science communication for children and young people. 

How research was carried out

The “for-Wards” project presented a city-wide ‘musical ode to Birmingham’ project working with diverse community groups to co-create compositions reflecting the cultural identities of individual localities in Birmingham, leading to ten live performance events. This research was co-created with public and private partners and funding from external groups such as Birmingham City Council and partnering arts organisations. 

Research also blurred the lines between composer and performer, involving audiences in music-making, challenging the traditions of what a musical and choreographic performance can be described as, by engaging different audiences and working with spaces such as the IKON gallery, Eastside Projects, and venues in Germany and the Netherlands.

The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Composition Cluster’s (CCC) work has developed interdisciplinary and cross-collaborative research. This has supported the development of public engagement with groups in the visual arts, poetry, languages and musicians from different genres. 

Outcomes and impact

The impact of this research can be seen through participation of contemporary music and public engagement. By bringing musical experimentation to musical genres, communities created new ways of understanding the world. 

The flagship “for-Wards” project, developed by Professor Joe Cutler and Dr Bobbie-Jane Gardner in collaboration with nine leading music organisations, directly involved 837 Birmingham residents in the compositional process itself. This included ten professional composers and 40 diverse community groups. The performative outcomes of the project reached an audience of 42,297 (live and online).

Birmingham Live newspaper summarised the project and its impact: “Now more than 500 Birmingham residents are to have their own recorded sounds broadcast at six world premieres… when music created across the city and then intertwined with the sounds that make it tick will be heard in public for the first time. Named after Birmingham’s 19th century motto Forward, the for-Wards project links community groups from across 40 different city wards.”

The “for-Wards” methodology now underpins Eastside Projects’ Twelve Tones, the community participation strand of Station Clock, a large-scale aural clock and £2 million public artwork by Turner Prize-winning artist, Susan Philipsz, to be located at the new HS2 Curzon Street Station.

The impacts have also been translated into diverse fields such as public art, science communication, and language preservation. For example, Andrew Hamilton's three musical works for the Irish Language Art Song Project contributed to tackling the lack of art song in Irish/Gaeilge, raising awareness in the professional singing community and wider society.

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Professor Joe Cutler

Head of Composition

Professor Joe Cutler has been described as ‘writing music of quirky dancing energy and humour mingled with mystery’ (Ivan Hewett, Daily Telegraph). For more than 20 years, he has been a distinctive figure on the contemporary music scene, often exploring the spaces between genre.

Seàn Clancy

Dublin born composer Seán Clancy’s (b. 1984) music has been described as ‘equal part sacred, seductive and superficial’ (Tempo), and as ‘exploring the tensions between found and original material, narrative and rupture, elite and vernacular values, and between innovation and intervention’ (Journal of Music). His work deals with examining minimal amounts of material over extended periods of time, and most recently he has been exploring this process by performing on synthesizers, often collaborating with other soloists and ensembles.

Andrew Hamilton

Composition Tutor

Andrew Hamilton was born in Dublin in 1977 and studied in Ireland, England and The Netherlands. His composition teachers included Kevin Volans, Anthony Gilbert and Louis Andriessen. Awards include first prize in the 2001 Opera Prima Europa competition in Rome and the 2002 prize at the 8th International Young Composers Forum in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands.

Bobbie-Jane Gardner

Dr Bobbie-Jane Gardner  

Research Assistant

Bobbie-Jane Gardner is a composer, arranger, lecturer, producer and music leader. She has received commissions from Uchenna Dance Co., Vocab Dance Co., mac arts, Punch Records, Vivid Projects, Longbridge Public Art Project, LSO Discovery, Sound and Music, Fierce Festival, Grand Union, Heart n Soul, Spitalfields Music and Black Country Touring. She completed a PhD in contemporary composition in 2020 with supervision from Professors Joe Cutler and Michael Wolters. She is currently completing commissions for Onyx Brass and Mochilla.

Dr Andy Ingamells

Research Assistant and Visiting Tutor

Andy Ingamells is composer-performer of experimental music. His work is rooted in traditional elements of music making and classical concert conventions but implemented in a different way. Traditional elements such as score-reading, performance and improvisation often do not give way to recognisably musical material. His is a musical practice that does not privilege the sounding result but sees it as one amongst many different and equal possibilities.