Girls who study Music at AS and A2 level at Habs have a real mix of subject profiles.
The skills involved in Music at this level are both practical and intellectual and so Music is not always taken as part of an ‘arts’ bundle but is sometimes taken by mathematicians, economists, and even scientists too. Some girls study Music in the Sixth Form with a view to further study at University or at one of the Music Colleges (e.g. Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama) but others go on to study a whole host of subjects after their school years, often continuing their interest in and passion for Music in University choirs and orchestras.
The study of Music at this level is immensely practical and creative. At both AS and A2 level, the Performance unit has a heavier weighting than the Composition and Historical/Set works units. You will build on your practical and aural skills developed at both GCSE and through any ABRSM exams you may have taken. The aim of the course as a whole is to produce well-rounded musicians who can use transferable skills between the different elements of the course. Given the extremely high standard of practical music making at Habs, there is every opportunity for girls to gain recognition for activities that they naturally enjoy and pursue.
The skills that you will need and develop at this level include the ability to recognise and describe the key features of a piece of music. This may be done aurally or written down. You need to make connections and comparisons between different genres or styles of Music. In written work you should develop skills in using information to back up a point that you are making whilst understanding the social and historical context of pieces. You will find that the links between the different sections of the course are very strong and you will soon be using skills across unit boundaries.
The course itself comprises six units – three to be taken at AS and three at A2 – and the pattern of the units is the same for each year. There is a Performance to a visiting examiner, there is a Composition folio which deals with pastiche techniques as well as ‘free’ composition, and finally there is an Historical/ Aural paper which covers set works in a similar way to GCSE.
What you perform is very much up to you in consultation with your academic and instrumental teachers but in terms of standard, at AS we are looking at Grade 6 standard for the pieces, and at A2 we are looking at Grade 7/8 standard for the pieces. You will also be expected to be able to talk briefly about your performances in a short viva voce. Questions could include areas such as how you found the acoustics of the hall you were playing in to more advanced comparisons of recorded performances at A2. At AS the emphasis is on contrast and variety of styles in your pieces, at A2 you have the opportunity to home in on 15 minutes worth of a particular work (e.g. a violin sonata or concerto) or a series of related pieces (e.g. French flute music from the early 20th century).
Composing at AS takes the form of writing a three minute instrumental piece for at least four players and the general aim is to write in as convincing a style as possible for the individual instruments. For example, making the most of the range and techniques that you can use on a violin, flute etc. This is supplemented by coursework of seven techniques exercises (about 12-24 bars long) which will deal with adding chords and cadences to a melody. At A2, the main composition is longer at 4 minutes and could be a setting of a text, a piece of programme music, or even a piece of music to accompany a film. The techniques exercises that accompany this are now all in one style – chorales in the style of Bach, string quartets in the style of Mozart, and song accompaniments in the style of Schubert etc.
The Aural/Historical part of this course are the only written papers. At AS you will study three pieces of jazz and three pieces of classical music and work with scores to increase your working knowledge of how ensembles are put together. At A2 you build on this knowledge to study a larger topic – usually Programme Music, looking at pieces such as Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’.
It is possible to study Music at AS and A2 without having taken GCSE if you have a suitably advanced performance and theoretical background. Girls taking Music will normally be confident performers involved in musical activities in School.