Danish Composers Workshop
October 15, 2013

I spent three days – one evening, one full day, one part day – in Denmark at Engelsholm School of Music and Art, which is housed in the very beautiful Engelsholm Castle in Jutrland, South West Denmark. I was one of three composers teaching there – Daniel Bjarnason from Iceland preceded me and Bent Sørensen from Denmark came after (in fact we all overlapped).

It was a very open forum where we brought our own thoughts and perspectives to the process. There were thirteen composer/students coming from various backgrounds – jazz, electronica, singer/songwriter etc. backgrounds – all very experienced in their own fields but all having a strong desire to learn from me and the other two guest composers how we compose in the “classical” style. Many of them have worked with classical ensembles already and have an interest in mixing genres.


There were a number of types of class, all of which were very flexible and they were classified by the organiser Søren Møller in the following way:

The Lab (2 hour lecture): In The Lab I was to present the students for any basic idea you have found inspiration from. This also turned into an account of the way I have worked over the years in relation to my sensibility towards performers, and the way in which an intimate knowledge of the performers character and skills can inform my craft. One interesting way of working is that all score examples were uploaded to Dropbox before and during sessions so all students had access to scores and audio files – in addition to me showing projections and playing audio examples. It meant that everyone had a computer in front of them!

I was urged to talk about my career and how I became the composer I am and to play some examples for the students. Because of the jazz background of several of the students I explained at some length, following their questions, about my move away from jazz and improvised music in  the mid-1960s towards written composition. This was of particulart concern to Søren (to left in picture below), who is undergoing a similar, though less dramatic, transition.

The Genius Bar (2-3 hours): In the genius bar students presented their works or ideas so that I could comment and make suggestions. In addition they undertook exercises based on short fragments or ideas – in my case Søren had guiven them a couple of bars from a well-known Danish song which they elaborated in their own way – but not taking more than an hour or so to do it. The results were terrific and very varied. The Genius Bar also evolved at times into a further presentation of my work. 

The Secret (90 min): In “The Secret” I basically presented examples from scores and explaining what was going on.

The idea was all about learning from me as a composer and not about learning any general theory that they could learn in school.

For me the experience was entirely successful and I enjoyed my stay immensely on both a professional and personal level. I was massively impressed by how well briefed the students were and the extent of their own knowledge. It was curious that not only was one of the students a fine bassist (Niels) but the director of the institute, Jakob Bonderup, is also a bassist and composer! 

There was one great surprise and that was when we had a very entertaining music quiz organised by Henrik in which we were put into teams. An additional memeber of my team was Alec, the son of Gail Abernathy -my osteopath in Canada – who turned out to be studying there. The last time we had met was playing croquet at a party at a friend’s house in Sooke, British Columbia!!





Gavin Bryars