Interview with Hannah Rose Wood

Ian Pace: Today I’m very pleased to welcome back another recent graduate, Hannah Rose Wood, who completed the BMus course in 2019. After graduating, Hannah did a PGCE in Secondary Music at UCL Institute of Education, and recently qualified as an NQT Secondary School Music Teacher. She will start a new job in two weeks time at a local secondary school in Essex.

Hannah, it is good to see you again! You graduated just a year ago, so I imagine your time at City must still be quite fresh in the memory? Is there any one experience in particular which might serve as the epitome of your three years with us?

Hannah Wood: Hi Ian, thank you for having me! Yes, my time at City is still fresh in my mind. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at City and it opened my mind to lots of different music and musical perspectives. City offered numerous different modules, equipping me with new skills and knowledge in many areas, that I can now take forward with me in my teaching career. One of my highlights has to be playing in the Balinese and Javanese gamelan ensembles led by Andy Channing, performing in concerts and at the Christmas cabaret.

IP: I believe Javanese and Balinese gamelan became a quite central part of your musical interests, yes? Had you any experience or knowledge of these before coming to City?

HW:  Yes definitely! I had virtually no knowledge of gamelan before joining City, only one taster session at the Southbank Centre, on a school trip. I joined both the Balinese and Javanese ensembles at City and developed a love for gamelan, which ended up becoming the focus of my dissertation. My dissertation title was: ‘How Javanese gamelan music has influenced rhythmic aspects and temporal perceptions in Lou Harrison’s Music for Gamelan with Western Instruments’

I took a different approach away from arguments of exoticism, instead exploring models of musical time. My fascination with concepts of temporality and rhythmic analysis stemmed from Newton Armstrong’s module ‘Rhythm’, which was definitely my favourite module from my time at City, as it opened my mind to different musical perspectives.

In my dissertation, I explored temporality in gamelan music from a rhythmic and analytical perspective, analysing two pieces of Javanese gamelan music that I played in City’s Javanese gamelan ensemble. I applied Jonathan Kramer’s theory of vertical and linear time and Harald Kreb’s theory of metical consonance and dissonance and rhythmic strata to these pieces and then applied my findings to two of Harrison’s works, which combine western and non-western musical features. I concluded with how his works can be perceived from perspectives of directed and non-directed linearity and vertically and ultimately how these differing transcultural concepts of time make Harrison’s work intriguing.

I also explored gamelan music for one of my compositions for my major project composition. I created my own pelog scale using quarter tone fingerings, which I played on my flute.

IP: That was an exceptional dissertation, for sure. Have you continued with any gamelan-related activities since finishing at City?

HW: Thank you! During my teacher training at UCL IOE, one of our sessions was a gamelan workshop at the LSO. It was great to play some gamelan again and catch up with Andy.

IP: What attracted you to City and the BMus course, when you were considering possible choices of where to study?

HW: The main reason was definitely the modules and ensembles on offer at City. Other places I looked at had less variety and didn’t have an orchestra. When I joined City, I really wanted to play in an orchestra, and that was something City offered. It was a great experience to be able to play in the chamber orchestra concerts that City held at St Clement’s Church. I also wanted to live in London, which has a wide and diverse music scene. I often watched the weekly concerts put on at City and attended a gamelan concert at the LSO.

IP:  As well as employing theoretical models for studying rhythm, and your gamelan experiences, were there other new perspectives or approaches you discovered during your study?

HW: Absolutely! At Sixth Form, composition was something I struggled with and did not enjoy that much, but this completely changed when I joined City. I would never have imagined that I would end up taking composition as one of my major projects before City! The lecturers provided me with a new outlook on composition, teaching me new skills and giving me ideas. In my major project ‘Disparate but connected: An exploration into the combination of contemporary techniques with historical models from European and non-European music’, I sought to integrate contemporary techniques that create sonorous and interesting effects with pre-existing styles of music, including Japanese shakuhachi music, European Medieval and Renaissance period music that used a cantus firmus and lastly gamelan music.

IP: As you are about to start teaching at secondary level yourself, what would you say should be the priorities in terms of music teaching and provision there?

HW: As music is an embodied practice that places emphasis on practical and creative aspects, I believe it is important to teach music musically, through active involvement. Learning through actively playing and listening can deepen understanding and without it, music can become disconnected from its context. In my second school training placement, the school used a Musical Futures approach and their lessons were very practical and encouraged creativity. The pupils were very engaged and their understanding was deepened through performance. This led to a research project I completed entitled: ‘Investigating teaching strategies for whole class ensemble lessons in a year 7 class at a mixed state free school’. I argued about the importance of active musical learning, evaluating different approaches to whole class ensemble teaching, that I incorporated into the design of a unit of work that I can use and continue to develop in my future teaching career.

IP: With that in mind, at tertiary level, do you feel there are separate benefits from university study, which is conventionally more focused upon scholarship and theoretical study, without excluding but with a less exclusive concentration upon practice, and that at a conservatoire, in which practical work plays a much more central role?

HW: I think you would definitely gain different benefits from each, however, I do feel that there were a variety of practical opportunities at City. In lectures, it was never simply just theoretical, everything was in a musical context enriched with listening examples and sometimes occasional practical demonstrations. Of course, it would depend on what modules you select, but I feel that there should be a good balance between theory and practice, and theory is equally important at both secondary and tertiary level.

IP: What would you say to someone aged around 18 considering studying music in higher education? 

HW: I would definitely say yes! I would ask them what it is they want to get from higher education and what their aspirations currently are for the future. Of course, they might not have a set career in mind and their interests may change throughout their time at university, which mine did. Nonetheless, it is important to pick a university that offers what you are interested in and also offers new experiences. I think students have very different experiences at different universities and I would encourage them to look at what modules and ensembles different universities offer. In my opinion, City certainly offered a wide and varied programme of modules and ensembles and I would certainly recommend City to future students.

IP: Hannah, many thanks for giving your time to do this interview! I hope everything goes well with your new teaching job!

HW: Thank you Ian, it has been a pleasure to be involved in your interviews!