Striking a chord in Perth

I'm against the mechanical, formulaic attitude to composition," says Steve Martland. "The thing that really matters is the sound of the music".

Martland is talking to young composers on his Strike Out course at Strathallan School, near Perth. And his approach to composing - "Go away and find some chords" - enthuses this group of 16 to 18-year-olds whose talents have not always been furthered in secondary education. "Composing can be difficult in school because teachers aren't always equipped to put across enthusiasm for contemporary music," says one of the group.

This is the fourth annual Strike Out course. Lasting 12 days, it is free to participants, who have been selected by ability. "School music is for everyone," says Martland. "But Strike Out goes beyond that because talented students often can't get at school what they get here: advanced composition skills. Specialist instrumental courses have equivalent aims."

Participants are to compose a piece for the eight-strong Steve Martland Band, which will rehearse with the composers prior to performing the piece at the Edinburgh Fringe on August 17.

"Starting composers need exposure," says Jeremy Benhammou, from the USA, who is to study composition at the Royal Academy of Music next year. "So it's wonderful having our works performed by this excellent group."

Thom Petty, 16, from King's School, Macclesfield, says: "Steve is clear about what he wants us to achieve. He's got lots of vitality and this comes across in the vigour and energy of his music."

But aren't the Strike Out composers in danger of being swept off course, stylistically, by Martland? "Definitely not," says Peter Orwin, who is sitting in on the course and teaches BTec popular music at Amersham and Wycombe College. "Martland encourages different approaches and ideas. But he does get the composers to think in new ways."

Jeremy Benhammou confirms this. "We come from different backgrounds," he says. "And each of us has a different style."

Peter Orwin believes Strike Out is important because it frees young composers from the constraints of secondary education. "Often these are people who have been the only composition student in a music department. And they haven't had the chance of bouncing ideas off other composers."

The point is reinforced by John Habron. "Being with other young composers and with people who love music as much as you do is a new experience. And it's this which makes the whole thing so encouraging and enjoyable."

Strike Out 4: the Jaffa Cake Club, 28 King Stables Road, Edinburgh, August 17, 1pm. Tickets: 0131 229 7986 or 0131 226 5138. Strike Out 4 is sponsored by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Lady Susana Walton. Strike Out 5 information: Schott Music, 48 Great Marlborough Street, London W1V 2BN

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