So, you’ve made it through Level 3 NCEA Music and now considering throwing yourself into Music scholarship? You’ve done everything from performing as a soloist, performing in an ensemble and chosen your contrasting pieces. You’ve even flexed your compositional muscles and composed various different pieces of music. And of course, you’ve become a whizz at analysing music from different contexts in a research setting. Lastly, you’ve trained your ears to recognise certain chords and sounds required for the aural exam. To put it simply, you’ve been around the world with the many different aspects of NCEA Music. So, what’s next? Well of course it involves a degree of levelling up to meet a slightly higher standard than that of music excellence. You will be asked to complete a 3,0000-word exploration of a music topic. This won’t be completed in an exam environment but instead, be issued during the year.
Want a quick recap? If you are wanting an overview of the full music year then have a look at this blog here. Or maybe you would like some help with your past papers for those externals? Perhaps you need some extra tips with your compositions? Or are you wanting to get assistance with nailing your performances, then have a look here.
In your scholarship portfolio, you will need to showcase evidence of your work from either musicology, composing, or a performing perspective. Now remember throughout the year you would have already done various works on all three at different times, so it will just be about channelling that again and of course, picking the one that best represents you. This will help you provide evidence to back up all your points. Of course, you have the advantage of completing this at home, so you can really pour over the details and think critically about what it is you want to discuss. The portfolio itself is a collection of evidence that explicitly showcases your own knowledge, skill level and understanding in relation to your chosen topic.
In all three forms of the portfolio (composition, performance, musicology) you must display critical thinking skills as well as show a sense of reflective analysis. When writing the portfolio, it must be easy to distinguish what ideas are your own and what ideas are being referenced from other sources to back up your points. Make sure that you use a good, organised formatting system. For example, do you want to include headings, or maybe use italics; anything that will help present your writing in a clear and concise way. It could be worth your while to have a look at Trevor Herbert’s guidelines about this, Music in Words: A guide to researching and writing about music.
You’ll also be required to be on your game with references. This includes writing down both primary and secondary resources. Including a bibliography at the end of your portfolio is essential. All your work must be done on A4 pages and make sure that they are numbered. If you want to read an assessment report, it will give you details as to what the examiner noted on common themes of the assessment. So what do you need to include in your selected portfolios?
Get that instrument tuned up for your Performance Portfolio:
Keep your voice on point and practice those vocal warmups and/or make sure your instrument is in good nick! You’ll need to create a 15-minute performance recording. The positive thing about this is you can really get the best out of your performance takes and then submit the best. You’ll also need to unpack the performance text by discussing why you chose to perform the song, the recording and the programming techniques you decided to utilise. An important focus is the features of the performance. This could be anything from the tonality, dynamics, to tempo. Also, what about the stylistic choices of the genre you're performing? For example, if you're performing a jazz piece, how are you going to incorporate the improvised parts? Or perhaps a piece performed in Teo Maori, how are you going to be respectful to the text? These are just some of the aspects you will need to consider when explaining in your portfolio. Another aspect that will need to be considered is how you will combat technical difficulties. For example, if you're singing, how will you maintain diction and will you stand or sit to hold your instrument? If you have chosen an ensemble performance, it’s worth thinking about how you have reviewed the musicianship in the performance. For example, who will be leading vocally and how will each member maintain dynamics while still achieving the overall balance of the songs.
To achieve scholarship at this level you will need to have top quality presentation skills as well as technical skills to give an exceptional performance. It’s also worth noting that your performance will need to be an insightful take on the established work/song that you've chosen. To be unique, your performance must provide some recognisable point of difference that gives the song a new perspective through a different lens. To show your critical analysis skills your reflection skills will also need to be on point, providing a quality discussion. You'll be marked on your song selection as well as your programming decisions. Having a sense of musicianship is another key to your overall mark as well as the instrument techniques that you present on the recording. All in all, your performance will need to be convincing. How will you manage to display this? You can do this by providing a high level of quality in your structure of the song, the intervals between songs, and how well you represent the style/genre. Don’t forget to research the song’s history, previous performances, style, genre, improvisations – you want to live and breathe the music that you are bringing to life. So cultivate a confident performance and also a great analysis to unpack the details of your performance choices.
Next up flex those compositional talents of yours!
In your compositional portfolio, you will need to create a score and audio recording composed by yourself. For the recording, you have the choice of providing either a computer realisation of the score but equally, you can also submit a live performance. Bear in mind that live performance is not mandatory. Similar to the performance option, the piece must be no longer than 15 minutes. You can even include a re-composition from something you have already done, provided you change the arrangement.
To reflect on your work, you'll need to unpack your choice of score/song. Examples of questions to ask yourself are; why did you choose to compose this piece of music? What makes the features in your piece unique? And finally, why did you choose those particular instruments? You could also discuss how these instruments affect the overall mood, the tone and the dynamics etc. Also, it’s worth gradually unpacking how you structured the ideas and sections and what effect this has on the overall piece. Ask yourself: how are the ideas developed, sustained, and shaped? Does one part, for example, come in strong at the start only to taper off at the end. Why does this draw attention to the score’s intention? Similar to the performance portfolio, how will you overcome technical challenges? For example, how will the performer breathe during the performance and how will you adapt the score for their live performance? As a composer, you are constantly evolving and changing with your work. Within your critical reflection, you will show how you have developed your style, improved your skills and even changed your relationship on the music.
Within your portfolio, you will need to showcase an insightful and unique skill level. This will mean having a strong command over the style and structure of your pieces. Remember that a good portion of your marks will be on the effectiveness of your written reflection. Your reflection will contain your thoughts on your musical ideas, genre, context, and style. The score you make will need to be printed out and annotated to support your analysis. Here you will need to give definitions and explanations for the choices that you make. Your pieces should show a wide range of emotions and ideas that you explore throughout the score/song.
Are you a musical history expert? Try musicology as your portfolio choice?
To complete this type of portfolio you will need to do a delve into an established music score. This will require presenting a detailed annotated version of your chosen piece. Here you have the option of giving a 15-minute video presentation on your findings, or a 3000-word essay so it’s up to you what you pick. Within either, you will need to pick five musical elements that are most important. These can be anything from dynamics, tone, melody, right through to timbre and texture.
Understanding musicology is an opportunity to delve into the historical context and details of a particular music piece. Here you can ask yourself questions such as, how are musical elements representative of the time period? Do these elements show a common theme throughout the piece? Maybe the writers' location had a deep impact on one of the musical elements. If so, it will be your job to let the marker know. As well as this, you will need to formulate your own personal interpretation of the musical piece, what resonated with you and what stood out that was notable for you? The more specific the reflection, the better.
If you're still wanting more clarification, ask for the help of a tutor. Superprof is a great website where you can select your own personal tutor to get you on your way. The first lesson is free, so this is a brilliant incentive to jump on board and get your first lesson. They can help you to get ready for your course work, as well as prepare for your scholarship. So log on to Superprof and start looking for your tutor today!
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