Masterworks 2019 | Classroom Tasks

The following tasks are designed to help your students understand James MacMillan’s music from a hands-on perspective. These tasks will be the basis of your SCO player visit. If you are not receiving a visit, please adapt the tasks to suit the resources you have available.

Task 1: Rondo-esque (section one)

The opening section of Tryst is in rondo form.

rondo = a musical shape with one recurring ‘theme’ which alternates with contrasting ‘episodes’

The recurring ‘theme’ of MacMillan’s rondo is made up of the following two ideas:

Idea 1: A rhythm played by the full orchestra


(James MacMillan writes this rhythm in the unusual time signature of 7/16)

Teach this rhythm and challenge your students, working in pairs, to invent a way to play it. Each team must choose two pitches that are a wide distant apart (i.e. a 5th apart or wider). Each player uses one of these pitches and alternates with the note immediately above or below.

For example:

  • The pair choose C and G
  • Player one plays C and C#
  • Player two plays G and G#
  • The rhythm becomes this:


Create a class version of this rhythm, everyone playing at exactly the same time.

Idea 2:   A ‘rumble’ that grows from low pitches to high, from soft to loud

Ask each player to create a trill (fast wobble) using the pitches they selected above. Challenge the class to layer up these trills so that they move from lowest to highest and crescendo from pp to ff

Join these two ideas together; the rhythm followed by the trill-crescendo. MacMillan’s version of this is very short - less than 10 seconds. Challenge the class to make theirs as short and neat as possible.

MacMillan’s ‘episodes’ are made up of a handful of ideas. Split into three groups to make these as follows:

GROUP 1: Ideas 1 & 2: Stabs and Fanfares

Create a cluster chord. The easiest way to do this is for everyone in the group to simply choose a note without discussion and see what happens. To be more authentic use stacked up 5ths and semitones like James MacMillan (or the notes you used above)

In Tryst, MacMillan uses number systems – i.e. the number of rests between ideas (or the number of repetitions) increase and decrease systematically not randomly.

Split into two sub-groups.

  • Stabs = single chords sounded exactly together and rests
  • Fanfares = repeated chords sounded exactly together and rests

Create a mathematical system that determines when you play. For example:

Stabs (single chords) happen after a number of rests or counts. This number decreases and increases systemically each time, i.e. stab, 5 rests, stab, 4 rests, stab, 3 rests etc.


Create your own system for this.

Fanfares repeat and rest using a number system too, i.e. the chord repeats 4 times, 4 rests, 5 repeats, 5 counts of rest, 6 repeats, 6 counts of rest etc.


Create your own system for this.

Put the two ideas together. It should sound random but it’s actually all carefully thought out. Discuss whether your counting should be at the same pace or not. The audience should not hear the counting or a pulse.

GROUP 2: Tryst theme

Here is the beginning of MacMillan’s original folk theme –


Learn this theme and adapt it two ways:

  1. A ‘wail’ – choose one section, use high pitches, slow the tune right down and ‘bend’ to adjacent notes like this:

62. A hymn (smooth, slow, solemn) – choose one section, slow it right down, start on different notes and play in parallel:


GROUP 3: Angry musical sentence

MacMillan was inspired by the poetry of William Soutar. Here is one of his verses:


Steepies for the barnie
Sae moolie in the mou
Parritch for a strappan lad
To mak his beard grow

Stovies for a muckle-man
To keep him stout and hale
A noggin for the auld carl
To gar him sleep weel

Bless the meat and bless the drink
And the hand that steers the pat
And be guid to beggar-bodies
Whan they come to you yett

Ask each member of this group to choose a line from this poem and turn it into an angular, disjunct melody using this method:

  • Say the line
  • Try to match how you say it using your instrument. Follow the inflection of the words by shifting up and down in pitch one note per syllable. Don’t think too much about notes, key or pulse.

    For example:


  • Join several of these lines together to make a disjunct melody

Practice until everyone in the group can play the whole melody together (don’t make it too long or complicated!). You don’t all have to play the exact same notes, it’s the shape and ‘feel’ that is important and performing confidently together.

Join these motifs together to make an episode. You might like to simply hear the ideas and then try out different ways of putting them together, or you could use some rules borrowed from Sir James MacMillan –

  • Stabs and Fanfares happen throughout and sound random
  • The wailing melody and the angry melody seem take turns (they seem to be in conversation)
  • Everything stops for the slow, solemn melody

MacMillan’s piece has five repetitions of the theme and five episodes. All of the episodes are different. At the beginning, the wailing is the most important element. By the fifth episode, the angry melody is at the forefront. Make as many episodes as you have time for and structure them into your own Rondo-form piece.

Task 2: Tune battles (sections two and five)

For this task you need two contrasting tunes. The solemn tune and the angry tune from above are perfect.

Split into two teams.

  • Smooth tune (see ‘hymn tune’ above) – create a version of MacMillan’s original Tryst theme that is smooth, soft, slow and homophonic (all parts move at the same time). This should be quite long
  • Angular tune (see above) – create an angular, jagged melody using William Soutar’s poetry as stimulus. This one can be quite short

Hear each theme back to back.

Split into teams again and work out a way to transform your tune to gradually take on the characteristics of the opposing tune.

For example – the smooth, slow, soft tune must gradually, over several repetitions become jagged, fast, loud, and vice versa. The longer tune will become shorter and the shorter one will lengthen.

Perhaps challenge yourself to do this over a fix number of repetitions (i.e. four).

In MacMillan’s piece, themes often do ‘battle’. For example, section two begins with one long theme being interrupted by a shorter contrasting theme. As the interruptions continue, the shorter theme grows in importance and the longer theme recedes.

Can you alternate between themes to create the same effect? Your piece might look something like this:

  • Long, smooth theme interrupted by short flash of angry melody
  • Shorter less smooth theme interrupted by longer flash of angry melody
  • Even shorter, even less smooth theme interrupted by even longer angry melody with some smooth moments
  • Short flash of previously smooth theme seems to interrupt now long, smoother previously ‘angry’ melody.

Random or systematic?
You can do this ‘randomly’ with ideas simply interrupting each other, or systematically. In section five of Tryst, MacMillan shortens his main theme by two notes at each repetition until only one note is left.

Task 3: Harmony and counterpoint (section three)

Teach everyone the beginning of MacMillan’s folk tune and create a version with harmony – in a very MacMillan way!

Split into two teams:

– everyone must play this theme at their own pace, ignoring those around them. Players may experiment with the follow techniques:

  • stop and linger (for a long time) on any pitch
  • get stuck
  • return to the beginning
  • improvise around the theme - slowly

Here’s the theme with William Soutar’s words. This task will work well vocally –


luely = softly

- choose just three chords to harmonise with the tune above. The traditional harmony is below but you may choose something more adventurous…


Create a way to cycle through these chords so that they shift emphasis on each repetition. For example, you might –

  • repeat them over 5 beats (or 7 or 10)
  • keep changing how they repeat or their stress by stretching a different chord longer than the others
  • simply play them without pulse on someone’s signal

Unpitched/untuned instruments may add shimmering, magical sounds such as:

  • Cymbal shimmers
  • Random chiming bells/ glock notes
  • Soft jingles from a tambourine

Aim to play with no audible sense of pulse or beat.

Put these two groups back together to make a magical, shimmering version of Sir James’ tune. Pay particular attention to the dynamics (it should never become too loud), the tempo (slow) and the start and finish. Sir James begins and ends on the same pitch and this note (G) is often present within the texture as a pedal note or drone

Task 4: single movement

If you have worked on all three tasks above, join them together to make a single movement. To do this, don’t look towards James MacMillan’s piece. Instead, listen to the sections you have created and fit them together in a way that works for you musically. Pay particular attention to the beginnings and endings of sections and how they might join/fuse/juxtapose.

©Copyright Rachel Leach London 2019


Areas of the syllabus covered by this scheme of work –

SCQF National 5 Music Course Code C850 75

The course aims to enable candidates to:

  • Broaden their knowledge and understanding of music and musical literacy by listening to music and identifying level-specific music concepts, signs and symbols
  • Create original music using compositional methods
  • Perform music

Candidates are required to:

  • Explore and develop musical ideas using at least three of the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre and structure
  • Create one complete piece of music

SQA Higher Course Assessment Specification
SCQF Level 6 C850 76

The course aims to enable candidates to:

  • Broaden their knowledge and understanding of music and musical literacy by listening to music and identifying level-specific music concepts, signs and symbols
  • Create original music using compositional methods
  • Perform music

The following provides a broad overview of the subject skills, knowledge and understanding developed in the course:

  • Skills in listening to music to promote aural perceptions and discrimination
  • Knowledge and understanding of level-specific music styles, concepts, notation signs and symbols
  • Self-reflection

SQA Advanced Higher Course Assessment Specification
SCQF Level 7 C750 77, C778 77

Portfolio option:

Marks will be awards for the following:

  • developed and refined initial musical ideas
  • creative and assured use of compositional methods
  • selecting and applying music concepts in a sophisticated way, melody, harmony, rhythm, structure, timbre
  • creating music that is original to the learner

Question paper:

Marks will be awarded for:

  • an understanding of the concept content for the course
  • the ability to identify and analyse the use of music concepts and styles in complex contexts
  • knowledge and applied use of musical literacy

Specific concepts (across all levels) relevant to this concert include –

Chords I, IV, V
Identifying chords and cadence points. Interrupted cadence
Time signature – (7/16, 5/16) – asymmetrical, unusual, irregular
Verse & Refrain/ chorus. Strophic
Scots Ballad
Rondo form
Orchestral instruments
Tones, semitones