Saariaho’s Petals often elicits nervousness from both teachers and students, yet when approached in the right way can be one of the most rewarding set works to study. This Webinar will begin by exploring routes into studying this set work, and will also define what contextual understanding is expected from examiners in top level essay answers. Clear directions within 20th century music will be suggested for students to research, along with practical and realistic teaching strategies that head off problems before they occur within this set work. Suggestions will be made for exploring both Saariaho’s influences and, more generally, 20th and 21st century music in ways that engage rather than alienate students. The final part of the Webinar will focus on preparing students for Section A answers based on this set work.


  • Clear and valuable guidance on mastering the context and analysis of an academically dense set work;
  • Essay concerns: examiner-led advice on how to embed context, AO4 and Wider Listening in essays for the highest marks;
  • Clear advice on pertinent vs. irrelevant contextual information and avoiding rabbit holes, and using this and Wider Listening examples to illustrate and justify analytical points in an essay;
  • Mastering Section A demands with this set work, and generating questions for students.
DATES & LOCATION Online | Wednesday 13 January 2021 – 90 minutes 4pm
  • Heads of Department
  • Experienced Teachers
IN-SCHOOL You can also book this as an In-School Course
  • A specially prepared folder of 50+ pages full of detailed notes, practical advice and guidance
  • Notes prepared by the educational experts leading the course
  • Expert produced PowerPoint presentations
  • CPD Certificate of attendance


4.00 – 4.05pm Welcome and Introduction

4.05 – 4.45pm Contextual Knowledge for the Highest Marks – Directions that Explain the Music

  • Musique concréte, musique spectrale and obsessions with timbre; understanding Petals in context against key works within 1980s French spectralism;
  • From Debussy to Berio, via Messiaen – engaging perspectives on composers’ experiments with sound;
  • Can technology be as spontaneous as a human? Can a human and computer respond to each other in the moment of performance? How getting students thinking about aesthetic questions can open up the world of Petals.

4.45 – 5.15pm: Approaches to 20th century Music

  • Using key works of the 20th century to place Petals into context – examining modern approaches to sonority and timbre, and their influence on Saariaho.
  • How to inspire students with 20th century music; works that challenge perceptions and students’ thinking, with a particular focus on preparing students to answer a Question 5 essay.
  • Alternative ideas on introducing, exploring and studying Saariaho’s Petals.

5.15 – 5.30pm: Section A                

  • Preparing students for Section A questions on Petals; thinking like an examiner.

Alex Aitken

Alex Aitken is an A level examiner with Edexcel, and was also on the review team for the GCSE textbook, having written the analysis for Defying Gravity. A former organ scholar of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, he has been teaching for fifteen years in a variety of schools, as well as privately, and is formerly Head of Academic Music and Choirmaster at Stowe School. His unique, innovative and holistic teaching approach has consistently yielded outstanding A level and GCSE results across all components of the specifications and this, alongside wider educational work, has led to being in great demand as a visiting leader of INSET days and departmental reviews in schools across the UK. Alex is currently the Children’s Musical Director and Cover Conductor for Mary Poppins in London; a role he combines with other freelance work as a musical director, pianist and organist (notably with MK Chorale, the National Youth Music Theatre, National Children’s Choir, and CBSO). Alex has composed scores to numerous short films, which have premièred at both BAFTA and the London Film Academy, and holds Licentiate diplomas in piano performance from both the Royal Schools of Music and Trinity College London, and the Associate diploma in organ performance from the Royal College of Organists.