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Claire Cowan: Subtle Dances - SOUNZ COURSE FOR NCEA LEVELS 1, 2 or 3 (iQualify platform)


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This online course explores the music and life of New Zealand composer Claire Cowan, with a focus on one of her compositions, Subtle Dances, for piano trio, composed in 2013.

Why study Subtle Dances?

  • By completing this course you will gain insight into the mind and composition processes of one of New Zealand's leading composers.
  • Through interacting with a wide range of music, past and present, and then focusing on one piece, Subtle Dances, you will gain an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the context in which a piece is written.
  • You will see how a piece of music grew from a simple concept, into a beautiful and widely acclaimed piece of music.
  • By analysing Subtle Dances section by section you will uncover the many interesting musical elements and features used by the composer
  • And you will develop a deeper understanding of the tools and devices all composers use to structure and develop musical ideas.
  • Finally, you will be encouraged to put what you have learned into practice by composing music of your own.


On successful course completion, learners will be able to:

  • Identify and describe the contexts in which Subtle Dances was composed.

  • Identify and describe the musical elements and features found in Subtle Dances.

  • Identify and describe other contexts (listening, playing, singing and composing) that they relate to.

The iQualify learning environment provides:

  • online platform
  • blended learning
  • flipped classroom environment
  • student/teacher and peer-to-peer feedback
  • quizzes with instant results to check learning
  • access by email for each student and teacher


Activities and discussion points within each module provide many opportunities for student/teacher feedback and peer-to-peer interaction throughout the course. When students complete a module they can check their understanding by completing a quiz (with instant feedback) before moving on.

At the end of the course, a final review requires students to synthesise what they have learned to describe the elements and features of the work in their own words and, for NCEA students, a formative assessment will prepare them to successfully undertake internal assessment. Finally, a creative task provides the ultimate test of learning as students create their own original 'subtle dance' using the course material as a starting point for ideas and tools and techniques.


  • Each licence costs $5, provides course access for one year, and includes a PDF score and a streamed Rattle recording of Subtle Dances.
  • Please purchase one licence for each teacher and student (e.g., for a class of 15 students and one teacher, a quantity of 16 licences should be purchased).
  • Upon completion of the sale, you will receive confirmation of your purchase. SOUNZ will then contact you during business hours to arrange email access for all students (an email address for each student will be required).

Publisher note

SOUNZ licence

Author note

Researched and written by Stephen Lange