Cultivating Composers in your School Ensemble.
Any of us who have spent time in the classroom know that at some point a student will come up to you and want you to look at a piece that they wrote! If you are not yourself a composer/arranger don’t sweat it, there are things you can do that will help to cultivate as they learn to be a better writer!
1. You are a musician! You know what music looks like:
· Half the battle when writing music is making it look and sound like...well...music! Often this is way less glamourous than I think a lot of people imagine. As a director/teacher you see a lot of scores and have studied a lot of music. You can look at their scores and tell them whether or not they are following basic cosmetic and idiomatic techniques.
2. Give them scores to look at:
· The answers are all laid out in plain sight. How do instrument names look? What order do these go in? Who transposes and how/why? Who is playing what part – how many parts are there.....etc...etc...etc!
3. Play their music for them:
· Want to talk about real...hard feedback? Have your best ensemble perform their music (use it as a sight-reading practice!) and give them real life feedback. I can’t tell you enough how quickly you learn what “not” to write in this way!
4. Give them an arranging assignment:
· If you need something quick for a pep ensemble or performance, give them an assignment. Most often that bit of pressure and a deadline can help you learn how to do things quick!
5. Broaden their musical palette:
· Introduce them to music that is different than what you are currently playing/singing with your school groups. Make sure that it isn’t just music from the medium they say they are wanting to write for. For instance if you have a young musician who wants to write for Concert Band then direct them to masterworks in the vocal and orchestral areas.
6. Find other composers who look like them!
· Students need role models who are talented and similar to themselves. Make sure that your examples are diverse not only in their construction but also diverse with respect to the composer as well.
7. Encourage them to go out to honor bands and meet composers:
· Being able to meet a living composer can have a big impact on a student’s perception on what is possible. Most often the little name on the top right of the page is over-looked or accompanied by a year their birth year. Meeting and talking with active composers can be an opportunity down the road.
8. Don’t let them give up:
· My biggest break in music came after a fairly solid rejection. Don’t let them give up. Failure is more important than success when you are learning!