yesterday, taught middle schoolers again with CITS. my main job was going over what students had and getting them to get to the next step, be it increasing one line's length, writing in the chord structure (director wants them to write in the chords after writing the melody, and not necessarily to follow a progression.), or adding in the second and third lines.
Ah, middle schoolers. there are those with about 20 measures of 3 lines done...meaning their project is basically finished. then there are those that "lose" what they've worked on every week. and others that it's just impossible to get them to do anything constructive. it's an interesting challenge going from "we've got it all done -- well, what about this and this? -- OH!" to "uh, i left it at home...err...i mean... -- so, you lost it or never started it? -- uh, well, i don't know what to write!" to "UGH! Just leave me alone. i'll do it if i want to. -- ok, it's your grade. i can't force you to take my help..."
ok, so that last bit i don't say. I think it, and say to them "I am here to help you. You know this is for a grade, and i can help you along. If you do have questions, let me know. i just want you to get something fun out of creating your own music." It's a bit nicer approach, I think.
For those students that say "I don't know what to write" i generally start with "what do you like to play?" or "what's on your iPod?". after that point, i get them talking about it. Is it fast or slow? does it have a lot of repeated notes, or repeated "licks" or does it have a lot of variation? loud/soft? all those "fundamentals of music." After getting them thinking about it (and, if possible, playing little chunks of it) they seem to start getting ideas. Then it's just the always difficult process of helping them take what they're playing/thinking about and translating it to paper.
Working with younger students, i find having them write for instruments they play, or they can hear played immediately really helps. Yes, it means that the young students pieces are "easy." but, ya know, the point of writing music isn't always to "outdo every who has written music, EVER!" or "to write something no one has ever written before." You can write music for enjoyment as well. And that's what i try and get these students to do. Write something you WANT to hear, write something you WANT to play. and once you spark that interest in writing music, then some come up and say "so, i was thinking about this, but i think i want it played by 37 french horns..." or something like that. heh.
sometimes it's baby steps. and pulling teeth. Like reminding them that, the "score" is a document so that OTHERS can play it. If i ask you to play it, and you play things not on the page, like phrasing, bowing, staccato, pizz, etc, then i will tell you "hey, you played X Y Z but it's not in the score. This is how i'd play it"
for those of you who have heard me play violin, you know just how painful that is...
also, random thing i knew and never thought about- wind players generally start with longer notes. quarter, half, and whole. string players seem to start with eighth notes and quarters. the reason why is simple- held notes mean vibrato, and vibrato is taught later. Still, it's an interesting dichotomy. it actually opens up some interesting ideas of how to write a piece for beginning full orchestra...the pedagogy is there to have some interesting ideas for a middle school piece- where string players are really just getting a handle on vibrato (if they do only public school orchestra, not lessons) and band students that are really just starting to get into more eighth notes. hm...anyway...
I also went to a great concert last night. UMKC Wind Ensemble presented what was really a timeline of music. The first piece was one that, well...It's Arvo Part.
I don't particularly like Part. His vocal pieces are nice, and he does some great timbral things, but, yeah, not my cup o' tea. The piece they played was Fratres for double woodwind quintet and 2 percussionists. The arranger needs to be fired. permanently. This piece has been arranged millions of times. originally it was string quintet and woodwind quintet, and it was a much better piece. almost like it. the string quartet version (famously recorded by Kronos Quartet) is quite nice as well. double woodwind quintet just doesn't do it for me. at all...not at all...It was performed quite admirably, especially considering some of those notes were held for incredibly lengths of time. note to composers- bassoons sustaining a note for 45 seconds is a bit mean. seriously.
the next piece was "Selections from 'The Danserye'" originally written as dance movements by Tielman Susato and arranged by Patrick Dunnigan as a quasi-dance suite. It was, again, marvelously performed - though, honestly, i felt the trombones were a bit sloppy and the percussionist in the back never quite got the feel of playing slightly ahead of the beat to match the time of the flutes and oboes up front. The piece itself was a nice illustration of Renaissance dances done as a suite for Wind Ensemble. there were some great moments in the percussion, like the use of the Lion Roar, and some nice mallet writing. Still, it's not as good as Gordon Jacobs "William Byrd Suite." First, William Byrd is AWESOME. Second Gordon Jacobs is AWESOME. lol. Sorry Susato and Dunnigan, you've got some tough competition throwing yourselves against those two. lol.
After intermission, the piece i really came to hear was presented. Lee Hartman, a recent DMA Graduate from UMKC was having his Doctoral Thesis, Concerto for Vibraphone, premiered. Honestly, it was fantastic. how the hell did i get into this program? lol. The Vibe part really did a great job showing all the different styles/effects/virtuosity of the instrument. Some of the most poignant moments for me was when the soloist, James Clanton - a BEAST of a vibraphone player!- performed with two mallets in one hand and a bow in the other. He used the two mallets to execute single note rolls and dampening while bowing other notes. It was impressive technical skill by Clanton and an amazing effect. Also, using a hard yarn mallet to strike the note and then slowly placing a brass mallet on the struck key to produce a bouncing sound and slight bending of the pitch was an amazingly effective technique. Lee really nailed it in the last movement. The ensemble and vibraphone would strike fortissimo chords in unison. However, the ensemble played a marcato eighth note while the vibe player held the pedal down. The effect you go, seeing the Clanton strike the keyboard, but only hearing the ensemble, then hearing the sustained chord appear out of the texture was quite amazing. I learned a trick or two about writing for vibraphone and for band from this piece. fantastic!
the final piece was Symphony No. 6, for Band by Vincent Persichetti. Wonderfully performed. Love the piece. Nothing i can say more than if you like band literature at all and haven't heard this, grab a recording and listen to it. Seriously. Good stuff, and the wind ensemble continued to perform at a high level, even after playing almost an hours worth of music before that moment.
The above was somewhat of an exercise in article style writing. i've been thinking about sending some samples out to do reviews and such for the local "classical" music scene and avant-garde art scene. I'm alright at it, and i plan on going to as many as possible. might as well get paid to blog about them, since i more than likely will anyway...
well, that's it for now. I may post again later tonight. Other great experiences in music worth recounting, such as todays 20th century analysis class - my academic version of crack. lol- and work on my new, yet to be titled work for voice and electronics. Also, don't think i blogged about working with my college "mentee" on monday. those are always good experiences, i think.