Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Composition Club

This club is my baby.

I love this club.

I have been wanting to do this club for ages and would (shh, it's a secret!) totally do it for free.

It's a group composition club with 9 year olds, and the whole thing warms my heart so much that I bounce up and down when I think about it. Or talk about it. Or type about it.

Want to hear what we did the first week?
I have this book that I bought with Mical last year from the remainders section at the U. Bookstore in Seattle. I would link to it, but I totally don't remember the title. Suffice to say it matches up paintings with tracks from famous and evocative pieces of music. So for instance flight of the bumble bee with a Japanese print of dahlias and a bee. Or Vivaldi's "Winter" with a landscape painting from the 1700's of Flemish ice skaters.

I wanted to write a piece our first week of club so that we really jumped in head first and got right in to the making of things. I figured that building a soundscape would be the easiest way in and I knew that we could build something fairly quickly. We started by looking at 4 of the paintings in the book and discussing what we expected the music to sound like based on the paintings. This aquarium scene is underwater and has a lot of fish. Do you suppose the music will be legato or staccato? Do you think it's going to be loud or quiet? What sort of instruments would you use for this scene? Based on this painting do you expect the music to be scary? happy? authoritative? calm? angry? Something else?

We only had two girls the first week, so I left them lying on their bellies on the carpet, waving their feet gently back and forth in the air while they flipped through the pictures and listened to the pieces in order to guess which one they were listening to.

Having discussed all four of the chosen pictures I was only going to play one piece for them to guess and sort out, but they were enjoying themselves so much that they asked if they could do all of them. You bet you can!

Once we'd finished looking at the book and they'd correctly deduced all four pieces (we even had a bit of a knights' duel during the march) it started to rain very, very heavily. This was *perfect* as it meant that when I brought up making a soundscape, the first thing they wanted to make it about was the rain. (How ideal.)

We went out into the hallway where the instrument store closet is and picked out some percussion that we thought might be useful including two rain sticks, some bongos, a slit drum, a thunder drum, and a clacker thing that probably has a proper name but if it does I don't know what it is.

We brought the instruments back into the room, had a bit of time to experiment, and then discussed and tried playing the story that our soundscape would be structured on. We begin with people walking around slowly (bongos), then the rain starts (rain sticks) and the people hurry away. When the thunder starts (thunder drum) the people knock urgently on doors in order to be let inside (slit drum top and sides to make two different sounds). Then, since we are doing this from the storm's point of view- there is a thunder drum solo accompanied by the rain sticks. The thunder dies away and the first brave souls venture out again (bongos). Then the rain stops and all you hear are footsteps.

Our piece is called "The Big Storm."

We wrote it all down, stuck our written text score on a music stand, and rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. I was willing to quit way before the girls wanted to stop. We even performed it for one of the Year 3 teachers who happened to be walking by. I had the girls initial and date the score and gave them each photo copies to take home with them.


This week we started by analyzing three more paintings, welcoming our 3rd club member, and reviewing last week's piece. Our newest member learned/was taught two different parts (the rain sticks and the slit drum) which we rehearsed extensively before recording. (They're each going to get a CD of their work at the end of the term.) That took up so much time that we only had 15 minutes to make a start on our next piece.

Apparently this club is half music and half art appreciation (with a bit of Earth Sciences thrown in: for some reason we had a big conversation about the Pacific rim of fire before club got started today). The next piece we're working on uses as its starting point rhythm and pitch instead of location and environment. Rhythm and pitch are the two most basic building blocks of music and maybe a sculpture or picture of neat architecture would have been better to look at- but the first thing that came to mind was Piet Mondrian with his lines and colours. Shapes and colours? Pitch and rhythm. Let's work it.

So that's where we're at right now. (Just wait 'til we start using poetry as a starting point!) This club makes me so. so. SO happy.


laine said...

This is so exciting. I can't wait to see how you change the way people look at music education...

Anonymous said...

Casey, you are such a joy and those kids are so lucky to have you teaching them. I would have loved being in a group like that when I was that age. I once had a Dr. who took his kids about that age to Art museums and they would all draw their version of a painting; the Dr. as well as the kids. Then he framed them and put them on the walls of his office. G&G