Don't worry; we haven't been setting things on fire or making explosive concoctions. But for the past two weeks, my high school band and I have been experimenting with composing.
This is not an official study, although I probably should have begun it in that manner and I may eventually document the experience further.
I am discovering some rather interesting things.
I composed a chord progression and the students arranged their respective voices within the chord. To my pleasant surprise, it has been going rather smoothly. However, what I find interesting is that their first instinct always turned out to sound the best as an ensemble.
My high school band students are not all going on to be professionals (very few actually), they are not more educated than the average band student, they do not listen to instrumental music more than the average band student. I am no outstanding band director with more wisdom than my colleagues. I am a composer and band director with what started out as a selfish need to experiment with the sound of different instrumentation ideas.
So how are we doing it?
What I began with was a chord progression of whole notes. I printed out the music to reflect the entire chord written for each part. I instructed the students to pick one of the notes within the chord and sustain the note. Then, I instructed them to pick a different note within the chord. We repeated the process until we were satisfied with the overall result. However, after the third chord I realized that the balance we were all satisfied with the most, the balance that sounded the best, was their first choice each time. The most pleasing sounding chord was their first instinct.
Throughout this process, I have also been able to teach other elements, so there have been more benefits than I expected. I got to teach balance, blend, chord quality, chord structure and voicing, linear movement, vertical alignment, chord symbols, modulation, tonicization, chord tones, non-chord tones, voice leading, keys, and basic music notation. Through all of this, their individual tones and the collective tone of the ensemble have improved immensely. But the most fulfilling part of this process has been the connection we are all making with the music, each other, and ourselves. My students are maturing musically (and some emotionally) right before my eyes and ears. This has truly been a fulfilling, yet humbling experience.
Why humbling? You see, I have believed for a very long time that music is not and should not be an experiment or a predetermined formula or structure. It should be more intuitive. I am discovering that through a methodical approach and a formulaic concept, music can be created in many different ways. I have so much more to learn.
Until next time...