Inside “Opus 30″
Most people will never write a piece of music. But in Vermont this winter, more than 110 students worked with 12 professional composer mentors to create their own composition. Music-COMP is a community of music educators, professional composer mentors, music organizations, and pre-service educators who encourage and support music composition for students. The work is done online.
On Wednesday, April 29, 25 students—ranging in age from eight to eighteen years old—rehearsed with nine professional musicians to prepare pieces for “Opus 30.” The work was performed that evening at the Chandler Music Hall. Sandi MacLeod, Ed. D, is executive director of Music-COMP and took time to answer some questions about the event.
Q. This is a big day for these students. Can you describe the events of the day?
A. Each student has a rehearsal period with the musicians. There are also concurrent workshops for different age groups, time to network with other student composers, and an interview for the concert DVD. The rehearsals are often the most exciting part of the day. Most students have only heard their work on the computer playback and suddenly they’re sitting in front of living, breathing musicians who add nuances and emotions to the work. Imagine an eight-year-old composer telling professional musicians how to play his brand new composition! The dialogue between musicians and student composer is fascinating and often incredibly detailed.
Q. Only some of the compositions are chosen to be performed. What is the process?
A. Throughout the year, all students are encouraged to post work in progress, rather than finished work for online mentoring. This way the professional composers can guide students as the work develops. The online mentoring involves multiple revisions and back and forth discussion between each student and her mentor. At the end of the submission period, mentors vote on the works they consider best for live performance. Mentors make their choices in each of the three age groups–elementary, middle school, and high school. It’s important for Music-COMP to feature all grade levels in the Opus concerts. Students who post their work for online mentoring realize that only some of the works will be selected because of the large number submitted. Many students come to the concert day, even if not selected, to take part in the workshops and sit in on the rehearsal with their classmate. There’s always another year, more Opus events to come, and much to learn about composing. Because we have so many students participating now, we aim to produce more concerts of student compositions next year. We’ve formed regional groups and intend to double or triple the number of Opus-like opportunities at the local level for the students in the coming years.
Q. Composing music takes certain skills, and rehearsing with professional musicians another set of capabilities. How do these experiences benefit learners throughout their lives?
A. Students tell us they improve their musical skills in all areas, not just composition. They become better listeners, better performers, and better thinkers in the language of music. We also see students build skills in life-long qualities such as persistence and the ability to deal with feedback to enhance a work. In addition, students develop the ability to articulate their intentions for their work and discuss it with others—peers and adults alike. Music composition helps many find a creative voice they didn’t know they had since many students simply perform works created by others.
Q. This is the year of the arts, and there’s a connection made with this concert. Tell us about that.
A. Alex Aldrich, Ben Doyle, and I were brainstorming last August about this significant year – the 20th anniversary for Music-COMP, our 30th Opus concert, and the Vermont Arts Council’s 50th anniversary. Alex suggested we ask students to compose with a Vermont theme in mind. That’s what we did – and with very loose guidelines about how to interpret this theme. The results show how much students know about Vermont history and how observant they are of the world around them. Our Opus concert celebrates not only our anniversary dates, but how imaginative students are as they pay tribute to their home, Vermont, in original music compositions.
Each composition has a connection to Vermont in some way. We have historical connections: St. Albans, 1864; War is Comin’; and Battle for Vermont. Many works are inspired by the seasons: Frosty Tango; Autumn Pixies; The Mystery of Winter. Others reflect the geography of our state: Couching Lion; The Frozen Lake; In the Depths of Lake Champlain.
See a complete listing of compositions, students, and schools involved in Music_COMP this year
Read more about Opus 30 and Music-COMP