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#1531949 - 10/09/10 07:56 PM Composers Debut
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11448
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Today was the 3rd annual Wisconsin Composers Debut. This is a forum for composers in the state to showcase their music in front of a live audience and receive verbal and written comments from a composer.

This year, we also offered a cash prize to the winner in each category (Elementary Grade 1-5, Middle School Gr. 6-8. High School Gr. 9-12, and Adult). We advertise within the WMTA newsletter, local newspaper, through local WMTA chapter members, and we also send out information to all the local schools. The first year we did this we had 21 entries I believe, then the 2nd year 10, and today, 6. Because there weren't that many, the three of us teachers on the committee decided we would submit pieces of our own, but we wouldn't be eligible for any awards.

We also had an intermission after all the pieces were played and when the judge was deciding winners, where entrants could sell their music.

I must say that I am so glad we decided to go forward with the event this year despite the low numbers. As a result, everyone was a winner or runner up of each category. One boy who was runner up was so delighted to have sold several copies of his music!

The judge is the professor of composition at UW-Stevens Point, and he was *such* and encouraging adjudicator. He did not give any negative comments out loud and just focused on the things they did right. The quality of the music was excellent, however, and everything was well-received by the audience.


What I've done to get students ready for this event is we will take the summer lessons to focus on it. Practice usually wanes here anyways, and since there aren't any upcoming competitions or recitals it's the perfect time to work on compositions. As explained in another thread on theory, composition is an excellent way to increase a student's understanding of notation and theory, as well as gain much more respect for what a composer does. If the piece is classical in nature, then it must be written down completely, but if it is jazz, pop, or rock, they may use lead sheet notation. This requirement helps students understand the importance of being clear so that someone else looking at it could learn how it should sound.

Best of all, they get to see that there are other people of all ages composing, people who are alive and living in their own town. We encourage music of any style. It was inspiring to me to see these people writing something that means something to them, something they are passionate about and sharing that with others.

I encourage teachers everywhere to get together with other teachers in their area to put together a program like this. Most of us play music that was composed, and yet, we do not (on the average) teach composition. I say this just from my own experience growing up, the experiences of other teachers I've known who were never encouraged to compose, and also from the fact that many teachers in our area don't even touch on composing in their lessons.

We are doing our students and our art a great disservice if we do not encourage this. Those interested in composing but not encouraged may feel that they can only compose in a band or worse, not at all, and so they either never cultivate their ability or channel it elsewhere. Either way, this leaves very few good composers in the classical field. One only listen to some of the many terrible new compositions being performed today to understand this. There is some good out there, don't get me wrong, but there is a lot of mediocre in the mix as well. Was every in Beethoven's time as great as Beethoven? Certainly not. But there were a *lot* more people composing than now.

If anyone has ideas that they have used to help students compose, or any group activities they use, or would just like to get something started, please post here.
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#1533020 - 10/11/10 10:50 AM Re: Composers Debut [Re: Morodiene]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11448
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Bump.
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#1533071 - 10/11/10 11:58 AM Re: Composers Debut [Re: Morodiene]
Lollipop Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/09
Posts: 820
Loc: Georgia
Morodiene, congrats and kudos for doing this. Who knows what you've started with these particular students. If you've lit a fire under even one, you've spent your time well.

Each year the PTA in many schools sponsors a contest called "Reflections." Students are given the opportunity to create in response to a theme. When my kids were in school, the areas of focus were writing, two-dimensional art (drawing, collage, etc), photography, and composition. I understand from one of my current students that there is also a choreography component now - not sure what else has been added.

My kids always entered composition. In part, because it was the least popular category, so they had a higher chance of winning. smile Judging was always a bit random - some were more positive than others, some were more skilled than others...

The first time my middle child entered, we were called at home and "chewed out" for "helping." When I insisted that I did not help, I was told that no student with only 3 months of lessons could have written what he wrote. His work was informally disqualified (that is, we were never told it was disqualified, but after being told that it was "too good", it didn't win anything.) It is still one of my son's favorite compliments. (He is now a profession musician, conservatory grad, and still composes.)

Another year, my oldest son was rebuked for writing in the key of C. Oh well.

This year, I offered my students a small reward if they would enter. Only one student took me up on it. He was soooo excited. His mother said he spent hours working, playing, discussing, thinking... The piece he wrote is a simple up and down pattern with five-fingers in C position - RH, then LH, then both hands. smile But he has a very elaborate explanation of how this fits the theme "Together We Can". He was so proud when he brought it to me to play for him.

Regardless of how he does in the competition, he is already a winner in my eyes.
_________________________
piano teacher

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#1533101 - 10/11/10 01:21 PM Re: Composers Debut [Re: Morodiene]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11448
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Lollipop,

How sad that judges missed the whole point of encouraging young composers! We do have a rule that everything must be written out, but nothing about getting someone's help to do so. We just hope that the person helping does it in a way that will assist the student in understanding notation principles better.

I think sometimes people don't even think about how personal a composition is to someone, and to criticize it or disqualify it sends a huge message: "you shouldn't bother composing!" I'm glad your son stuck with composing in spite of this early rejection.

I am so proud of everyone who enters, because I know how hard it is to see a piece through, and how many students stop short of getting it written down. Just composing the piece, no matter if it's 5 notes in the key of C, it is a creative effort and should be congratulated. I hope your student has a positive experience in the competition!
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#1533458 - 10/11/10 10:34 PM Re: Composers Debut [Re: Morodiene]
tdow Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/13/10
Posts: 203
Loc: Canada
Good for you for including composing in your regular teaching. There is no better way to create a sense of relevance for students than playing something that they feel ownership over...not to mention all of the "teachable moments" this creates as they learn to compose. Theory IN CONTEXT is so valuable.

If you've found there was a lack of encouragement when placing students into competitons, have you considered having a composers concert ins teas where students debut their work in front of a supportive audience? We do this regularly at our studio and it is so popular both with the kids and their parents.
_________________________
Piano Teaching Resources with Personality
www.teachpianotoday.com
http://www.pianogeekweek.com

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#1533854 - 10/12/10 01:10 PM Re: Composers Debut [Re: tdow]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11448
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: tdow
Good for you for including composing in your regular teaching. There is no better way to create a sense of relevance for students than playing something that they feel ownership over...not to mention all of the "teachable moments" this creates as they learn to compose. Theory IN CONTEXT is so valuable.

If you've found there was a lack of encouragement when placing students into competitons, have you considered having a composers concert ins teas where students debut their work in front of a supportive audience? We do this regularly at our studio and it is so popular both with the kids and their parents.


This is how we did it for the first two years - no "winners" or awards, but that was the largest complaint we received from people. Then when we offer a winner and cash prizes, less participation. I don't know if the two are related, I think more the economy and people's schedules are to blame.
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#1534363 - 10/13/10 02:30 AM Re: Composers Debut [Re: Morodiene]
tdow Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/13/10
Posts: 203
Loc: Canada
Hard to find a balance isn't it! We do a "composer of the month" award in our studio each month where the published version (we use finale notepad) is framed with the student's name and hung in a prominent location in the studio. Their sheet music is made available for "print and play" off of our studio's website so their friends can play their composition. This seemed to satisfy the slight need for competition.
_________________________
Piano Teaching Resources with Personality
www.teachpianotoday.com
http://www.pianogeekweek.com

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#1534490 - 10/13/10 09:23 AM Re: Composers Debut [Re: Morodiene]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11448
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
That's a great idea tdow! I don't think it would work since we're doing this for the entire state of WI. Honestly, I feel the money had nothing to do with the turnout. The problem is the lack of support from the music teachers, both in the schools and the local studios. We had *one* student from a studio apart from two of the three teachers on the committee who had students. This is despite the fact that the local music conservatory puts on a summer piano camp where they have a specific composition segment. I doubt some teachers even mentioned it to their students.

We'll be talking about it at this month's local WMTA chapter meeting in hopes of encouraging teachers to work with their students. It really takes a lot to keep a student composing through the writers blocks and frustrations, and if the teachers don't pursue it, then the student will most likely not complete a piece. It gets easier as you go, though. I've had two boys who have participated all 3 years and each year their compositions get better and they are able to work them without as many troubles.
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#1535054 - 10/14/10 01:26 AM Re: Composers Debut [Re: Morodiene]
tdow Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/13/10
Posts: 203
Loc: Canada
Yes, I think many teachers feel great amounts of trepidation when faced with teaching composition....and so don't do it. It's a shame I agree. The purpose is not so much to create a masterpiece, but to open the door to creativity and learning. I think the tendency is to get too caught up in making the process complicated.
_________________________
Piano Teaching Resources with Personality
www.teachpianotoday.com
http://www.pianogeekweek.com

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#1535233 - 10/14/10 09:32 AM Re: Composers Debut [Re: Morodiene]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11448
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Perhaps we can share some ideas on how to get students started in this thread?

Here's a couple of pointers:

-Use little games or devices to help get a student started: assign a scale degree for every letter of the alphabet and have the student spell out their name or a secret message, then play it and see what you like. They can keep any parts they like and throw the rest away, or try another word if they don't like it.

-Roll a dice, with each number on the dice representing a scale degree (or roll two for a twelve-tone scale after adding the two dice together!). Encourage students to only keep what they like and throw away the rest

-Improvisation is always a great way to come up with ideas. It is best to limit students to a 5 finger pattern, black keys only, bottom portion of a blues scale, etc. so that they aren't too intimidated by the options, and only work a melody (I tell them one hand and one finger at a time). I also recommend that beginner improvisers work mainly in a stepwise motion with very few leaps, and no leaps greater than an octave. The best thing is to make their melody singable.

I will also say that composition at first can be very hard for the student. You might get them going at a lesson and know they are inspired and then find out the next week that they didn't touch their composition. The teacher really has to assign specific work to do: "think of how many different ways you can play with this theme, make at least 3 variations" or "write another 4 measures as an answer to your idea, write at least 5 different ideas." And then, really keep on them to complete it.

It's also very difficult to write down ideas, and you'll find that they will compose a piece and have it all in their head. The best thing is to work with them and assist them as much as you can in this. They will improve as time goes on, but it's very hard at the beginning. Figuring out the rhythm is the toughest part of writing down an idea, so if they are "stuck" help them at least with the rhythms and let them write in the actual pitches that go with it. They will still gain something from this process.

Try to spend some time on it in each lesson. I try to devote the summer lessons to that if a student wants to compose, but my goal this year is to try and make it a part of the weekly routine with each student.
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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