Musical Identities and the International Classroom
“Where are you in your music?” – Tania León asked me during a masterclass. This made me think and, frankly, it led me to an artistic and existential crisis. I left my home country for my studies when I was eighteen, without a clear understanding of the influence that my education, my home country’s music and its music communities may have had on me. As an international student and a composer who was trying to find her place in the United States “new music” scene and as a musician who was primarily trained in Western art music, I had a tense and everchanging relationship with my country’s traditions and folk styles, as well as an overwhelming uncertainty surrounding my identity as a composer. I wondered whether others felt the same.
This ethnomusicological research is focused on immigrant composers under the age of forty-five who are living and working or studying at the graduate level in the United States. The thirty “international composers” whom I interviewed for this project are primarily involved in different areas of new music or contemporary classical music and are currently associated with US universities and conservatories. I was interested in exploring how composers who grew up abroad and moved to the US for their studies engage with the folk traditions of their home countries, how their teachers in the US and in their home countries have influenced their engagement, and whether local traditions have played a part in forming their musical identities and in defining their role in the US’s new music scene. In my presentation, I discuss my findings and I explore how understanding those conclusions can significantly impact the ways in which educators approach and relate to their international music students.
Teaching Composition for Confidence, Equity, and Community
The increasing scarcity and precarity of arts academic jobs, combined with a much-needed focus on equity and decolonization, are de-privileging and destabilizing the academic experimental music tradition, and contemporary composer identity. As a result, composition departments are pursuing a paradox by scrambling to focus on specific marketable skills while also broadening the genres taught. In this talk, I will describe and give examples from methods I have successfully used in a composition department, a generalized arts department, and a prison college program, that provide skills training for students interested in different genres, even if those genres are not the specialty of a department’s faculty. The methods include three techniques: 1) discrete “levels” of creative thought, from high-level questions of art’s purpose to ground-level skills training; 2) creative process assignments, in which students plan and journal their way through a prompt, developing a practical discipline into which their desired skills can be incorporated; and 3) formal spaces for students to learn from each other, one-on-one, getting deeper into what similarities and differences they have. The goal is to empower students not simply via marketability, but by developing a sense of vocation and placing creativity alongside employment without tethering it to employment, so that students may more realistically and more potently design their own lives in music.
Better Feedback on Compositions Using Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process
Choreographer Liz Lerman developed what she called the Critical Response Process min order to guide the development of new dance works. The problem she was attempting to solve is one that most composers will likely relate to: feedback received in various settings—from rehearsals to workshops to masterclasses—often does not result in stronger work coming out on the other side. This is frequently the result of that feedback being neither given nor received in meaningful and constructive ways. Lerman’s four-phase process, though designed originally for her own choreography work can be applied, as the title of her book describes, to “anything from dance to dessert”. Successful Critical Response sessions allow composers to discover the gap between their creative goals and the audience’s perceptions, without getting too stuck when the composer and those giving feedback hold differing aesthetic values.
Adapting this process to work with composers in a workshop session can have great value in education, allowing composers in masterclasses to learn more thoroughly from one another. In a setting that mixes students at various levels and backgrounds, Critical Response feedback sessions allow for every student to contribute meaningfully to the discussion, regardless of their experience or rank. Even outside of the academy, this process can be meaningful in outreach settings to develop relationships between artists and audiences that are based on mutual respect and empathy.
In this class demo, I will discuss the Critical Response Process, along with how it can apply to the specifics of music composition. My presentation will include a discussion of best practices, examples of how it can be adapted to different circumstances, and a demonstration of the process itself.
Teaching to Creativity: My Approach to Teaching Composition
For most of us, teaching students how to ask questions and find solutions is more valuable than articulating history. If a sincere answer is to be discovered, the student must ask the question. For the teacher, this generally requires a lot of patience, listening, and learning. In creative fields, the answer is most always found in the question. Once the student is invested in this process, then historicizing, theorizing, and analyzing will be natural consequences. For example, imagine a student who wants to illuminate the state of mind in-between consciousness and unconsciousness in a composition, like being awakened from a dream. Rather than ask the student to mimic Debussy without context (a logical connection), I would advocate for the student to first create their own form and instrumentation, requiring them to generate both the content and motivation for formal decision-making. Alongside these tasks, I would encourage several listening assignments—music by historically contrasting composers (with score, if possible); this type of complimentary approach strengthens both expressiveness and craft.
Teaching demands a dedication similar to what’s required when writing music or playing an instrument. For me, there is a natural and beneficial balance to be struck between being a musician and a teacher, as both strengthen knowledge and encourage inquiry (on behalf of the student and teacher alike!). The most successful learning atmosphere exists when both parties are thinking and creating, stimulated by one another’s ideas and artistic solutions. When I consider the most memorable “teaching moments,” which are signposts in my own learning, I come up with a few consistent themes:
Listen to and question everything
Hear what you compose and compose what you hear (dig on notation software)
Organize what you compose (know where/when things belong)
Create a structure/language for what you compose/hear
This talk is built around several themes I discuss in my New Music Box articles: Framing Your Voice (part 1 and 2) and Rethinking Composition (part 1 and 2) published in February – March, 2014. This past fall, I developed these ideas further to present to the Wisconsin Music Teachers Association as a keynote speaker.
The Power of a Composer’s Artistic Voice: Toward a Holistic Composition Pedagogy
University composition courses, curricula, and textbooks from the past decade have commonly focused on technical craft: melody, harmony, counterpoint, texture, instrumentation, form, 20th/21st-century techniques, etc. While this focus assists many students in achieving a baseline of technical competence, it often leaves three significant holes:
First, craft-focused pedagogy tends to prioritize stylistic and structural elements over formal affective effects. Thus, even though music cognition researchers have identified the mechanisms by which music creates goosebumps or rivets audiences to their seats (both common compositional objectives), this research and its application is not commonly taught to composers.
Second, by default, craft-focused pedagogy also privileges technical problems over creative process ones, usually incorporating the latter into lessons and courses on only an ad hoc basis. This lack of robust creative process training contributes to students’ creative anxiety and procrastination.
Third, craft-focused pedagogy tends to conflate artistic voice with compositional style, while downplaying its implicit cultural normativity. It further treats technical and career development as independent spheres, doling out guidance on networking, marketing, and other business topics, again, on only an ad hoc or limited basis. Because of these biases, students tend to overestimate the importance of style as a value proposition.
In this paper, I will suggest some ways these holes might be addressed by proposing a novel model for compositional “voice.” Specifically, I will argue that “artistic voice” might be more productively understood as the power composers have to influence performers, audiences, institutions, and communities. That power emerges from the metaphorical four-part harmony between a composer’s stories, processes, technique, and relationships. I will further show the results I’ve attained by applying this model pedagogically and discuss how this model may be applied in a university setting.
Creative Methods, Process, and Wellness
Very few composition programs directly address the creative process itself — workflow, workspace, management of mental and emotional states, divergent thinking, etc — choosing instead to focus their pedagogy exclusively on musical critique, score study, and technique development. However, research shows that creative skills have largely atrophied by the age of 15…the period when most students begin their composition studies. How can we address this creativity gap in our composition curriculum?
Using methods grounded in creative studies, psychology, and cognitive science, we will discuss things like structuring creative workflow through a variety of mental and emotional phases, configuring a workspace, managing media consumption, and performing mindfulness meditation. Exercises used to develop these skills in pedagogical settings will be introduced, covering when and how they can be incorporated in the traditional composition degree curriculum. Along the way, presentation of data-driven research will contextualize both the need for and results of such exercises in creative practice.
Compose the Year: Inspiring Creativity and Building Techniques in Composers through Daily Activities
Are you or your student interested in composing? Do you want to learn more about musical elements to enhance your compositional toolbox, but you do not know where to start? “Compose the Year” by completing daily activities that address individual aspects of musical elements that will inspire creativity and lead into larger compositional projects. This clinic will present daily prompts constructed with consideration toward the scholarship of teaching and learning, educational scaffolding, and gamification of learning. This daily approach builds a practice routine for both a budding composer and an experienced composer, and it allows learners to embrace the craft of composition. The scaffolded approach in “Compose the Year” enables novice composers to easily complete focused activities that evolve into more in-depth concepts and multi-day responses that comprise a large-scale composition. This approach to composing the year can be implemented in a variety of settings including lessons, classes, ensembles, as well as individual study. The clinic will provide educators and individuals with prompts for composing an entire year and ideas for successful implementation, give attendees an opportunity to complete sample activities, as well as present sample student responses from beginning and advanced composers.
All Score Urbana: Reflecting on Six Years of Community Engagement Composition Workshop Practices
In this presentation, a panel of All Score Urbana’s current teaching artists, former teaching artists, and community collaborators will reflect on their experiences and lessons learned as part of the community engagement composition workshop’s six years of program offerings. Founded in 2016, All Score Urbana was envisioned as a series of free-to-the-public, in-person workshops in community spaces that would feature composer and performer faculty on-site to help coach, test, and perform new compositions. Throughout the years, the program has developed as it has built better connections with community members and spaces, as well as adapted to the challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Topics will include the problem-solving around remaining a free-to-the-public program, how integrating composition and performance faculty has allowed for more flexibility and community connection-making, and the ongoing process of following through on pursuing the kind of community engagement that values community members’ traditions, visions, and needs rather than a proselytizing version of community outreach. An additional topic, regarding how graduate students and adjunct faculty can develop community ties amid frequent professional relocations, will be addressed as well, as it is part of what made All Score Urbana’s founder Ralph Lewis decide to begin this project while in graduate school rather than afterwards. In presenting this panel, we hope to share real experiences, problem-solving, and the ongoing, often imperfect work in creating more welcoming, inclusive creative spaces in Urbana, Illinois and throughout the United States.
LUDENS: Educational Music Composition Games
If you asked an “unmusical” adult to compose, they would likely respond with confusion and reluctance. But what if you asked them to play a game?
Ludens is a series of compositional games that invite participants – musicians and nonmusicans alike – to experience fundamental concepts of music-making. Created by myself (a composer) and a friend (a programmer), Ludens is the convergence of music cognition research, deep listening practices, community oriented digital interfaces, and, above all, accessible composition learning. The games were piloted in February 2022, and the summary of our experience will be published in the upcoming volume of Special Interest Group in Computers and Society (SIGCAS). Ludens is based on the research and writings of Fred Lerdahl, Elizabeth Margulis, Pauline Oliveros, and others. Four of the games are played on modified instruments (a keyboard, a steel drum, an electric guitar, and a computer synthesizer) with simple rules for creating melodies and soundscapes that achieve tonal and timbral closure. The fifth game requires participants to record found sounds based on descriptive words. Participants record their game outcomes on their phones, upload their recordings through QR codes into a custom digital interface, and play a final game on a webpage repository.
In my presentation, I will demonstrate “The Tongue Drum Game,” based on Steve Larson’s theory of melodic gravity and magnetism, and “The Guitar Game,” based on David Huron’s extensive research on post-skip reversals. I will summarize the musical and educational goals of Ludens to develop an alternative narrative of composition learning, one that views music-making not as a specialized interest but as part of the human instinct to play. Finally, I will discuss how encouraging participants to break the rules of each game provides opportunities for individual expressivity – perhaps the most important and difficult skill a composer can learn.
Silent Film Scoring as the Basis for a Pre-College Composition Curriculum
This paper will discuss the author’s experience in designing, implementing, revising, and evaluating a composition curriculum for a pre-college music program that used film scoring, and silent film scoring in particular, as its primary basis.
Over the course of two semesters, composition students in this program would use Logic Pro X digital audio workstation (DAW) software to complete a series of projects, culminating in a collaborative score for a short silent film, which was shown at the program’s final concert. Students worked both individually and collaboratively, generally using class time to complete most or all of their creative work, and occasionally engaging in other class activities (e.g. group improvisation, listening to film scores, readings of conventionally-notated student compositions, etc.). While students were welcome to use notation as part of their compositional process, the coursework itself was non-notation-based. The author will provide examples of assignments and the pedagogical aims they served (e.g. compositional techniques, technological literacy, fluency with the software).
The author will discuss strategies employed in maximizing student engagement and creative output, with particular attention to challenges involved in supporting students with minimal or no prior training in composition or music theory, or who did not self-identify as composers.
This curriculum was developed and revised by the author over the course of seven years, and began as a creative response to circumstances specific to this pre-college program, including the necessity of accommodating a high proportion of returning students and a program-wide policy against assigning homework. Excerpts from interviews with former students and colleagues, including the program director, will be included to help assess the effectiveness of this curriculum, particularly in terms of retention and recruitment for the program as a whole.
Other topics addressed include copyright law, age-appropriateness of materials, and how issues of economic justice shape course participation and student success as a consequence of student access to technology.
From Discovery to Structure: Exploring Composition with Students Ages 10-15
Music students transitioning from elementary to secondary grades are adjusting to many changes in their learning environments and activities, most of which have in common a transition towards more complex organization and structure that matches their own cognitive development. In music lessons, students of all levels are similarly developing their repertoire, technique, and musicianship in more formal ways. Teachers have more options for working with this age group than are typically effective with younger students or older teens and adults. Integrating composition into music lessons offers teachers a variety of approaches to teaching music theory and invites students to link their creative minds with analytical thinking and organization skills they are developing in school.
The choice of when and how to use composition and improvisation in instrumental music lessons requires teachers to consider the value of an activity for the student individually, and for its contribution towards a particular learning goal. Different approaches may be better suited for students who are natural improvisers versus those who show discomfort or hesitancy to develop original melodic ideas. This workshop is designed for instrumental music teachers to develop strategies for incorporating composition into their teaching practice, to benefit students who have not already shown interest in composing or improvising and to help students already oriented towards composition cultivate a more intentional, structured approach.
As a result of the workshop, participants will have a more robust toolset for helping students deepen their music study through composition. By reflecting upon the students in their own studios, and working through the process of aligning learner, goal, and activities, participants will develop actionable plans for introducing or expanding use of composition activities in lessons. Even small activities in harmonization, constructing musical phrases, and improvisation can let students exercise different musical muscles than they might typically use learning and performing repertoire, allow them to draw on skills learned in other contexts, and help them develop a strong foundation for connecting their creativity and critical thinking.
Collaborate, Create, Orchestrate: Group Composition with Elementary Strings
Designed for elementary orchestra teachers, this session guides participants through a process for developing a group composition project with elementary orchestra students. After discussing why composition is an important element of beginning instrumental education, the session presents simple composition exercises that lay the groundwork for a larger group composition. These exercises can be implemented with minimal planning by the teacher, and help students develop concepts of form, melody, and phrasing, and provide students with initial ideas for original music. Participants will learn how to guide their students through the decisions made by composers, with an emphasis on form, melody, contrasts, and expression. During the session, participants will work together using the concepts presented to create a group composition. We will compose original melodic themes, brainstorm ways to create variety and contrast with those themes, and collaboratively build a group composition. The procedures used in the session are the exact same procedures that can be applied in an elementary orchestra classroom. Real-life examples of student compositions will also be included. Bring your instrument to be part of the compositional process!
Pedagogical Trends in the Undergraduate Composition Curriculum
Bradley Green and Andrew Hannon
Composition pedagogy is a subject that is rarely discussed with specificity, and aside from the highly interpretable NASM guidelines, there is little guidance or metric as to what constitutes a successful composition program or accepted pedagogy. There are some recognizable reasons as to why this pedagogical blind spot has occurred. For instance, the end of common practice means pinning down exactly what to teach is challenging, as historically recorded pedagogical practices focused primarily on some aspect of systematized tonal practices and established structures. However, modern compositional trends encompass a vast collection of disparate styles, techniques, systems, and philosophies. Further, now that the “what” is amorphous, the “how” can be elusive, as is assessing what constitutes a successful result.
Our project is the first step in a larger research endeavor aiming to develop a broad pedagogy of composition, and as college is where many composers are first able to begin cultivating their skills, the first step was to survey teachers at the undergraduate level in the US about how they approach teaching composition. The survey (administered 2020-21) was divided into 4 broad sections:
• University Information
• Program Information
• Skills/Experiences Ranking
• Participant Info (education, demographics, etc.)
The crux of this survey was the Skills/Experiences Ranking. We began our research by examining the existing pedagogical literature, thinking on our individual experiences as teachers and students, and seeking input from other composition teachers. Through that process, we developed a list of 40 skills/experiences we consider to be the briefest distillation of itemized skills learned and experiences had by undergraduate music composition majors. We then had survey participants rank how important they felt these 40 skills and experiences are for undergraduate music composition majors to have on a scale of 1 (not important) to 5 (most important) against how well they felt that skill/experience was reflected in their current composition program on a scale of 1 (low priority) to 5 (highest priority). This presentation will be our report and analysis of the results of this survey and how we hope it will influence the direction of future surveys and data collection on this topic.
The Necessary Skills for Undergraduate Composition Students and How Form Can Unlock a Composer’s Creativity
This presentation is based on a review of composition pedagogy literature and the application of teaching practices in my own one-on-one music composition instruction. The literature suggests that a composer increases their chances of success by wielding a well-rounded set of tools. I assert that the most important tool among these is form. I also argue student composers should be assessed based on individualized standards. The assessment method I am currently testing requires students to dictate their professional and artistic goals and keep a journal tracking how their work aligns with those goals. In my teaching, the results of emphasizing form and individualized instruction is that students 1) are empowered to produce finished pieces with minimal floundering by using their ideas within both extant and original musical forms, and 2) have a lesson plan to follow which provides a clear path toward achieving specific goals. Teaching in this manner enables expert educators to be objective collaborators. In contrast to this type of assessment and pedagogy, many composition students are assessed based on some variation of the Consensual Assessment Technique, which relies on the subjective judgement of experts and assumes that not all people have a proclivity for creativity. This presentation offers music researchers and educators theories to further develop and refine music composition curricula and teaching methods at the college and university level.
Mixed Music Pedagogy From the Composer’s Perspective
In recent years, mixed music pedagogy has garnered more attention, but mainly from the performance perspectives of the instrumentalist and RIM (Berweck, 2012; Ding, 2006; Enns 2017; Enns, 2018; Kimura, 1995; Kimura 2003; McNutt, 2003; Pestova, 2008; Pestova, 2018). There has been relatively little presented on teaching the composition of mixed music. Traditional curriculums tend to isolate instrumental and electroacoustic music, which might not be conducive to thinking about combining these sound worlds.
This paper proposes a more general approach useful for composers and instrumentalists in a more realistic and conductive manner to collaborate between composers and performers. Outside of institutional support, few composers will have the luxury of a RIM (Acosta, 2016). The approach focuses on four aspects. Firstly, looking at historical examples of the interaction between composers and performers (Alvarez, 1993; de Benedictis, 2018; Boutard, 2019). Secondly, an introduction to various technologies and their possibilities (Battier, 2003; Michaud & Bonardi, 2018). Thirdly, synchronization strategies and how they unite and confront the score, electronics, and performers (Lacroix, 2022). Fourthly, small projects of historical examples and new examples to work on together.
This author believes that a more holistic approach to mixed music is required for this music to thrive outside of academia. A more collaborative approach could also help musicians feel more comfortable playing this music and sensitize composers to what they are asking performers to accomplish. This paper can be seen as a further exploration, maturation and discussion of what was discussed at the International Mixed Music Pedagogy Conference in 2018, which was so far the only conference of its kind.
No Music? No problem! Making the most of private lessons when students don’t bring in any work
Inevitably there are times when students come empty-handed to their private lessons, but there’s no need to send them away empty-handed! This lesson demonstration will cover strategies and tools for teaching productive one-on-one composition lessons when students don’t bring in any original materials. We will cover activities such as real-time composing prompts, brainstorming strategies, frameworks for analysis or reflection, teaching time management, and ways to use technology to generate musical ideas. This workshop will last approximately 45 minutes and will use role play to explore real-life lesson scenarios.