Monday, March 24, 2014

Composing Music with Elementary Students

Justin Callis, OFA Teaching Artist and Composer

Composing at Chase, Sabin, and Courtenay was a wonderful experience.  It is so nice to get to work with the Opera for All classes I do not normally get to see, and to meet new students.  It was also so much fun to be back at Chase, were so many of the students recognized me and remembered me from last year.  At Sabin, we were able to work in small groups on their music, and each student had an opportunity to contribute to their song.  In fact, we worked so quickly, that by the time we had our second class, I was able to work group by group on singing our whole song, and we left our second class day with the students completely memorized, singing their song loud and proud.  While the Assistant Principal at the school was gracious enough to allow us to utilize her office for that session, I don’t think she quite realized how much noise enthusiastically singing elementary school students can make in a tiny room!  I hope we didn’t disrupt her work too much with their beautiful singing.

Courtenay was an interesting and rewarding challenge.  Each class had written three songs!  Our first class, we worked with the individuals responsible for each song in small groups, picking their brains for interesting melodic ideas to go with their lyrical material.  Our second class, we worked with the whole class, so every participant would feel ownership over the completed material.  It was an incredibly successful endeavor, and I left with a wealth of songs to polish and complete.  Plus, with the guidance of their school music teacher, Courtenay classes will accompany their operas on Orff instruments, so I am hard at work orchestrating!

Working at Chase is always a delight.  The students are enthusiastic, the staff is supportive, and the operas are unique.  We had a ton of fun exploring the Blues scale in our work at Chase, as it really added a nice jazzy touch to their songs.  While the beginning of class could be a bit sleepy so early in the morning, we were always able to wake them up into an excited, energized classroom by the end of the session.  I’m sure their opera will be interesting and exciting in its final form, and I feel very fortunate to have been involved in its creation.  I can’t wait to see the final performance!

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