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Conservatory Lab Collaboration: Phase 1

November 7, 2012

The Landmarks Orchestra has begun a program with the Conservatory Lab Charter School to produce a new piece of music for a combined orchestra of Conservatory Lab’s 40-student Dudamel Orchestra and the Landmarks Orchestra.  Eight Conservatory Lab students and composer Michael Gandalfi are currently in the initial brainstorming phase of composition.  Phase two, after Mr. Gandolfi writes some music, will be a workshop to see what the Conservatory Lab students are most drawn to, phase three will be rehearsals with the finished piece, and then the orchestras will perform.

Phase 1 in Action:
At the October 25th brainstorming session, the composition class was a whirlwind of ideas. Six students were in class; two trumpets, a flute, violin, viola, and a percussionist playing the glockenspiel.  They are remarkably talented for their age, ranging from 8-11 years.  Collaboration, creativity, and improvisation were constants in the class. As one student had an idea, the rest of the class would pick it up, try new things with it, and then confer with the originator of the idea to see if they thought their improvisation worked.
Each student was asked to come up with one theme and one variation on that theme for class. Some of the students interpreted the idea of “theme” as a story, which they began to express in music. The first story was of a calm sea, represented by a trumpet drone, with beautiful clouds and light glancing off the water, expressed as glockenspiel notes. Then the sea became stormy, first through the wind sounds of a whistle tone in the flute, hard snap pizzicatos in the strings as lightning, followed by a striking glissando in the glockenspiel.  Then Mr. Gandolfi slowly cut each instrument out until it was just the trumpet drone once again, reverting the sea to its former calm state.
Another story was that of a party for animals, where small woodland creatures (played by the viola, violin, flute, and glockenspiel) were having a party until the lions (the trumpets) crashed it. In the end, everyone partied together in riotous noise. The most interesting element of this story was the owl part. It was played by the viola, and did not imitate the sound of an owl. Instead, it interpreted the mystery of an owl as the deep string sound of a viola, and in this way gave the owl a theme.
The students came up with the stories and every element of the music. Mr. Gandolfi refined their ideas, and made them clearer.  He showed the students how to make a musical story easy to follow, that it is easier to understand when one element is layered upon another, rather than everyone playing together at the same time.  He gave the students advice, and guided them, but always checked with them to see if their ideas were expressed as they desired.
A student brought in a part of Finlandia that he particularly liked, as something that inspired him. It was a loud, trumpet-heavy part that came after a relaxing, quiet movement. The class discussed how the quiet movement made the trumpet part more powerful and thus learned about the importance of contrast in music.
At the end of the class, Mr. Gandolfi showed a clip of one of his pieces called “Flourishes and Meditations on a Renaissance Theme.” The central theme was a Spanish Renaissance tune which he wrote many variations around.  In this way the students understood how to come up with a central theme and then expand on it into a full length piece. As the students were watching the clip of “Flourishes and Meditations on a Renaissance Theme,” each time the camera panned to one of their instruments they’d say to one another, “That’s your future!” excitedly. They will surely relish the chance to play alongside their future selves in the Landmarks Orchestra.

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