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Conservatory Lab Collaboration: Phase 2 continued

February 6, 2013

Less than two weeks ago, students from the Conservatory Lab Charter School got their first peak at the studio of composer Michael Gandolfi. For many, if not all, of the students, this was their first opportunity to have a hands-on experience in the studio of a professional composer. After listening to a piece he had composed and commenting on various components of the work, students had an opportunity to do a little composing of their own.

They started with a single staff. Students were able to click on notes to listen to the sounds and then select which ones they would like included in their piece. At first they were hesitant to volunteer to try their hand at being a composer, but after just a few minutes students were excitedly adding notes to their own miniature masterpiece.

The kids spoke excitedly about the work they are creating, while joking that they wouldn’t actually want to play something put together in such a piecemeal way, each of them adding a few notes in turn. However, when they actually listened to the thing they created minds were immediately changed- “It ends well.” “I like the beginning.” “It’s actually kind of catchy.” The students listened again and again discussing what parts they liked and what parts they did not, providing reasoned explanations for whatever opinion they gave.

After they listened to it a few times, Mr. Gandolfi showed the students how he uses his software to build a canon. He picked a few different instruments and beans each in turn. The sound was actually quite nice.

For his next trick, Gandolfi began to add some “flavor” to the piece to make it more dynamic; a staccato here, an accent there, just to see what would happen to the sound. The students commented on how the sound changed, noting that the staccato especially improved the piece.

When the exercise is completed Gandolfi returns to music from a piece he had been playing when I arrived. “You just composed a little piece,” he told the students, “And then you just keep building and building until you have something that looks like this,” he says as he nods toward the 483 measure piece they had heard at the beginning of their session. Just an hour earlier they couldn’t even imagine playing a piece so long, but 60-short minutes later they were giving serious consideration to their ability to compose something similar.

Of course, the students have a long way to go before they will be composing works for professional orchestra, but they are gaining incredibly valuable instruction at their school and have a wonderful opportunity through this partnership with the Landmarks Orchestra to really explore the musical composition process.

Photo credit: Toni Jackson, Conservatory Lab

Photo credit: Toni Jackson, Conservatory Lab

Following their foray with writing music, the students and Gandolfi discuss their ideas for the piece he will be composing for the Landmarks Orchestra (with their help). I don’t want to give away any secrets just yet, but I can promise you it’s going to be a wonderfully creative work and something you won’t want to miss at the Hatch Shell this summer.

Gandolfi concluded the workshop session by explaining to the students how the composition process will work. He encouraged them to come up with ideas to share with him. “I want to hear your ideas,” he assured them, “I might change them a little, but I want to hear them.” Students left with an assignment to begin conducting research into the topic of the piece.

Until next time!

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