Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Gone with the Wind: What Do Composers Learn Writing Educational Music for Young Musicians in the Canadian Context?

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Gone with the Wind: What Do Composers Learn Writing Educational Music for Young Musicians in the Canadian Context?

Article excerpt


As an educator,11 taught in a variety of schools and noticed the decline in school music programs and a de-emphasis on educational music. This observation was consistent with findings from the literature (Abril & Banneman, 2015; Fitzpatrick, 2013). Even with the remaining music programs and bands I often wondered, what are music teachers teaching? Are they encouraging students to learn a variety of musical compositions, both historical and modern? Are they inspiring them to perform that which is central to their identity as well as that which is culturally significant?

Contemporary Canadian music is uncommonly performed and studied in school music programs (Bartel, Dolloff, & Shand, 1999; Shand & Bartel, 1998; Varahidis, 2012) and postsecondary institutions (Andrews & Carruthers, 2004; Carruthers, 2000). This situation has arisen because much of the music of modern professional composers is inaccessible to students (Bowden, 2010; Colgrass, 2004; Terauds, 2011). In other words, composers are trained in such a way that their pieces are only playable by professionals for specialized audiences (Colgrass, 2004; Hatirk, 2002; Terauds, 2011). In order to ascertain the parameters of educational music, the University of Ottawa, the Canadian Music Centre, and the Ottawa Catholic School Board partnered in a SSHRC-funded study entitled New Sounds of Learning: Composing Music for Young Musicians. This project explored how sixteen professional composers created eight new string compositions in partnership with the Canadian Music Centre and eight new wind compositions in partnership with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

In order to ascertain how composers compose educational music, the New Sounds of Learning Project addresses the four dimensions of music creativity - place, process, product, and person (Amabile & Tighe, 1993; Woodman & Schoenfeldt, 1989). To date, place, process and product have been examined in the New Sounds of Learning Project through the use of questionnaires (Andrews, 2013; Andrews & Giesbrecht, 2013), reflective journals (Andrews & Giesbrecht, 2014; Giesbrecht & Andrews, 2016), and compositional analyses (Giesbrecht & Andrews, 2017; Sajo, 2017), respectively. The personal learning of the composers has been examined to date with those composers writing new string works in partnership with the Canadian Music Centre (Duncan & Andrews, 2015). Seven of the eight participating string-composers were interviewed at the completion of the project. All participants said they had to learn how to compose educational music "'on the fly'" (cited in Duncan & Andrews, 2015, p. 28). Moreover, they realized that the process of writing educational music was interesting and difficult as they had to compose works that challenged the students while still maintaining their interest. Cumulatively, the participants learned there are specific conditions necessary to successfully write educational music: composers should 1) have direct contact with the students; 2) acquire a working knowledge of the instrument(s); 3) desire to compose good quality and pedagogically valid music; and 4) obtain knowledge of the students' capabilities (Duncan & Andrews, 2015).

In order to present another perspective on these findings, this study examined the eight interviews with wind-composers. These eight composers were commissioned by the Ottawa Catholic School Board to write new wind works for students. This is where our journey begins. The study undertakes an analysis of the person dimension of creativity with the eight wind-composer interviews, conducted in two different two-year periods. The purpose of this study is to discover what windcomposers personally learned from writing music for young musicians within the Ottawa Catholic School Board. This study not only helped uncover the composers' experiences but also opened new doors to educational music.

Research Process

Since the wind-composer interviews focus on what composers learn through their experiences, Jean Piaget's and John Dewey's theories of learning (constructivism) provided the lenses for the data analysis and interpretation (Dewey 1997; Piaget, 1954). …

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