If you're ever near Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire on a Saturday
in July, you might see a group of hikers from the Walden School.
But more than likely, you will hear them. When they reach the
top of a peak, they sing - not campfire songs, but classical music.
The Walden School is a summer music school for young composers,
ages 9 to 18. They are all musically inclined, but not what you
would call prodigies. What makes Walden unique is that it is the
only school specifically tailored to give preteens and teenagers
the tools to compose.
The school is located on the campus of the Dublin School, a
boarding school. Each summer at the end of June, some 14 pianos
arrive along with an impressive cadre of faculty and about three
dozen students. Then, for five weeks, musical notes become almost
as plentiful as dewdrops.
This year, 38 students from around the country - and two from
Israel - have come to learn how to compose at Walden. The school,
which has stayed deliberately small, is celebrating its 25th
Sarah Robinson, a student from Lambertville, N.J., who plays the
flute, says she likes Walden's unique atmosphere. "You're
surrounded by talented musicians and composers, but it's not
The core of the teaching here is "musicianship," where
improvisation and composition are considered pathways to discovery.
This misty morning, executive director Pat Plude teaches a
musicianship class to seven students. They do drills gathered
around a piano. "Think the notes, see them in your head," Ms. Plude
Seth Brenzel, Walden's outreach director, explains that such
teaching encourages creativity organically. "Here, they sing it,
read it, write it, play it, hear it, and then they create with it."
Many compare the process to learning a language, whereby you must
be fluent to create literature.
Down at the performance hall, third-time student Peter Krag is
doing a self-critique. At age 11, he has composed a work being
performed by cellist Tom Kraines, a visiting artist in the Peabody
Trio; violist Jason Haney; and flutist-student Sarah Robinson.
Gary Monheit, Peter's composition teacher, sits beside him in
the auditorium while the three musicians play Peter's
piece-in-progress, lovely chamber music. One can only imagine that
this is a magic moment for the 11-year-old: hearing his creation
being played by accomplished musicians. They try different phrasing
and ask Peter which he prefers.
Sitting in the audience, Mr. Brenzel whispers, "What really
gives me goosebumps about this place is we take kids very
seriously, especially adolescent kids. Who else does that?"
Most Walden students will go on to study music at college, but
not all will make music their profession. Two things are sure to
happen, say faculty members: Students will take this grounding on
how to learn as a way to approach other things in life, and they
will be arts supporters and advocates for life.
The philosophy behind Walden's creative approach to musical
education originated with Grace Newsom Cushman, founder of the
Junior Conservatory Camp, Walden's predecessor from 1940 to 1972.
She believed that the most successful way to teach young people was
through creativity, whereby students discover things for themselves
and learn to think independently.
In Mr. …