Music Makers: Composing Matters: Part One: Teacher-Composers

By Bolden, Ben | The Canadian Music Educator, Autumn 2006 | Go to article overview

Music Makers: Composing Matters: Part One: Teacher-Composers


Bolden, Ben, The Canadian Music Educator


AS BOTH A MUSIC TEACHER AND COMPOSER, there is very little which gives me greater pleasure than working with students who are learning to perform a piece I have composed myself. It's a chance to reconcile what I consider the two most important aspects of my own identity-a chance to bring together what I do and who I am.

Working with students to learn a new piece of music is a rich and rewarding experience. Like dangling a cut crystal in a beam of sunlight, the object suddenly comes to life. It transforms before your eyes, revealing countless previously hidden aspects, flashing in the sun. The practice can be more than a little frightening, too. Not all that is revealed is good-the flaws become visible in all their glory. Students strain for inconsiderately chosen pitches, or fumble over awkward lines. They cringe when the harmony jars, and struggle when the notation is confusing. But there are also discoveries of unexpected beauty: the intuitive shaping of a phrase that suddenly brings a string of notes to life...the unprejudiced clarity of a fresh perspective...the unexpected richness of human timbres...Greatest of all is the magical mathematics of any ensemble performance-a serendipitous merging of talent, intuition, and experience. Each performer contributes a unique and personal musicality which combines with the efforts of the composer to create music infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. This all happens, of course, with any piece of repertoire. But when that piece is your own, born of your own toil and imagination, there is a far more intimate connection involved, and everything is dazzlingly magnified.

Bringing your own composition to your students is not easy. It takes a bucket load of courage. I'm sure I am not alone when I steel myself to introduce any new piece-dreading the wounds invariably inflicted upon me by each moan and groan as students explore the repertoire. It's OK if they complain about a math problem or an assigned reading. But when they disdain the music I choose-it cuts me to the quick. So to throw down my own composition before this pack of wolves...

But it's worth it. Helping students negotiate the twists and turns of my very own carefully constructed trail, I share in their delight a thousand times over as they discover the treasures along the way. How sweet it is to catch the triumphant grins as they sail through the tricky bits, and to recognize their satisfaction as they come to rest at the end. What could be better than walking the halls and hearing someone humming a melody that has come from a place no more exciting or hip or 'sick' than my own imagination? …

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