Composers' Personal Learning Composing Canadian Music for Strings

By Duncan, Adam; Andrews, Bernie W. | The Canadian Music Educator, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Composers' Personal Learning Composing Canadian Music for Strings


Duncan, Adam, Andrews, Bernie W., The Canadian Music Educator


Exposition

Introduction

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funded the research project entitled New Sounds of Learning: Composing for Young Musicians. This study examined the parameters of educational music in which 16 new works were commissioned - 8 string works and 8 wind works over a four-year period (Andrews, 2012). This project was carried out in partnership with the Canadian Music Centre (strings) and the Ottawa Catholic School Board (winds). None of the participating composers had training in educational music, although all of them had previously composed for students and/or amateurs (Andrews, 2013; Andrews & Gieshrecht, 2013).

Educational Music Composition

While there are several music composition programs offered by Canadian academic institutions, there are no composition programs or courses focusing specifically on composing educational music for young people (Andrews & Carruthers, 2004). Educational music is also viewed as being of less quality by the composing fraternity than music written for professional musicians (Colgrass, 2004; Hatrik 2002; Ross 1995). As Hatrik (2002) confirms, "many professional composers who write music in the Western tradition do not possess the know-how to compose musical language that is appropriate to young people." This is because there are no universally set parameters for composing educational music (Andrews 2009, 2012; Colgrass 2004; Swanwick 1999), or strategies for teaching composition for young musicians (Andrews 2004a; Cox and Stevens 2010; Stone 1963).

Composition can be fostered and developed in educational settings when students are given the proper materials, notational strategies, compositional parameters, or electronic tools (Hickey 2001; Lefford 2007; McCord 2004; Morales-Manzanares, Dannenberg, & Berger, 2001; Rine 2005; Soares 2011; Webster 2011). Participants in these studies stated that they liked using computer scoring programs to compose because of the immediate feedback they receive. Researchers found that implementing compositional constraints, such as using a framework, length of time, rhythms, or being limited to one scale, can be helpful when composing music (Rusinek 2011; Soares 2011; Webster 2011). In contrast, Folkstead (2011) found that having limitations or prefixed ideas about composition based on prior experiences, training, or education can be a hindrance to a person when trying to compose. Though the views of these studies are conflicting, Folkstead (2011), Rusinek (2011), Soares (2011), and Webster (2011) agree that prior musical experiences do affect a musician's ability to compose.

Development

Research Process

The dominant theoretical framework employed in creativity research involves four dimensions: place, person, process and product. Researchers examine environments that promote creativity, characteristics of creative individuals, the nature of the creative process, and the creative product itself (e.g., Amabile & Tighe, 1993; Kiehn, 2003; Hickey, 2001). In the New Sounds of Learning study this involves examining the prerequisite conditions for composing, the composer's personal learning, the compositional process, and musical piece (Andrews, 2012).

Integrated Inquiry was employed throughout the New Sounds of Learning Project. This method combines protocols from different groups of participants, inter-related protocols, qualitative and/or quantitative, or the same protocol administered in different time periods to obtain multiple perspectives on the object of inquiry (Andrews, 2008). Overall, the New Sounds study combines multiple data from four phases. Each phase focuses on one the four dimensions of creativity, and in each phase a different question was asked, a unique protocol was administered, and data was acquired from two different time periods (e.g., Andrews, 2012). The key question for this phase of the New Sounds of Learning Project was:

What do composers learn from composing educational music? …

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