Cultivating Composers within your Ensembles

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Any of us who have spent time in the classroom know that at some point a student will come up to you and want you to look at a piece that they wrote. If you are not yourself a composer/arranger don’t sweat it, there are things you can do that will help to cultivate a better writer.

  1. You are a musician…you know what music looks like:
    • Half the battle when writing music is making it look and sound like…well…music. Often this is way less glamorous than most people imagine. As a director/teacher you see a lot of scores and have studied a lot of music. You can look at their scores and tell them whether or not they are following basic cosmetic and idiomatic techniques.
  2. Give them scores to look at:
    • The answers are all laid out in plain sight. How do instrument names look? What order do these go in? Who transposes and how/why? Who is playing what part and how many parts are there, etc.
  3. Play their music for them:
    • Want to talk about real -hard- feedback? Have your best ensemble perform their music (use it as a sight-reading practice!) and give them real-life feedback. I can’t express how quickly you learn what ‘not’ to write in this way!
  4. Give them an arranging assignment:
    • If you need something quick for a pep ensemble or performance, give them an assignment. Most often that bit of pressure and a deadline helps students learn how to do things quickly.
  5. Broaden their musical palette:
    • Introduce them to music that is different than what you are currently playing/singing with your school groups. Make sure that it isn’t just music from the medium they say they are wanting to write for. For instance, if you have a young musician who wants to write for Concert Band then direct them to masterworks in the vocal and orchestral areas.
  6. Find other composers who look like them:
    • Students need role models who are talented and similar to themselves. Make sure that your examples are diverse, not only in their construction but also diverse with respect to the composer as well.
  7. Encourage them to go out to honor bands and meet composers:
    • Being able to meet a living composer can have a big impact on a student’s perception on what is possible. Most often the little name on the top right of the page is over-looked or accompanied by their birth year. Meeting and talking with active composers can lead to opportunities down the road.
  8. Don’t let them give up:
    • My biggest break in music came after a fairly solid rejection. Don’t let them give up. Failure is more important than success when you are learning!

Any way you slice it, you can’t go wrong with encouraging your students to follow their dreams.  Help lead them in the right direction and watch them grow as musicians.  Even the roughest of starts can lead to something beautiful, be it in the world of composition or otherwise.

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Tyler Arcari draws on his experience as a middle and high school director to craft music that is both sophisticated and geared towards student performance. His music is fun, fresh, and dynamic! He is currently the Instrumental Music Editor for Excelcia Music Publishing. Tyler has also taught at both the middle school and high school levels. As a high school director, Mr. Arcari’s bands consistently received superior ratings at contests and festivals. As a commissioned composer, Tyler writes marching band shows and original works for various types of ensembles. His music is featured on multiple state lists as well as Bandworld Magazine’s Top 100.