For all 40 of my 5th grade students at LREI we composed our second composition for an entire 30 piece orchestra! The Young Composers & Improvisors Workshop curriculum takes each student through the entire process of composing an original composition and the student compositions are normally performed by a six-member chamber ensemble. Given the success of the program I’ve always imagined what it might be like to have my students hear their original compositions performed by an entire orchestra. I first met the director of the Western European Symphony Orchestra Andre Miranda at a wonderful music edtech meet up run by Alex Ruthmann at NYU. Andre has run WESO out of a wonderful studio in Lisbon, Portugal and has performed on a number of successful movie soundtracks. When Andre approached me about his idea for offering an affordable rate for any composer to receive a recording by the orchestra I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity for my 5th graders to have their music performed. Andre’s idea was to rebrand the orchestra as the $99 Orchestra and offer 7 minutes of recording time for $99. Composers needed only to submit scores and they would receive an HD multi-track recording. For our 5th Grade Young Composers concert we agreed that it would be very powerful to perform each of the 40 pieces for not only the recording but also a live simulcast concert attended by families and students. On May 27, 2015 the $99 Orchestra performed the recording session and a live simulcast was viewed in LREI’s Performing Arts Center.
Click Here For All 40 Compositions
- “When composing you have to make the instruments fit together and they have to sound good together. I feel good that I am composing for a whole orchestra.”
-Colette, 5th grader
- “I think its awesome having a professional orchestra play my piece!”
-Freddie, 5th grader
- “I think that what we’re doing is uncharted territory. This makes it exciting!”
-Andre Miranda, director WESSO/$99 Orchestra
- “Composing for an entire orchestra has been fun because I got to have more instruments play in my piece and also I could organize the families of instruments.”
-Olivia B, 5th grader
- “Composing was great and I loved making my piece. I have learned that you have to let music make itself.
-Emily, 5th grader”
- “With composing I felt very important. It is not every day that a whole orchestra performs a piece that you made.”
- “Composing for an entire orchestra was really cool because we had to think about which instruments need to have a part and how long before another instrument should play.”
-Zoe, 5th grader
- “It was very fun to see and hear the diffrent ways people play my piece and I cant wait to do it again.”
-Cloe, 5th grader
- “I think composing for the orchestra is hard, but satisfying in the end when you finally finish and hear it performed.”
-Mabel, 5th grade
- “I wanted my piece to be worthy for the orchestra. It really pushed me to do my best work.”
-Oliver, 5th grader
My 5th graders had each already composed one piece for chamber ensemble. Most students begin their first piece by exploring how to develop melodies. For their second composition we begin with exploring the concept of chord progressions. After building diatonic triads using the musical alphabet students explore performing chord progressions in a number of ways – piano keyboard, iPad instruments or the guitar.
Here is a clip of Johnny when he first conceived of the chord progression of his piece:
He then went on to notate his chord progression in Noteflight:
Johnny also worked out some Sequential material for his piece on the piano:
Now you can hear Johnny’s finished piece as it was performed by the orchestra. One thing that you’ll hear are melodies and rhythms that Johnny could not perform on the piano. One very powerful feature of including Noteflight in the compositional process is that it helps students imagine in the most creative ways how they’d like their music to sound. They are not limited to their technical skill. Johnny get’s the best of both worlds by improving and deepening his connection to the piano while also taking advantage of Noteflight’s notation capabilities.
Many students worked out their chord progression on an iPad chord-instrument and then notated their chord progression in Noteflight like Oliver:
If a student plays guitar I encouraged them to work out their chord progression like Hudson:
Students use the built in keyboard in Noteflight to help them notate their chord progression as well as label each chord:
The videos above detail how most students began their piece. The bulk of the remaining work is taken up in the rest of our YCIW curriculum for Music Works 2. The two main concepts of focus that helped students complete their compositions were as follows:
1. Chord tones as they relate to melodies. As students added melodies to their chord progression we look at how consonant chord tones can be combined with dissonant non-chord tones to create memorable melodic shapes.
2. Texture/Orchestration. Students orchestrated their pieces for the entire orchestra by first ensuring that they had balanced parts for 6 instruments over their entire piece. For most students this was violin, clarinet, french horn, trumpet, bassoon and cello. We looked closely at the families of instruments in the orchestra and each student decided how they wanted to combine the string, woodwind and brass families.
The musicians were impressed with the quality of the music and the consistency of the form. Both things helped to create an environment that made the musicians feel the responsibility of performing well so they could leave a good first impression for the young composers.Andre Miranda, $99 Orchestra
On the morning of the concert the students were excited as they entered the hall. The simulcast was being streamed into the hall and projected on a large overhead screen. It had all the feel of a regular concert with the added intrigue that the musicians were a continent away! The streaming link was also shared to everyone in our community so parents unable to attend the concert could view it from home or their workplace.
As each piece was performed I could see the pride each student had in their music. It was fascinating to observe how each student’s music fit their personality and creative style. We have had over a dozen young composers concerts at LREI and they are always memorable and powerful experiences for our students because it impresses on the entire community that the learners ideas and creations matter and are taken seriously. Middle schoolers value this kind of experience because it helps them gain a stronger, more confident foothold in the ever expanding world around them. However, having my student’s pieces performed by a 30-member orchestra in Lisbon, Portugal while audience members listened literally around the world achieved this outcome in the most fantastically powerful way!
Andre Miranda, WESO’s director and creator of the $99 Orchestra project summed up the experience similarly: “The real value of having kids’s music performed by the $99 Orchestra is not measured by the beauty of the chords or melodies in the student’s music. It’s about the creative and personal empowerment that the experience provides for them.”