Clouds – Reflecting on my latest composition

For the first task in the subject Composition in Music Education, we have been asked to arrange or compose a piece of music specifically designed for Stage 4 or 5 students (that is Years 7 – 10 in Australian schools). The resulting piece of music must be applicable to various approaches in music teaching, such as the Orff approach, Model Aural Learning and Mixed Bag Arrangements.

Clouds is an original work that I have composed that is initially reflective of the Orff approach. It is in a loose verse – chorus structure and flexible enough to be (ideally) experimented on by the class to make an original arrangement (including an improvisation section). The majority of the parts are intended to be learnable by rote,  and so the piece is made of simple and repeatable ostinati that form together to make a tight groove. I have written the main groove to be played by 4 separate percussion parts (Bass Drum, Snare, Shaker and High Pitched Percussion), 3 ostinato parts on mallet percussion and a 4th bass (ostinato) part. During the verse, I introduced some harmonic instruments and added a main melody that can either be sung (with lyrics) or played on an instrument. In addition I have also added some instrumental melody lines that feature in the contrasting chorus section.

As Clouds has a combination of both memorable ostinati and other longer musical lines, it also lends itself well to the Mixed Bag teaching approach, as each individual part is not limited to only Orff instruments. Each part can be played by any instrument, making this piece extremely versatile for the classroom. In a classroom setting, this piece is designed to be mainly taught using the Orff Approach. Students can learn their parts through voice, translating to body percussion and then finally to instruments, however students could also either read their parts from scored music, or listen and learn from the provided audio tracks instead if that is desired.

Having composed two main sections, this leaves plenty of room for students to experiment with the music in which ever way they choose. Students could experiment with the structure and collaboratively create their own original version of the piece. They could include various improvisation sections (over the verse groove), including both group and solo improvisations. Students could also experiment with various textures and musical layers, adding and subtracting various parts as they see fit. Once they have learnt the piece and know it well, students could compose their own ostinati to work in either the verse or chorus sections (or both) and they could even experiment with the vocal melody (I have tried and, yes! It does work as a canon!). Frazee and Kreuter agree that,

‘the Orff teacher is always seeking opportunities to challenge the students to find new ways to use the musical materials they are learning. These experiments in musical exploration are important steps toward improvisation. Encourage your students to participate in the composition process by experimenting with changes in such expressive elements as dynamics, accent, colour, and tempo’ (1987, p. 29).

These ideas can be embodied in my composition.

Composing this work also provided me with an opportunity to learn more about improvisation and how I might be able to help students improve their own music making within the setting of the classroom. I began the composition by creating a couple of very simple percussion loops that I recorded into Logic Pro X. By recording them into Logic, I could listen to them, review them, edit them and most importantly, play alongside them. By jamming with my own rhythms I was able to slowly compose the many ostinati parts, recording each layer one by one. By doing this, I was able to personally experience what I hope to help my future students do in the classroom.

I have created a resource pack (feel free to use this with your own class!) that includes both audio and scored versions of Clouds with an accompanying Sibelius and Logic Pro X file. In the scored folder there is a Main Full Score and also a simplified version of any ostinati part for easy reading. Included in the audio folder is an mp3  file of the composition and also audio files of the individual parts. The inclusion of an audio version means that students who have trouble reading music could also be encouraged to learn their parts  aurally and/or informally with teacher guidance, in the role of an ‘observer… and advisor, rather than an instructor’ (D’Amore, A., & Foundation, P. H., 2009, p. 150).

Here are the lyrics:

Verse:

Polar caps are melting

Bush fires rage

Temperatures are rising

Earth is seeing change 

Carbon footprints growing

Answers must be found

Is our dear world’sfuture on solid ground? 

Chorus:

Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?

Who has the wisdom?

Clouds

References:

D’Amore, A., & Foundation, P. H. (2009). Musical Futures: An Approach to Teaching and Learning: Resource Pack (2nd ed.). United Kingdom: Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Frazee, J., & Kreuter, K. (1987). Discovering Orff: A curriculum for music teachers. Mainz: Schott.

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