A dilemma – how much of this is me?

I was at Language School yesterday, and in the evening spent a few hours going over the term’s composition work so far and making some plans for the rest of the term. I have three classes, each is midway through a composition project, and we are half-way through the term. There are some key dates looming, as well as a week where the kids will be on camp, so I needed to sit down and assess where each class is up to in their projects and what we are realistically going to be able to complete this term. I also wanted to review each of the projects musically, to determine how they are shaping up, and where the gaps or weaknesses are, in a musical sense.

Here is the dilemma of the post title:

In Middle Primary we are composing short vignettes of music and text about the children’s experience of changing countries. The idea is to think of it as a musical time capsule, that will capture some of the detail of what they are thinking and feeling now, that they may not remember in such detail in ten years’ time.

In class yesterday we brainstormed some words about ‘things we miss from where we used to live’. Lots of good offers were made, and I wrote them all down on the whiteboard. I could see some themes emerging, but in my head was mentally tossing up between making the words fit some music we had already composed, or finding new (sadder) music to go with these words. We had some other work to do, so I decided I would take all these Missing Things words down, and think about them during the week.

At home, I started to group the words together and found quite a nicely shaped chorus and verse. Then I tried singing the words to the melodies we had created in our pitch-work (using numbers – I’ll describe this in another post). I found a way to sing it that I know the children will enjoy. I wrote the melody and words out on manuscript paper to make sure I would remember it accurately.

The words are from the children, and the music is from the children…. but! I have put this together myself. I have done it pretty quickly. The class I am working with have in the past been pretty good at coming up with melodies of their own. Why don’t I take the words back to class next week still in their raw form, and together we could find a chorus and verse from the words, and a way to use the melodies from our pitch work to make a song?

Here some reasons why:

  • Because I know this song works, and that they will like it.
  • Because the raw material is all from them and they will know this.
  • Because, while some in the class respond very well to the composing tasks, others have much less English language, and get lots very quickly because it is harder for them to contribute and follow the process.
  • It means we will have next week’s lesson to develop another musical vignette for our musical time capsule.

Here some reasons for handing the composing task over to the students:

  • I think it will be an interesting challenge for them – to first shape the words (or they could work with the words in the shape I have given them), and then find a way to sing the words with the melodies we already have. They will need to alter the melodies slightly to make the words fit, and it will be interesting to see if they do this intuitively, without compromising the integrity of the melodic material.
  • It will make the song completely theirs.
  • They will experience the songwriting process in a different format to what we have used before – this is the first time we have created music, then words, without making the link between them explicit from the start.

If I do take the song back to them, in its raw, non-song format, it will also be a challenge for me, to really let them determine how the words and the melody will go together. And to let go of the song that I have come up with.

I haven’t decided what I will do yet.

I should add a footnote here, to say that my students have a huge amount of creative freedom in class. Most of the tasks I set are very, very open. This one was too – the difference here is that I got it out at home for an extended period of thinking time!

I think the question about how much we place of ourselves in a composition (or creative) project is an ongoing debate and balance. I am a facilitator of this process – but I am also a collaborator. So it is not surprising that there will be something of my musical ‘accent’ in any piece I facilitate (though I do constantly guard against playing it too ‘safe’ or against staying in too familiar territory with my ideas.

Let’s go off-topic… this image is from Mostar, BiH. I took it in front of the ruined Hotel Neretva.

In front of Hotel Neretva

And this one shows the serenely beautiful Tekija (Sufi House), in Blagaj, 10km from Mostar.

Tekija at Blagaj


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