Archive for the ‘comfort zone’ Tag

Inside and outside ‘The Square’

A number of interesting scenarios have come up in discussions recently:

In one undergraduate class at Melbourne University, a group was asked to create a piece in response to an abstract painting by Russian artist Stepanova. It consisted of very free, dynamic spirals of paint, and words in Russian scattered across the canvas. Their piece included some dramatic and evocative ‘spirals’ of different percussion colour, underpinned by piano playing very straight, arpeggio-driven, tonal piano chords (essentially a I-IV-V-I pattern). When I questioned the choice and musical role of the piano, one of the group turned to me in mock exasperation. “Let’s face it G,” she said, “She’s the only one of us with any musical skills!” The rest of the group all nodded in agreement, and I was dismayed.

In a postgraduate class, a group was composing a piece depicting sea people having a wild, joyous party under the light of a full moon, on a beach. One of the group, while trying out some ideas on the xylophone, found she could play part of a theme of music from a party scene in the Disney film ‘The Little Mermaid’. She played this one phrase as her part in a group composition with many layers, and it had a lot of energy and infectious drive.

In a professional development session for music teachers, designed to build their confidence in using creative and compostional approaches in music with their students (rather than only note-learning, and pre-existing ensemble charts), one group of secondary teachers was asked to create music depicting ‘an island’. The project brief required them to imagine this island and its characteristics, and create music to depict this. The group’s first decision was that, if it were to be ‘island music’ then it would ‘obviously need to have a Calypso rhythm’. They never created an image of the island itself, but put together a piece of Calypso-style music with the percussion instruments they had.

In a composition project for young musicians working alongside professional musicians, we are focusing on the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. Themes from the Leningrad Symphony have been written out and given to the young players to learn. Others are being taught aurally. At the same time, the young players are exploring some of the compositional techniques used by Shostakovich, and applying them to their own compositions. In the final outcome, the Shostakovich quotes will be embedded within the children’s original composition work.

For me, each of the above raised questions about when and why we use pre-existing musical material (or, extending from this, music frameworks with which we are comfortable and familiar) in creative music contexts. It suggests insights about individuals’ comfort zones and their willingness to think outside the square (or conversely, to stay firmly within it).

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