New Band Commission, part 2: It's a go!

Tuesday, November 9, 2021


Got a text from Cliff this afternoon that just said: “WE GOT IT!!!!” We spoke on the phone later that evening, and he gave me the details of exactly what his application had proposed: a piece 4-6 minutes long plus 4 visits to the school by me: once to talk about ideas for the piece, two visits to share about the creative process, and the last visit would be an after-school dress rehearsal with the band where we’d put the finishing touches on the piece. He also gave me a rundown of the strengths and size of his band this year. (It will be 7th and 8th grade bands combined.) One piece of extra good news is that their winter concert isn’t until January 24, so they wouldn’t be ready to start working on my piece until after that.

I said that I was really interested in the students having input into the piece, and since I haven’t taught middle school in a while I wanted to get an idea of where their heads are before I started thinking about ideas for the piece. (I can’t just write music—for me, it has to be “about” something, even if that something isn’t obvious to the listener.) I decided to send them a questionnaire to get a feel for the things they were thinking about.


The questions I came up with and sent Cliff later that night:


1. What instrument do you play? 2. What do you enjoy most about playing your instrument? 3. What is something you wish the adults in your life understood about you? 4. What is something you spend a lot of time thinking about? 5. What does joy sound like to you?


I asked Cliff if he thought we should include names or make them optional so the students felt free to answer honestly. He suggested we make it anonymous, and he said he’d have the students complete the questionnaire in class the next day so that we had the best chance of getting lots of answers.




Friday, November 12, 2021


Cliff had his students take the survey today, and he sent me the results. At first glance, lots of variety of answers, but I did notice a lot of the kids mentioning pressure or stress from their parents (“I wish they understood that I am trying my best.”) Some of them were clearly trying to game the system:


What is something you wish the adults in your life understood about you?

I wish people understood I like to play certain band pieces, for example I don't like soft and boring ones, I like fast enticing ones.




Wednesday, November 17


Cliff called so we could settle some of our schedule a little more concretely. We talked a little about the survey responses (we were both surprised that some of the 8th grade students had considered some of the questions too personal to answer). I told him my plan was to read through them all thoroughly and see if I could identify any themes that popped up. We decided my first visit would be on December 10, since I had a half day at school that day and wouldn’t have to miss work. The goal of that day would be to share my initial concept for the piece and maybe get some more feedback from the students. Our second meeting will be in February, when we will check in on the creative process (this meeting will be with orchestra, band, and chorus students). Then the third visit will be about “how to know when you’re done.” Cliff said when I came on the 10th he’d like to have the band play for me a little so I can hear them and get a sense of what they can do, then we can chat a bit. He also offered to give me a few scores for some band pieces that he really likes. He keeps talking about Daniel Bukvich and how he’s the only composer who writes really minimalistic/aleatoric stuff for middle school band. This is definitely something I like as well, so maybe part of this piece can incorporate something unconventional. (Well, it will DEFINITELY have something unconventional, because I hate band music that all sounds the same!)

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