New Band Commission, part 3: Meeting the band

Updated: Jan 3

Friday, December 10

I visited Bristow today and met with the 7th and 8th grade bands. They played parts of two winter concert pieces for me. (They still have over a month to prepare, so they are still works in progress, but I could hear what parts of the pieces they clearly connected to: catchy tunes, driving rhythms, energetic passages.) The 8th grade trombone section really impressed me, but there were lots of solid players; it seems like there are quite a few students who could handle solos.

After they played, I explained my ideas for the piece so far. The first part of the piece will be based on this feeling of the pressure that some of the students expressed in their questionnaires. I had been thinking about the phrase “Are you trying?” and had decided to use the rhythm of that phrase for something. When I repeat it in my head over and over it sort of sounds like a train. So I think the first part of the piece is a relentless train of constantly being asked “are you trying?” (I didn’t share with the students my idea for a moment in the piece where “Are you trying?” becomes “Are you crying?” because I’m not sure if I’m going to keep that idea, and also because until the students really have buy-in to the piece I can’t be sure they won’t think that idea is dumb or silly.) The other recurring idea that I had noticed in the survey was that a lot of students mentioned games they play when I asked about things they spend a lot of time thinking about. So I think the middle section of the piece is going to be a bit of “escaping into cyberspace,” with maybe a bit of a fantasy or sci-fi element to it, or maybe referencing video game music.

The last part of the piece is the one that I needed their ideas for. I really want the piece to end on a hopeful note (not just “we’re going to avoid our problems by staring at our phones”!), so I asked the students about the kinds of things that they do to deal with stress. In the 7th grade band there were a lot of suggestions involving connecting with nature. The 8th grade students talked about doing an enjoyable activity with people that they liked.

One idea that came up that seemed to spark a lot of conversation with the 7th graders was lighting a candle. We started to talk about the image of a single flickering candle, and that led to the idea of turning the lights off, which made us think about the idea of blowing a fuse and all the power going out (which is a neat image because “blowing a fuse” is also something people do when they get very stressed out). We talked about the idea that the train might keep going quietly in the background during the cyberspace section, but when the power goes out everything stopped. We wondered about the idea of a long silence (and how disconcerting that might be for the audience)—when we talked about this idea with 8th grade band we realized that even if we wanted a long silence, with people in the audience there would inevitably be some noise (right on a cue, a percussionists dropped his sticks here), so it might be better to have quiet music rather than complete silence, since there was no way to guarantee that the silence would be complete anyway. The idea was that this candle (or the musical representation of the candle) would be a “restart.” The last thing I did was ask students for recommendations for game music that I could listen to for ideas for the middle of the piece. The boys in the 8th grade band got especially excited about this, and I left with a lengthy list of things I need to listen to!

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