Listen up! To the sounds of creativity in schools
There is a small revolution occurring in Quebec. Have you noticed the infiltration of composers in the schools? Have you thought about how these shapers of sound can have an impact on our youth and their perception of contemporary music? For a telling example, have a look at this article from The Gazette on Robert Frederick Jones, who finished composing a muiscal work from his hospital bed.
A much loved and respected artist, composer and educator, Jones has taught at Vanier College since 1976. Dr. Jones saw his oratorio La Terra Promessa brought to life on the stage by young artists of the Vanier College Choir. The work was premiered this spring at a gala year-end concert under the direction of Philippe Bourque at Saint-Sixte Church in Ville Saint-Laurent. The Vanier Choir teamed with the 80-voice St. Lawrence Choir and the Joseph-Francois Perrault School Symphony Orchestra. A grandly conceived and thoroughly modern musical fresco over forty minutes in duration, La Terra Promessa received a huge ovation. It is the most recent in a growing catalogue of Jones’ contemporary works. His ongoing collaboration with Vanier students is a rare and inspiring example of the regular integration of modern composition within a public educational institution.
The times are changing…for the better!
Public schools are facing major challenges as they cope with educational reform. One example: how to integrate musical composition within already over-charged music programs while dealing with the problem of alloting adequate time for instrumental practice? Many teachers are often at a disadvantage since they do not have the necessary training in this area. Several experimental programs have been launched, aimed at stimulating interest in musical creations and the creators. These programs reveal a variety of creative approaches and styles.
Tim Brady, composer-in-residence with the Laval Symphony Orchestra, does much more than compose music. He is also charged with putting in place the elements that can provide a creative environment for youth in the Laval secondary school system. In this sense composer Tim Brady is OSL Chief Alain Trudel’s right-hand man. Together they have created a program called OSL and the Schools . They have developed a unique approach:
Over the course of several weeks Tim visits an average of twenty young people at each school, where he invites them to take part in the composition of a musical work. Students are aware from the outset that credit for the success or failure of the project – always at issue when it comes to artistic creation! – rests with them.
Tim commits the final orchestrations to paper (rigously following the young composers’ directions and concepts). Under the direction of Alain Trudel, OSL musicians present the work within the context of the OSL Youth Matinee program. Trudel schedules the student work within a Youth Matinee concert that will fit the theme of the created piece. Students hear their ideas interpreted by the professionals.
What a beautiful way to inspire creativity, get young people interested in concert music, and strengthen the senior orchestra’s direct ties to the community!
The OSL program is only one of many interesting creative partnerships that have been formed in recent years in schools throughout Quebec. To mention just three others:
- L’Orchestre métropolitain du Grand Montréal had a major success in creating a work for orchestra and the ORFF percussion ensemble, entitled Choses étonnantes vues en rêve. The piece was created by composer Nicolas Gilbert in 2009, with the participation of twenty students at Maisonneuve Primary School in Montreal.
- Following directly on its successful On joue ensemble program, Pointe-de-l’Île School Board brought in composer André Hamel under the framework of its Libre comme l’art program. Students from five schools took part in collective workshops directed by the composer aimed at the creation of musical works, then the presentation of the fruits of their work together.
- For my part, I had the privilege of being composer-in-residence at FACE School and working with students on works celebrating the school’s 35th anniversary. After my experience at FACE, following in André Hamel’s footsteps, I participated in both the Libre comme l’art and On joue ensemble programs at Pointe-de-l’Île School Board. And writer-composer Mario Chenart invited me to take part in composition workshops with students of music teacher Esther Gonzalez at St. Dorothy’s, an English primary school in Montreal. Mario led the composition of songs; I was in charge of instrumental creation.
All of these experiences and programs involve direct student particapation, nurturing musical:
- Creation working toward performance
The goal is to provide both teachers and students with tools enabling them to make the most of the artistic experience and vision only a professional composer is equipped to offer. They get a glimpse of writing techniques and the composition of musical structures – essential elements in acquiring an understanding of contemporary music. The more a young student is exposed to the basics of composition, the more readily he may develop an interest in non-traditional musics. Direct contact with a composer enriches a student’s musical vocabulary and critical appreciation.
I would like to mention the FAMEQ initiative, aimed at programming musical works composed by Quebecers. Several works will be presented at a Grand Concert set for Nov. 18, 2011 during the Annual Meeting. As well, we will have an opportunity to hear the works of Ana Sokolovic, André Jutras, Jonathan Dagenais, Luc Lévesque, Richard Poulin, myself, and several other talented Quebec composers still to be added to the program.
I should also note the work of the Quebec branch of the Canadian Music Centre, the source of several projects mentioned above. And I tip my hat to Mme. Mireille Gagné, who is leaving her position as CMC Quebec Regional Director after thirty years of dedicated work. Mireille has contributed so much to raising the profile of our Canadian composers, Quebecers in particular, and helping in the diffusion of their works.
Whether through broadcast or live performance, diffusion of musical works is key. The future of our composers necessarily means engaging in the public domain and it ultimately depends on the acceptance of their work by today’s youth. In that regard, we have been putting the tools in place. And we can feel an optimistic wind blowing across the fields of promise…
This article has been published in the Canadian Music Educator – Volume 53 – Number 2 – Winter 2011
Also in Musique et pédagogie from FAMEQ Volume 25 – numéro 3 – printemps/été 2011
 Link to article by Bernard Peruse – The Gazette, 3 May 2011-07-22