Monday, January 12, 2015

13 Challenges in 13 Weeks

After an eight month hiatus to write an oratorio, I’m back to teaching at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University in Chicago. This semester, I have decided to try something new with the composition students in my studio. Each week, they will receive a new challenge that is to be completed by their next lesson. These challenges start simple, but will get more ambitious throughout the semester.

I have three goals in presenting these challenges to my students. First, I want to help widen their horizons on how and where they find inspiration as well as what they do with it. Second, I’d like to get them to think BIG – where do they want their careers to go? What kind of pieces do they dream of writing? Third, I aim to give them the tools they’ll need to make their dreams happen while financially supporting themselves.

These are the challenges:

1. What musically inspires you? List five or more people, places, films, activities, etc.

2. What do you want to have accomplished one year from now?

3. What is your “dream” commission? If you could compose anything for anyone or any group, what would it be?

4. Bring in two pictures - these can be of paintings, photographs, or any visual images that you find inspiring. What does each picture musically suggest to you? How would you translate each into a piece of music?

5. If you could collaborate with any type or number of non-musical artists, who would it be? What type of piece or event would you co-create?

6. Choose one of your recently completed pieces. How would you market the piece to performers? Lay out a plan.

7. Where do you see yourself five years from now, and what do you want to have accomplished by then?

8. What are all of the various skills that you have? List both musical and non-musical.

9. Based on your skills, what types of musical jobs can you do (in addition to composing) that can help support yourself and your career?

10. You are commissioned by a choir to write a 4-5 minute piece about either war or peace for a “War and Peace” concert. The choir’s director wants you to present three possible texts about war and/or peace. Find three texts. If a text is under copyright, find out who or what organization you need to contact to request permission to set the text.

11. You have been asked to curate a 60-minute concert for a new music ensemble with “Pierrot” instrumentation (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion). The ensemble commissions you to compose a 15-minute piece for the concert. What will you program for the other 45 minutes? You can’t program your own music, and the other works you choose must contain three or more performers from the available sextet. Also consider if you want to give the concert a focus or theme.

12. You decide to start an ensemble. What instruments/voices would it consist of? Write the mission statement for your ensemble as well as plan out the first concert or event that your ensemble sponsors. The concert/event needs to reflect your mission statement.

13. Write a one-page essay for a music journal in which you’re 65 years old, and you are reflecting on your long and successful career as a composer. What were the biggest accomplishments of your career? What types of pieces did you write? Who did you compose for, who did you collaborate with? Did you begin any organizations, or perhaps specialize in writing music for a particular function or age group? Is there anything you did that you are especially proud of?

I am curious to see how the students handle these challenges! I may be asking a lot of them, particularly on the last few challenges, but I’m a strong believer in getting students thinking early about how they will transition from their university studies into their professional lives.