Commentary: Nurture Student Composers in Your School

Mike Lawson • Commentary • March 2, 2018

Share This:

When it comes to writing music today, band and orchestra compositions are not the top choice for the majority of those who choose to endeavor in the art of composition.

Rather, popular music, with its myriad genres and subgenres, is the style of music that draws young musicians to music composition like bees to honey.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of popular music. It’s a short musical form with catchy choruses and mesmerizing beats. It can brighten people’s days or evoke poignant memories. In a short few minutes a pop tune can tell a story or make a resounding point. Popular music has become the music of the masses, appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds.

But band and orchestral music are great musical art forms, too!

Unfortunately, they don’t attract the number of composers that popular songwriting does band and it’s easy to understand why; it takes special skills to compose and orchestrate these kinds of music; it’s much harder to compose and orchestrate a 10- or 20- or 30-minute composition than a three-minute pop tune; there are limited opportunities to have band and orchestral compositions performed; while segments of the public love band and orchestral music, they just don’t draw the big numbers that popular music does. Hence, audiences for band and orchestral concerts are smaller than those for pop concerts, band and orchestral recordings don’t sell or stream in the numbers that pop recordings do, and financial opportunities for band and orchestral music are not as widespread as for popular music, such as motion picture or television synchronizations, jingles and TV commercials, and sales of printed music.

But still, both band music and orchestral music are intoxicating and breathtaking in their ways, there will always be audiences for them, and as art forms they should and must be preserved and added to, with new composers writing such music and expanding their already sublime repertoires.

To be sure, there are lots of musicians who play and love band and orchestral music today. Schools provide many opportunities for young musicians to learn their instruments and to play in bands and orchestras where the repertoire includes or consists largely of classical or serious music.

But what opportunities are there for young composers? How do schools advance the training of young composers? Indeed, how are youngsters today even inspired to consider composing serious music? It’s not so important whether we are going to turn out young Mozarts or Beethovens or Shostakoviches, but what are we doing to even introduce young people to the art of composing for bands and orchestras?

School band and orchestra directors could play an important role in facilitating student interest in composing for school bands and orchestras. Following are some ideas how. The school band or music director could:

• Introduce to student musicians the idea of composing for a school band or orchestra

• Discuss some great composers and their compositions

• Help students develop a penchant for melody or encourage the practice of trying to develop a sense for melody

• Recommend to students various recordings to listen to that could inspire or teach them, as well as encourage them to attend concerts and pay attention to the structure, development, and dynamics of compositions, in addition to the musicians’ performances

• Lend students music scores to study; students could follow these while listening to recordings

• Recommend composition and orchestration books students could read

• Teach students composition if the director composes (of course, if the school offers a course in composition students interested in composing will want to take it)

• Advise students where to learn the rudiments of serious music composing and orchestrating, or recommend private teachers that students could study with, or refer them to local colleges which may have music departments with professors who teach composition or orchestration

• Give students a chance to have their music heard by playing pieces with the school band or orchestra in rehearsals; this could be done as different sections of a composition are completed, or the whole composition could be played when completed

• If possible, have your band or orchestra perform students’ compositions at concerts

• If a student’s composition is performed at a concert, publicize it in local print media, as well as on social media

• Encourage students to enter competitions for young composers such as ASCAP’s Morton Gould Young Composer Awards or BMI’s Student Composer Awards for classical composers

• Stress that for the passionate composer the love of the art form is more rewarding than the financial compensation.

• Try to interest local professional groups to perform student works or assist students in this process

• Always continue to encourage and cultivate student talent and inspire them to embrace new challenges in composing

For the student composer, the reward of having a performance will be exhilarating.

What could be more musically glorious than when the conductor, hand raised, cues in an ensemble of musicians to commence the student’s rousing composition? When the violins, cellos, flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, trumpets, tympani, and all the other instruments bring to life ideas that germinated in the student’s head, surely the student will feel a sense of pride that few other achievements in life can bring.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!