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From Chaos to Composition Let It Be: Robin Giebelhausen

As music teachers, we have been trained from the beginning to guide our students through a rehearsal process, listen deeply to the music that the students perform, fix errors through various rehearsal techniques, and teach them to perform other peoples’ works of music. When it comes to composition, the typical music teacher has less training. How do we work through our students’ creations in a meaningful way? How do we give them aide in their music without stifling their creativity?

Music teachers have learned to be very involved in students’ music making, so much so that they rarely let students work through musical errors on their own. Fostering composition does not work in the same way. As trained musicians we have already learned so much about music, and on occasion this knowledge inhibits our creativity. Our students may have less formal knowledge, but this does not mean that our students know nothing about music. What they need from their music teacher when composing isn’t music convention; rather they need the opportunity and the time to work through their ideas about music. This time may be messy, noisy, and occasionally chaotic. However, if we allow our students this time to explore sound, if we “Let It Be,” we just may find our students’ creativity and understanding about music may surprise us.

A Day in the Life In my previous teaching job I had experienced success with the stomp project, in which students create a work of music using “found sounds,” so I assumed it also would be successful with my new students. In the previous six years I had taught the project to a similar group of students and had learned how to set up the situation so the students would be successful and, more importantly, I wouldn’t lose my sanity. They had private workspaces and a set of resources at their disposal, and I knew how long the project would take. For the last three years I was able to video-record the performances so the students could watch them afterward.


This year, however, was a different matter, as I have a new job, new space, new students, new colleagues, and new resources. I thought I had taken all of these things into account and that I had set the kids up for success. Unfortunately, I hadn’t foreseen a few details and consequently was in the middle of stomp Hades. The kids didn’t have a clear sense of what to do, and they seemed to make mindless noise just because they could. What had I done wrong? I even started to think that the project was bad. What was I thinking assigning this project????

I’m Looking Through You I started to reflect upon my previous teaching experience. I looked back on what I had done in the past and what I had perhaps overlooked. The more I thought about it, the more I remembered that day one is always a little chaotic. In the past, I had been able to move the groups into isolated work locations, which minimized the chaos of day one. I also remembered how the groups often lacked focus, but I was able to work with them to help them find direction. Given these parameters, I had to rethink what I needed to help my current students succeed.

As I saw it, I had two major issues: the students’ ability to focus on the project and the students’ time management. Knowing these were the issues helped me calm down. It seemed that just knowing what the problems were gave me a beginning bridge to the end result. I looked to solve the first problem: focusing the students.

We Can Work It Out On day two of the project my process was to move from group to group, helping them find ways to get their projects going. I set up spaces for each group and made a plan to divide my time among them. As I described the new plan to the students, they seemed happy to work again. (They apparently hadn’t seen the previous class as unsuccessful.) I sent the kids off to work and began to move from group to group. I would ask them questions, see what ideas they

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