7 Steps to Creating an Original Song with Your Choral Ensemble
By NAfME member Michele Kaschub
Professor of Music/Coordinator of Music Teacher Education
University of Southern Maine
Creating opportunities for students to participate in composition activities as part of their choral ensemble experience:
- grants them access to new perspectives
- furthers the growth of their overall musicianship
- contributes to their understanding of artistic interpretation
- and allows them to explore their creative voice in settings where they feel safe and where they find personal meaning.
One way to create these opportunities is by engaging your full chorus in the creation of an original song. The song may be a signature work for the chorus to sing at the end of every concert, may commemorate an historic community event, may highlight a particular holiday, tackle a social issue, or provide a comedic, light-hearted moment within a single concert.
Regardless of what the end project might be, the process begins in the same place and follows a 7-step path.
Step 1: Teacher Q & A
Ask yourself a few questions to frame the project. What is it that you want your students to learn? How much class time can you allot to this project/how much work can students complete outside of rehearsal? When would the piece be premiered?
Step 2: Engage the singers
Composition, particular in a group setting, is likely a new experience for your singers. Take 10-15 minutes to introduce the project, hear their questions and concerns, and collect their ideas. This piece will be theirs. Taking time to engage every student and to develop a collective sense of ownership is critical to project success.
Step 3: Dream and research
Determine what type of piece the chorus wishes to create. Take time to listen to pieces that are similar and analyze them. What makes the pieces impactful? Are there particular compositional techniques that might be included in our piece?
Step 4: Create the piece
While there are many different approaches to composing, collaborative choral composition benefits from a shared organizer. Song lyrics often serve this purpose. Lyrics can come from any number of sources. They may be written by a single student, collectively created by teams of students or the whole chorus, or chosen from published works. (Note: Remember to secure appropriate permissions for copyrighted poems.) Once the poem is identified, examine its internal structures as they may hint at a musical setting.
When everyone is familiar with the poem, invite the singers to do what they do best – sing! Explore different melodies, test harmonies, and explore different combinations of voices until the right sound emerges. Record everything. Production of a written score may be done you or your students, but it is easier to do with a record of “that great part that we sang half way through rehearsal on Tuesday”.
Step 5. Rehearse and refine
As the singers played the primary role in the creation of the new song; they will know how it goes. Rehearsal time should focus on refining interpretation and securing a vocal performance that truly reflects the students’ wishes. The act of composing will heighten the singers’ awareness of composer intentions and will make them a passionate advocate for their own work and for pieces in their folders created by other composers.
Step 6. Perform
The performance of original works composed by the choral collective is an impressive feat. Take time to introduce the piece and the processes involved with bringing it to life. This is an opportunity to educate your community about the unique learning that takes place within their school music program.
Step 7. Reflect
After the applause has passed and the students have enjoyed the afterglow of their performance, take a few minutes to reflect on the creation of an original work. What do the students think worked well? What surprised them about the audience’s reaction? What did they expect? What do they think they learned? What might they do differently next time – and why?
These seven steps offer a glimpse of the journey from project idea to song sung, but there are an increasing number of tools and strategies for facilitating successful projects. If you would like to know more, please join me at 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference in Grapevine, TX, where I will share “From Idea to Premiere: Composing Original Works in Choir”. Let’s make the performance of original works by young chorister-composers a reality.
About the author:
Michele Kaschub is Professor of Music and Coordinator of Music Teacher Education at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. She is a past president of the Maine Music Educators Association and a member of the Music Educators Journal Editorial Committee.
She has contributed chapters to several books and presented clinics, papers and at multiple state, national, and international conferences. She co-author with Janice Smith of the book Minds on Music: Composition for Creative and Critical Thinking and co-editor with Smith, of Composing Our Future: Preparing Music educators to Teach Compositionand Promising Practices in 21st Century Music Teacher Education.
Michele Kaschub presented at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference in Grapevine, Texas.
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