One of the most challenging aspects of working with young composers is providing appropriate feedback and critiques of their work. Finding the right balance between too much (too harsh or too directed) or too little (providing little to no direction) can be very difficult, especially for an educator who does not have much experience with composing themselves. Below are several of my thoughts for educators for 2014:
• Compose with your students! When you give an interested student or your theory class a composition project, take some time to participate in the project yourself. In addition to giving yourself more experience, you’ll provide a useful model for your students.
• Stick to objective criticisms at first (notation, instrumentation, etc.) and as the comfort and trust level rises, subjective suggestions may be offered.
• Don’t leave it open-ended; explain what the critiquing parameters are at the outset and don’t be afraid to enforce critiquing boundaries when necessary.
• Model a “safe-zone” approach where criticism is constructive; questions are better than statements and suggestions are better than demands.
• When the student asks you why you chose to write your music the way you did, be careful to strike a balance between explanation and personal taste; you want to demonstrate that what you’ve created is one option, but not the only option.
• Once mutual respect and collaborative dialogue sets in, you’re on your way.
The most important thing is for the students (and you) to enjoy composing…good luck!
Dr. Rob Deemer