I wrote a piece for concert band once. It was called Dance of the Small Woodland Creatures, and it was a short, up-tempo tune that kept repeating the same melody, but with more instruments added each time. There was a brief section that got darker, which was designed to indicate some sort of predator animal (represented by low horns and untuned timpani) stalking all the small woodland creatures, culminating in the capture and demise of an unfortunate piccolo. Following this was a two-bar hymn-like section before a return to the cheerful major theme and a quick ending.
My composition sat untouched in a drawer for years as I never felt it was good enough to do anything with. It turns out that it is just as well that it did. A decade later while at the middle school band concert of a friend’s son, I learned that I had subconsciously stolen my tune’s melody from James Swearingen. The name of the Swearingen piece escapes me, but I must have played it when I was in middle or high school and gotten the melody stashed away in a dark corner of my mind.
Michael Fleischmann’s efforts to bring elements of composing into his ensemble classes (see page 12) reminded me of my past attempts, and I can relate to his students’ reactions. I was rarely the type of student to shy away from trying something new, but I was also the type of student to want to know exactly what I had to do to earn an A, which was – at the time – more important to me than having fun. My perfectionism probably had much to do with why I never showed my work to anyone. The Creative Music Strategy ideas Fleischmann incorporates are a great way for students to compose and have fun doing so. It makes me want to try writing some band music again – but with an original melody this time rather than something I accidentally borrow. I think it will be fun, and isn’t that a big part of why we make music?