» Education


The Bang on a Can All-Stars: Now as cartoon characters

If you are a regular reader of our blog or our iOS Magazine, you are probably already familiar with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, “part classical ensemble and part rock band” (Kenny Savelson, Bang on a Can executive director.) You might have seen them on stage—they tour extensively—but you surely have never seen them like this before… Like what?

Cartoon characters! The Bang on a Can All-Stars will appear as special guests on PBS KIDS’s popular cartoon ARTHUR, in an episode called “Binky’s Music Madness” airing nationwide on May 14, 2014 as part of ARTHUR Arts Week.

L-R: percussionist David Cossin, clarinetist Evan Ziporyn, cellist Ashley Bathgate, guitarist Mark Stewart, bassist Robert Black, and pianist Vicky Chow—as cartoon characters.

L-R: percussionist David Cossin, clarinetist Evan Ziporyn, cellist Ashley Bathgate, guitarist Mark Stewart, bassist Robert Black, and pianist Vicky Chow—as cartoon characters (TM and © Marc Brown. Arthur © 2014 WGBH.)

[


Music Education in the UK

The Henley report on music education in the United Kingdom emphasised the value and importance of music making as a practical skill and how much this can enrich and aid the development of young people’s lives. This comprehensive survey lacked a detailed account of class music lessons and accentuated the role of extra-curricular music making. A music education based on the development of creative and practical skills in music is in no way a bad thing but how important is the content in class music lessons and particular the use of western art music? Are we offering our pupils a rigorous subject-based curriculum in music or is it just a series of practical activities that develop confidence in singing, playing and composing with a fleeting acknowledgement of the great works of music history? Exploring great works of the western art tradition should form an essential part of the music curriculum from the early years and we should strive to create culturally aware pupils that not only have an understanding of the breadth and depth of ‘classical’ music but will feel confident in being part of and perhaps even contributing to the vibrant classical music scene on offer today.

[


Introducing your Students to Modern Music

One of my biggest concerns in classical music today lies in the area of education. While most kids have at least some familiarity with the masters of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras, there is little exposure to early 20thcentury composers (usually limited to Prokofiev and Britten), and no exposure to living composers. For some time this has baffled me, as while the general populace has the opinion that modern classical music is dissonant, unorganized nigh-noise, someone who has been through formal training should be aware that there are more similarities than differences between the modern master and the classical master. As such, I offer three pieces by living composers that can be paired with works by the classical masters for an effective lesson.

When choosing these pieces I kept three basic rules in mind:

  • The piece must be under 10 minutes.
  • The piece must be generally consonant.
  • The composer must be living and generally highly regarded.

John Adams – Short Ride in a Fast Machine

Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams

This short energetic piece is built entirely off small rhythmic motives, from the pulse of the woodblock to the syncopated rhythms in the brass, and can serve as an excellent introduction for minimalism. The motives are clear and transformations are relatively easy for the ear to follow. I would recommend pairing this with the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, and discuss with the class the similarities and differences in each composer’s approach.

Jennifer Higdon – Piano Trio: I. Pale Yellow

J. Higdon – Piano Trio – Pale Yellow

Lush, rich melodies dominate this work, as the ensemble shifts almost seamlessly between playing in a melody, harmony, accompaniment scheme into a contrapuntal setting. Each player is in the spotlight at times, as the melodic line drifts from one part to the next. In a lesson, this piece could be paired with another chamber work, such as Brahms’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87 to serve as an introduction to chamber music, or with a classical symphony such as Mozart’s 40th Symphony in G Minor to discuss the difference between chamber and symphonic works, especially in regard to the use of instruments.

Nico Muhly – I Drink The Air Before Me: First Storm and Storm Centre

Unfortunately, there aren’t any videos of this on Youtube, but I did find the pieces on Spotify (as well as the others) and will share the link at the bottom of this post. This work is excellent for discussing program music. Nervous, energetic bursts from the instruments, convey all of the excitement and energy of a violent thunderstorm. Pair this with the Presto movement from Vivaldi’s ‘Summer’ and discuss the similarities and differences of each composer’s representation.

This is of course only an introduction into thinking of contemporary music in a different light. Start branching out and seek pieces that can be used in your lessons, and to introduce your students to living composers. Can you think of any other pieces to use like this? How will you use modern music in your classroom?

Spotify playlist: Three Great Pieces to Introduce Kids to Modern Music

Tai Livingston is a composer and an educator. You can follow him on twitter @texancomposer.