Ranch View Musicians Explore Music Composition

Ranch View Middle School Musicians Explore Music Composition
Posted on 05/21/2020
Ranch View Middle School Musicians Explore Music Composition

What do you enjoy most about music theory and composition?

"I didn’t know anything about bass clef and this whole time learning about it was so fun for me."

Caitlyn Boyle, Eighth Grade, Ranch View Middle School

"I thought it was something I was just going to do and get a grade, but I actually really like it and I'm probably going to do more."

Ruby Hill, Seventh Grade, Ranch View Middle School

"It's nice to arrange for instruments you normally wouldn't arrange for. It's honestly a fun way to kill time when stuck in quarantine."

Keira Kropatsch, Seventh Grade, Ranch View Middle School

"You really have to look at the different parts and figure out what kind of message I am trying to send through this music piece."

Jeanette Hoel, Eighth Grade, Ranch View Middle School

HIGHLANDS RANCH - When Douglas County School District (DCSD) school buildings closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the abrupt disruption to traditional classroom learning astounded students, teachers, and families. Adjusting to the new remote learning arrangement required creativity, especially by music teachers whose band, orchestra, and choir students depend on one another to perform. Ensemble musicians, by definition, play within groups. A violin without an orchestra is just a violin. A singer without a choir is just a singer. Forced out of the classroom by statewide Stay-at-Home orders, teachers and students alike have had to adapt an inherent group activity into meaningful solo learning.

Like other DCSD educators, Instrumental Music Teacher Felicia Elenum quickly shifted her teaching style to continue providing an enriching experience for her students at Ranch View Middle School.

A typical music class nowadays is several students within one sectional, their microphone muted, playing in their personal space, while Elenum plays different parts on her own instrument. The piercing tone of her flute is the only music. It punctuates the moment with clarity and precision. The students play along in mysterious, silent worlds.

Why not get the entire band, orchestra, and choir on the same Google Hangout and practice that way? According to Elenum, it just wouldn't work.

"We can't play together because of everyone's different internet speeds,” Elenum said. “Sometimes there's lag, and it's just not productive."

But students are finding the silver lining in this new method of learning, as eighth-grader and violinist Caitlyn Boyle explained: "I'm really working on my counting, like my rests and my rhythm, because sometimes I'll slack off in class and listen to what the cellos are playing [to know] when I'm coming in. It's nice to focus on your own music and to learn how to do things you've never done before."

Like Boyle, seventh-grade alto voice Ruby Hill also gained a greater focus when learning from a distance.

"[Learning remotely] is weird because you can't hear what everyone else is doing, and you can't feed off of other people," said Hill. "But it's also nice because you really focus on how you sound and not on how other people sound."

However, there are a few key aspects of musical education that don't require a group -- music theory and composition.

"I believe that theory and composition are important for all musicians, not just middle schoolers," said Elenum. "Theory gives us the foundation on which we create our art. [Composition] gives us a unique perspective as ensemble musicians. When students create their own music, or in this project, arrange pre-existing music into a new format, they start to hear the other instruments in the ensemble differently. They realize the role that they play within a larger whole."

Elenum’s students are also finding joy in music theory and composition.

"It's so much fun!" exclaimed Boyle. "I feel I can just go off and learn a new instrument."

"I was actually kind of surprised how much I liked it. I thought it was something I was just going to do to get a grade," remarked Hill. "I actually really like it, and I'm probably going to do more."

Students used the online program Noteflight to arrange and listen to their creations.

This project was Hill's first exposure to composing. However, seventh-grade oboist Keira Kropatsch built upon her previous experience with Elenum's assignment.

"It's nice to be able to arrange pieces for instruments you wouldn't normally arrange for," explained Kropatsch. "I normally write for piano, but I'm working on a choir piece and have to learn how to do lyrics. When writing music for clarinet, I had to work on looking at the Circle of Fifths so you know where the note would be."

"Seeing these students do well and really become excited by this project is the stuff teachers' dreams are made of. These lightbulb moments for students are the reason we get into teaching in the first place," said Elenum.

Eighth-grade flutist and tenor saxophonist Jeanette Hoel can’t imagine it any other way. "Music's always been a part of my life. My mom writes poems, and sometimes she and I would write songs on a piano. It's really just a path for you, and it sets up a whole new life for you."

Boyle, Hill, Kropatsch, Hoel, and the other musicians at Ranch View Middle School will wrap up the semester and these weeks of remote learning with several compiled Pops Spring Concert. Although they will be apart for the hours of practice and recording, the students will ultimately come together for something bigger: a whole greater than the sum of its parts - an orchestra, band, and choir greater than the individual musicians.

Watch the Pops Spring Concert videos!

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