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Composer’s Project encourages students to continue studies at home, create their own works

Submitted to The Union

If 2020 were a musical score, the Composers Project with Mark Vance would be a beautiful melodic theme repeating throughout the year for InConcert Sierra.

The educational program continues to thrive despite the stay-at-home order in our community. All thirteen students, who range in age from 12-18, still practice on their instruments, as well as write their final compositions for the 2019-20 session. Each student meets weekly with Vance via Zoom or FaceTime to work on their pieces, which were inspired by a collaboration with the local nonprofit Sierra Harvest.

“The stay-at-home order has forced us all into a new reality. Texting, FaceTime, Zoom, email and phoning all work (for the most part) but it doesn’t compare to real-life interaction with staff, students and parents,” said Vance. “I am managing to teach all my students on Zoom, sharing the screen with Finale (notation program). All things considered; it is a reasonable alternative but will never replace face to face teaching.” 

During weekly lessons, they work on writing with the Finale music notation program by sharing a screen with Mark on his computer. During the Saturday group classes, they work on music theory, rhythmic exercises, music history, listening, ear training, conducting and solfège.

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“It’s a strange time for everyone, and I’m glad to be able to still have lessons and continue to create my composition.”— Eva FloydComposer’s Project student

The composer students are composing music for small ensembles based on their experiences through Sierra Harvest. As part of the collaboration, students visited the Food Love Farm, helped glean butternut squash at the Johansen farm in Penn Valley in November to donate to Hospitality House and Interfaith Food Ministry. The kids also attended Sierra Harvest’s Food and Farm Conference in February, hearing world renown speaker, Vandana Shiva, talk about the importance of sustainable organic farming, how we are all connected to food and the process of growing it.

The students all agree that working from home allows them more time for their art, but lacks in the connection one gets from their weekly gatherings together.

“Because I’m not physically going to school, I have a lot more time on my hands, and I’m able to practice my instruments and compose much more. It is weird to have virtual lessons though. I like face to face contact more, but it still works out well, and it’s nice to not have to get up and go anywhere. It’s a strange time for everyone, and I’m glad to be able to still have lessons and continue to create my composition,” said Eva Floyd.

For composer student Noah Prescott, for every negative to the “new normal” there is also something positive to glean.

“To say life for students has changed recently would be an understatement. Thankfully, writing music isn’t as negatively impacted as playing it is. The lessons over the internet lose some momentum that they would have in person, but they make up for it in frequency,” he said. “The tools used for composing are mostly digital anyway, so there isn’t an incredible difference there. There are also far fewer interruptions that would otherwise slow down the composition process.”

Student Levi Krautkramer says the changes from COVID-19 has had an effect on his current material.

“A big difference that I’ve noticed is how most of what I want to write is a bit darker than what I might normally dream up,” Krautkramer said. “That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just different. One huge bonus to quarantine is a whole lot of added time that I can use for writing. I haven’t taken advantage of that all the time but on occasion, I’ll write for a very extended period of time.

During the Composer Project’s regularly scheduled group lesson April 18, they gathered online to share their new works. Inspired by their outings, the themes of the compositions include life in a day on a farm, the water cycle, rain, thunderstorms, abundant sunshine, bugs, insecticides, life of plants and more.

“These creative kids have gone wild with both instrumentation and themes,” said Executive Director Julie Hardin. “Their unique compositions will amaze you when it comes time to have them performed by professional musicians! We’re looking at various ideas and platforms of how to present their works at this time of sheltering in place and social distancing.”

Through the nine-month program that began in September 2019, students have written two new compositions: one piece for voice accompanied by the student’s instrument of choice, and a second composition for solo instrument or ensemble. Their first works were premiered at a concert Feb. 3 and featured professional musicians. 

For more information about Composer’s Project, visit http://www.inconcertsierra.org.


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