Each day a boy named Peter opens a gate and wanders into a familiar meadow and so the story begins thanks to Sergei Prokofiev. Music, like fiction always exists in the present tense.
HEAR FROM MUSIC DISCOVERY TEACHER, MR. TAYLOR:
Back in 1936, Prokofiev was commissioned to write a musical symphony for children. He had an idea. And he got to work crafting the story of Peter and an imaginative cast of characters who are sonically represented with themes played by specific instruments of the orchestra. Genius!
Children (and adults alike) across the ages simultaneously learn about the different voices of the instruments of the orchestra and the power of story through this singular work.
We are so happy to offer two classes during Session 1 to introduce Peter and the Wolf for both elementary and middle + high school:
It was time for Section five and the creation of a project inspired by The Mozart Season. Two things struck me as funny.
One. Let's begin by saying that this little book is a sleeper, a quiet little thing. The story is set in real time and place. The protagonist is fictional but preparing for a very real violin competition. And as many times as I have explored it with various circles of readers, during the Section 1 Discussion the consensus is unanimous, ""Not capturing me." Still, it never fails that by the end of the book the readers encounter some very real extraordinary in the seeming mundane ordinary. But what I find most tremendously interesting is the fact that, hands down, the most profound Section 5 projects have sprung from this particular sleeper.
Two. As we continued our explorations of lines in art and the specificity of the master artisan's linework, Lizzy wasn't particulary inspired by the bold lines of Fernand Léger.
And this is where the magic of integrated learning and Discovery always takes my breath away.
"it was Diedre who started the song. She began slowly, BONG bong Bong bong on the three big columns, walking between them. Then she reached up high and down low, faster, and I hit one of the two columns, walking between them."
And so begins this story's music. And so it is that this passage (that continues to develop in the pages of the book) has inspired several of my all-time-favorite Section 5 projects. And Lizzy's is one.
As I watched her begin the process of bringing shape to her idea, I was fascinated that, after a close study of Léger's lines (lines that did not thrill Lizzy in the least), Lizzy began to sculpt those very lines without knowing! I pulled out the original study sheet when I recognized the familiarity and we were both amazed! In art we call this, after Léger.
So I suppose if you were to title this Section 5 project you might call it:
Lizzy's Music Maker, after Léger and The Mozart Season (2014)
“I never for a day gave up listening to the songs of our birds, or watching their peculiar habits, or delineating them in the best way I could.” – John James Audubon
Observation is a powerful skill. Not too long ago we were able to check out bird specimens from our local natural history museum. Sadly they've discontinued this service, but not before we were able to closely observe, sketch, and research more than a dozen species indigenous to our neck of the woods. Simultaneously, we studied the life work of Audubon. As we read, we embroidered original drawings of the birds we were researching.
This past spring, my daughter Hannah graduated from college. As she was a music performance and composition major, she had to write a significant body of original music. All of her music is experimental—Composition for Piano and Toy Piano, Piano and Hands, and so on. But it was the piece that she chose to play at her senior recital that made me smile, no doubt a nod to all the Observation Journal activities from her home school years.
This is what she has to say about composing the piece, entitled BirdTree:
I was inspired to write BirdTree when I stumbled across a video of a man who had created a record player that “plays” slices of tree trunks. The sound was transmitted as though a piano unlocks the music of the tree. In a thrift store, I discovered a book entitled, Field Birds and their Songs. These tools helped me imagine the diverse music of nature and inspired me to compose BirdTree. Reflecting now, all that luxurious time observing birds from the museum up close and personal on our own kitchen table must have somehow informed BirdTree. Without doubt this piece is a nod to Audubon! For this composition real melodies of birds are mixed with my personal interpretations of what different trees might sound like if I were wandering and listening to the forest like Audubon. You can hear a mighty oak, a sturdy elm, a weeping willow, and a tall pine interacting with a black and white warbler, the American robin, the blue jay, and the song sparrow. This piece is meant to echo the ethereal of forest life.
It is amazing how the past is stitched to the future.
It's that time of year again: Standardized Test Season.
I've had students want to crumple, rip, burn, chew, even fold and fly their standardized testing bubble answer sheets. But this year Taylor takes the prize, "I am going to turn this into a piece of music."
And so he did. Yep, it's true. So far he's translated his vocabulary bubbles to a little Schoenberg-esque ditty.
When my youngest son, Søren, and his literature circle buddies began reading Perloo the Bold, by AVI his imagination was captured. Perloo, the protagonist, is a peaceful, fairly introverted scholar much like my son. I think they hit it off from the get go.
So in this story, Perloo has been chosen to succeed Jolaine as leader of the furry underground creatures called Montmers. When Jolaine dies and her evil son seizes control of the burrow, Perloo must step up to the plate.
During the second week of thinking deeply about the story, my quiet, unassuming son slipped under the loft where we keep our overflow art supplies and came into the study arms loaded with a box of assorted Fimo clay. He got to work conquering his idea.
When I asked him about the project he told me he was making a claymation film of Perloo the Bold. Søren spent many hours cleverly crafting characters and posing them in one position, then another using his camera to capture the motion.
Midway in his movie making he set the project aside, went back to the art cabinet, this time for paper and colored pencils and began work on a set of original proverbs complete with ornately illuminated letters.
With this task complete, Søren resumed progress on his little film. When the filming was complete, he enlisted his older brother, Taylor to compose original music for his piece. He was so proud when Taylor was done and his movie was complete. When I made one last suggestion, that Søren make a title slide, he knew just what to do, “I will make the title fade in, Perloo… the Bold. Yes, that’s it.” In a matter of seconds the slide was complete. Most fascinating of all, at least to me, was the strategic placement of the slide that was seemingly intuitive. He did not put the slide up front, but a couple frames into the movie to line up with a significant change in the rhythm of the music. Fantastic!
Søren’s creative response to this book not only demonstrates his deep understanding, but that his critical creative thinking skills are alive and well.
Sometimes it is the quiet, unassuming creatures that save the kingdom. Pondering this possibility, no doubt, inspired my son.
Back in the summer of 2003, I took my children to Modigliani & the Artists of Montparnasse at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Sketchbook and pencil in hand, I patted each of them on the back and set them free to explore the works as they saw fit. I love observing the creative process. I felt fortunate to wander with them among works that we have admired from afar in books and on the web.
The exhibition, a collection of works by Modigliani, his friends, and contemporaries, might have been better titled “Conversations from Montparnasse” because the collection was a reunion of works developed long ago in a bohemian Paris neighborhood. I was excited to see how my children would join the conversation.
My oldest son Taylor was nine. He had been studying piano for a bit more than a year, but seemed at the time more interested in visual art. Three works captured his imagination at this exhibit: Dancer, Second Version by Sonia Delauney 1916, Black Hair (Young Seated Girl With Brown Hair), Modigliani, and The City, Fernand Leger 1919. These are the works he decided to study. I watched him study and sketch the first two carefully. When he came to the third, Leger’s painting, he simply stood there, soaking the image into his imagination.
Later that day I heard Taylor plunking away on the piano, but didn’t give it much thought until this past spring when he won a competition for an original piano composition and had to write program notes:
Industrial Animation, a composition for piano by Taylor Bredberg
The story behind this piece began seven years ago after visiting an exhibit, Modigliani and the Art of Montparnasse and after watching a set of short films called Masters of Russian Animation. Here I learned to appreciate industrial beauty and fell in love with the dissonance of Russian music that inspired the main melody. The next part of the journey is very dull considering that the melody sat dormant until recently. In a moment of composer’s block I began to sift through some of my older sketches and came upon the melody. It was unrefined but still had something to it, so I took to it and started working. Prokofiev and Shostakovich, being two of my favorite composers, heavily influenced its mood and shape. Soon enough, along with four brand new melodies, the work is finished, an Industrial Animation at last.
Da Vinci’s sketchbooks come to mind, page after page teaming with elaborate ideas, “Art is never finished only abandoned.” All those years ago when we visited the LACMA exhibit Taylor was simply encouraged to abandon some of his ideas into a little sketch book.
Guess it was worth the trip to the local art museum.
Taylor began tackling a concerto back in October. The process of moving from notes on a page to music was grueling, not only for him but for all the inhabitants of our home. For the piece to resemble music, he had to break the thing into sections to be played repeatedly.Whenever he made a mistake he would repeat that section… over and over, leaving notes to bounce off 1800 square feet of walls and tangle somewhere in the center of my brain.
I was relieved when the notes were at last learned, thought I would enjoy 3 to 4 melodic hours a day. Nope. The next stage was to add dynamics, which entailed playing Ravel’s ridiculously fast composition in fast motion… then slow motion through absolutely everything in between while stopping at sections where his fingers slipped to, you guessed it, fix each mistake three times. I pride myself a fairly patient person with broad musical appreciation, but any given section of this piece taken out of its entirety is fingernails on chalkboard. So this is how it went for three months straight.
When Taylor at last performed Ravel Concerto in G Major, III. Presto,
I was shocked, “What?!!!” I had no idea! Then his music teacher’s comment hit me on the head: “Taylor’s come into his own.”
My internal voice whispered in response, “Who was it up to before tonight?” It slowly dawned on me that the work of the teacher/mentor is implied in that overused phrase. As parents, Willie and I have never pushed or prodded Taylor to become a musician, but we have tirelessly encouraged him that his work matters. Taylor has worked hard to form this habit, but his teacher is right, he has at last embraced the work as his own.
Not only does Taylor play music, he writes music. Here is a recent composition:
This past week Taylor was sick and his one complaint was that he would not be able to work at his music… it’s true.
We are ridiculously busy in this world, at times too exhausted to chase our own dreams. As a teacher, my students readily share their dreams of being a prima ballerina or an astronaut or a paleontologist, or, in the case of my son, a performing composer. But what happens when we answer, “Yes you can,” pat them on the back and watch them while away hours on the X-Box? Dreams shrivel when students form enduring trivial habits.
Becoming Juilliard material was never our goal. Fighting for a habit of purpose is costly in more ways than one, but we find a way. There is no doubt Taylor's skill serves him well and hopefully will encourage others to engage in the work of chasing a dream.
When the phone rang and a writer from the Los Angeles Times wanted to speak to Taylor… wanted to interview my son, I speechlessly handed over the phone. He has certainly come into his own, one note at a time. What I see developing in my oldest son's character is something that a standardized test will never measure.