Why Can’t the Classroom be More Like the Athletic Field?

Wes Goldsberry
At WMS music students are becoming musicians by creating music.
By Wes Goldsberry, Academic Dean

Just four weeks into the spring sports season, a number of WMS students find themselves competing interscholastically in sports that they had never played prior to last month. A lacrosse coach doesn’t begin the season by taking the team’s novices into a whiteboard-festooned classroom and drilling them on the rules of play, quizzing them on their X’s and O’s. Players are handed a stick and sent out to the field, to practice skills that they don’t yet possess. They become lacrosse players by doing what lacrosse players do.

And during this spring’s Music Theory and Composition class at WMS, music students are becoming musicians in much the same way: by creating music. “Knowing how” is not considered a prerequisite. “Most of [the students] came in not knowing much” about music, said WMS music teacher Ben Salomon. He added that when they were told how quickly they would begin creating music, and the kind of work that they would be producing, they were more than skeptical. “I reassured them that they’d be fine, and would learn everything step-by-step,” Salomon said.

In two months of class, each student has learned to read music, how to identify and create various chords, and the basic rules of harmony. Students have even acquired some rudimentary guitar, percussion, and keyboard skills along the way, using these new abilities to create multi-track sound recordings as a class.

By now, however, each student spends most of his or her class time with a piano (seven pianos for seven students), plunking out melodies, fashioning chord progressions, and playing with an artistic vocabulary that was largely foreign to some of them until February.

Listen to two very different examples of student work from this semester’s Music Theory and Composition Class. 

Katherine’s Song:  Vocals and Piano by Katherine Keenan ’15. Produced and mixed by the class.

Grace’s Song: This piece was done in the style of Musique Concrete (music made from found sounds). One can hear the sounds of ripping paper, popping sounds, and table taps arranged into a musical rhythm. Composed by the entire class.

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