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Academic Spotlight on Music: Writing for the Band & an Audience

Melissa Tassoni
In Chris Oatts’ Advanced Music Composition and Production class, students write a piece of music for the Lower School’s beginning instrumental ensembles. Oatts provides the parameters and the instrumentation, and the Upper School students “learn to properly notate their musical composition within the range and role of each of those instruments.” The project culminates with the novice composers taking their music to the fifth grade ensemble for them to actually play—a thrilling experience for all students involved.
 
 “When you’ve spent so much time writing music—to actually hear it played, even if it’s not perfect, it’s just exciting. The most fun part of being a composer is actually hearing your music playing,” says Oatts, whose students have also written music for the Middle School strings. Eventually, he’d like them to write music for all of Shipley’s music ensembles, to be publicly performed and recorded.

The goal of the course is for students to develop the ability to write music for live performers to play. Prerequisites include the completion of the Introduction to Music Theory & Composition course and participation in a Shipley music ensemble. The introductory course teaches fundamentals (music notation, scales, intervals, chords, and harmony—the nuts and bolts of music), while the advanced class is more project-based.
 
For another assignment, students re-write an actual show’s theme song and sync it up with the opening credits, or pitch their own concept for a show and write a song that reflects that show’s theme and characters. “Students are able to learn scales, chord progressions, and technical theory aspects by working on composition projects,” explains Oatts.
 
Oatts, an experienced professional musician and composer himself, also teaches techniques for students to “expand a small idea—whether it’s a little bit of rhythm, an interesting chord progression, a baseline, or some sort of intro riff that sets up a song—into a larger work without having the inspiration for absolutely everything ready to go.”
 
Oatts’ goal is to get students excited about making and creating music; helping them begin to understand and feel comfortable within their creative potential. “My hope,” he explains, “is for students to expand their knowledge and appreciation of music through the act of composing, and delivering that passion to performances here at Shipley.”
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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.