Composition, Conferences

MTNA 2012 Conference | WSU’s Adopt-A-Composer Program

On Sunday morning of the conference, I attended the Alfred Exhibitor Showcase and the Keynote Presentation given by Norman Horowitz and Melvin Stecher.  My notes are very similar to Natalie’s from Music Matters Blog, so I will let you read her summaries here and here!  (We somehow attended a lot of the same sessions…great minds think alike!)  :)

After that, I attended a session given by the MTNA Collegiate Chapter at Washington State University (WSU) called:

Composition and Creativity: Collaboration With Living Composers In The Private Studio

This session was about the annual Adopt-A-Composer Program that that WSU uses for their Piano Lab School (where piano majors teach students in a supervised setting).  A year in advance, they choose and approach a composer, explain the components of the program, and negotiate terms.  If the budget allows, some years they commission a work or two.  

The weekend that the composer visits, the composer presents in public schools on Friday morning with some kind of interactive program on a topic of their choice.  During this time, students at those schools who take piano lessons have the opportunity to perform for the composer in front of their peers.

Later in the day, a recital is held featuring works written by the composer.  At this time, the commissioned pieces are debuted and the students’ artwork (inspired by the pieces they perform) are projected on a screen as they play.  Afterwards, there is a reception and the students’ artwork is displayed in the reception area for more viewing.

Saturday morning is a “Meet The Composer” question and answer session, when students have the opportunity to get autographes and take photos.  Afterwards, there is a masterclass for selected students to play the composers’ works or one of their own compositions.  Students outside the lab school must send a recording to audition to participate.

At noon, the WSU piano majors and area teachers take the composer out for lunch.  Finally, in the afternoon there is a clinic held by the composer for the area teachers on a topic chosen by the composer.

This program means a lot to the WSU student teachers as well as the rest of the community!  WSU is in Pullman, WA, which is a very rural area, one hour away from the nearest highway.  The impact of adopting a composer is great for the students too: it encourages creativity, increases motivation, gets them thinking about details and musicality (character, mood, etc.), fosters independent thinking, and more!  Students are encouraged to correspond with the composer in advance of the visit too, as they are working on the learning the composer’s piece or on their own composition.  This year, they’ve adopted composer Mary Leaf.  Other composers they’ve had include Dennis Alexander, Kevin Olson, and Melody Bober.

It was so interesting to learn about the positive impact that WSU’s Adopt-A-Composer program has had for everyone there!  Wouldn’t it be fun to Adopt-A-Composer in your own studio?  It would be difficult to finance a composer to visit each year, of course, unless it was bigger than just your studio – perhaps a local MTNA association could do it.  At the least, I wonder if a composer would be willing to correspond with students of a studio.  Students could each learn a piece by that composer, compose their own pieces if they desire, and even have a composer party!  I love the Adopt-A-Composer idea.  What a great session!

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