Thursday, April 24, 2014
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Turning odd sounds into music
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Apple Valley High School students perform their original composition. (MPR photo/Karl Gehrke)
Learning to play music can be hard, but learning to compose can be even tougher. Twin Cities composer Libby Larsen has been working with some Apple Valley high school students for the past few months as they create seven brand new pieces.

Apple Valley, Minn. — Instead of just composing a piece of music and giving it to the Apple Valley Wind Ensemble to play, Libby Larsen wanted to reveal the process of writing music by having students compose their own works.

"Composing is a bit of a mystery," Libby Larsen says. "But if you give a person permission to find sound that is meaningful to them, and then help them understand the potential of that sound to be musical then it's not a mystery, but a grand treasure hunt."

In March, after several weeks of searching, students gathered in the Apple Valley High School band room to share what they found. The sounds ranged from a cat's meow and shuffling cards to a squeaking drawer and the sound of a clarinet blown into a tympani.

The students formed eight different groups, each selecting two different sounds as the basis for an original composition. One group used the clarinet and tympani sound along with the rhythm of two people laughing.

Using clarinets, conga drums, didjeridoo, saxophone mouthpieces and various percussion instruments, the students created a musical collage inspired the sounds of a jungle.

One of the students said he was disappointed the group's composition didn't turn into Mendelssohn's 4th Symphony, but said it was interesting way to create music.

Libby Larsen says what surprised her the most about the composition project was how little help she had to give the students. "I thought they would need more composerly guidance," she says. "But the material developed through the group working together."

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