Today I came back from a short business trip and couldn’t wait to see my youth choir students! (Grades 4-8) Although I had a great time in Texas, I was excited to dive back into the work with these very talented young musicians. Little by little they are digging deeper into conventional notation to understand what the composer intended his/ her piece to sound like. It is not only very rewarding, but fascinating to see how their minds work. We are all code breakers and we are working together to understand the message.

Why is there a Forte here and a Piano there? Where do we go back to when we see a first ending? These are the kinds of questions that are immediate and obvious, but the fun for me really starts when we ask questions about choice of notation and  texture. Why is it in 3/4 and not in 6/8? How would the feel of the piece change if it were in 6/8? Could we compose a 6/8 section to add? Would that enhance the piece or take away from it? How much do we want to honor the composer’s intention? Etc…

This is when we can get out of the teacher role and get into the facilitator role. We can step back and let the students discuss it while we interject here and there to make sure everyone is heard or (in addition) we can participate in the conversation. The only side note to that would be to make sure the students know that the teacher does not necessarily have all of the answers (Insert gasp here!). We do have a lot of knowledge and experience, but that does not negate a student’s opinion. Everyone has something important to contribute.

The goal is for students to understand the purpose of notation. There are reasons why composers write their works in a certain time signature and a certain key. There are reasons for using first and second endings etc. How a piece is written down ultimately will determine, to a certain extent, what the piece will sound like long after the composer is dead and gone, so it is important that he/ she notate it as precisely as possible. Otherwise, the meaning will get lost in translation and subsequently the brilliance will be lost with it.