In my new grad school class called Technology and Learning, Gary Stager assigned us, his students, the task of composing a piece of music. The assignment asked:
Between now and next Monday, download Finale Notepad from http://www.finalenotepad.com and compose a piece of music. Share your reflections, questions and work-in-progress with your cadre members. Think about your own thinking and learning along the way. Make notes, keep a journal or blog if you wish. Feel free to use any resources at your disposal for inspiration or assistance. The more you share, the more you will learn. A few considerations: I realize there are better more powerful pieces of music composition available. However, Finale Notepad is 1) Free and 2) Cross-platform. Therefore, NO you can't use another piece of software (at least visible to the rest of us). Using a common tool provides a common experience and language for assisting/inspiring one another. Everyone has different experience levels and areas of expertise. This is what makes the learning adventures interesting.
I decided that rather than me creating the piece of music, it would be a great opportunity to connect music with literature. Gary gave me the suggestion of having the kids connect the piece of music to something they have written. Since we are reading William Shakespeare’s Macbeth in class, we had just completed two papers dealing with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth while watching three film versions (Royal Shakespeare Company -Ian McKellan, Dame Judy Dench, English Shakespeare Company- modern version, and Roman Polansky version) of the first act comparing what each director was trying to show through their interpretations.
My students were quite excited to begin the process of composing a piece of music to fit a character. In period 2, we started talking about Lady Macbeth and her personality. What would we want to show in the song? We decided that we would show her in three stages from act one. We would show her elation at seeing her husband return home, her decision to not let King Duncan leave the castle by killing him so that Macbeth would become king, and finally her anger at Macbeth with his ambivalence about killing the king. We had some students who are as musically inclined as I am and so they worked on the lyrics (a.k.a. quotes) to fit with the music as well as finding visuals to support. The other kids, worked on the song. Amazingly, they all worked so well together testing sounds, putting together measure after measure, playing the notes, time and again. They decided the instruments that would best describe Lady Macbeth (flute) and how her tone would change into a French horn through her change in personality. Then they picked the instruments that would best accompany the sounds of Lady Macbeth. A few different kids took turns running the computer with other kids shouting up their thoughts. It seemed like organized chaos. One thing I must add here is how much I learned by watching and participating with them. I learned all sorts of vocabulary word about music (crescendo, decrescendo, staccato) and how to semi-compose music (you really have to pay attention to the notes you select with each instrument). But mostly, what I am hoping period two took away from today, and what they learned, is that music is a part of literature. When talking with them about the song, they asked my opinion about a particular part. I said it needs to sound like murder. Tristan responded that murder is an A and C sharp. And then another student, John, responding that we need to put in the key of death which is apparently E flat? As my department members were listening into our conversation they were enthralled with what these kids were doing. They were connecting Lady Macbeth’s descent into evil with music. You can hear the three distinct parts which they had mapped out at the beginning of class. It was amazing that I had kids come in on their off-hours to finish the song -and better yet, these were all boys! Boys who were asking to continue the learning. One even asked me at the end if we could do this for every book we read. Tomorrow we are going to play it for the class, make changes, and add the lyrics and visuals.
I made a Photostory of the period 2 composition. I will also upload the orginal files here for period 2 and for period 5 of FinaleNotepad when they are completed. Here is an MP3 of period 2.
Additionally, here is a link to the webalbum of photos of their working. Check out their engagement!
Mapping of song in measures:
1-9 Lady Macbeth excited to see her husband return: happy, joyful, anxious
“Great Glamis! Worth Cawdor!
Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter!
They letters have transported me beyond
This ignorant present, and I feel now
The future in the instant “(1.5. 61-65).
10-15 Decrescendo: Lady Macbeth explains her plan to Macbeth to kill King Duncan
“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
What thou are promised: yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: (1.5.15-18).
16-21 Decrescendo to psycho Lady Macbeth divided into happiness at the prospect of becoming queen (16-18) and as the timpani enters her descending into madness (18-21)
“ I have given suck, and know
How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out, had I sworn as you
To have done this” ( 1.7.62-67).
Period 5: Witches
Period 5 approached the song writing a little differently. We talked about who they wanted to write a song about and they chose the witches from Macbeth. With the witches, we talked about musically how you would communicate what each of the witches is all about. They came up with three separate instruments making up the sound distinctively of each witch, but how when they come together, they sound somewhat harmonious. They discussed that the witches symbolize chaos, confusion, unsettling, anxious, and ugliness. Shakespeare wrote the witches speeches in a rhyming pattern and the kids decided that they needed this to carry over into their composition. We also mapped out the song into a three part format where the witches represent the past, present, and future for Macbeth. So, in composing the song, they are going to use the past in connection to the line from scene 1, “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” The next part of the song captures Macbeth’s prophecies from the witches: Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and then King. Finally, their song ends with the future, which is the witches’ desire to destroy Macbeth.
What was really interesting about the different approaches between my period 2 and period 5 is that it reflected how they have approached learning challenges in the class so far. Period 2 approached it collaboratively all working together, where period 5 broke into groups of music creators and lyrics composers. But with each group, I participated in awe of what they were doing. I felt so honored that they would do such exceptional work for me and with me. I truly feel so blessed to have been part of such an amazing experience. And then, to have kids thank me for giving them the opportunity brought home the reality of education. Why aren’t we extending more out of the box learning opportunities for our students? Why can’t them creating music to demonstrate their understanding of a character be just as good as writing a paper? Or completing a lab? Imagine if student had to write a song that demonstrates a chemical reaction? Or that expresses the emotions of soldiers dealing with returning home after serving in Vietnam. I really am so thankful to have been part of what my period 2 and 5 created. I hope the kids feel the same way. I know those who have expressed their opinions openly in class were so appreciative and enthusiastic. What a change in learning!