First Impressions

Now that the MHS students have had a chance to rehearse the new piece a few times, we asked them about their first impressions of the piece. Here’s what some of them had to say:

“I liked the mysterious vibe that the piece gave.”

“I think the Concertino piece is very contemporary and challenging, but is interesting to play.”

“It’s actually really cool that excerpts came from us, and I appreciate it.”

“It’s cool to see many different ways to use one simple melody and how many different moods you can create in such a short time.”

“My first impression of Concertino was that it sounded very dark and mysterious.”

“I find the piece is a perfect fit for out ensemble, and I can’t wait to get the piece to performance readiness!”

“I like the song because it is so different than what we usually play.”

“I believe that the Concertino is a good example of a modern piece of music that can supply the listener with an experience that they would not receive by listening to more traditional tonal music.”

“The motif played in the low brass and low woodwinds became stuck in my head for days . . . The composition is extremely well-written and is fun to both play and listen to.”


Rhythm, Melody, Passacaglia & Toccata: 5th In-class Session at MHS

We began our 5th session with the Marlborough High School Wind Ensemble with a quick review of our work together last spring. We also looked at and played the rhythms and melodies created by the students in the MHS Wind Ensemble  during one of our in-class sessions in May 2017. These melodies and rhythms made their way into the composition created by Cody Forrest for InConcert.

We also learned a few terms that are found in the piece:

  • Concertino – a musical composition for a solo instrument(s) accompanied by an orchestra or band. When performing a concertino, the soloists usually stand in front of the band or orchestra near the conductor. A concertino is a shorter version of the concerto. 
  • Passacaglia – an instrumental musical composition consisting of variations, typically over a ground bass and in moderately slow triple meter.
  • Ground Bass (or Ostinato Bass) – a short, recurring melodic pattern in the bass part of a composition that serves as the principal structural element.
  • Toccata – (“to touch”) A piece in a free and idiomatic style, usually for keyboard and often in several sections and incorporating virtuoso elements designed to show off the player’s ‘touch’. Several 20th‐century composers have used the term toccata for movements of orchestral works. (Paraphrased from Oxford Dictionary of Music.)

To illustrate the concepts of the passacaglia, we listened to Britten’s Nocturnal , and to hear an example of a toccata, we listened to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565.

At the end of class, we discussed student impressions of the piece and the experience of hearing new music.

Rhythm, Melody & Narrative: 4th In-class Session at MHS

Computer notated rhythm score from one student group

Our 4th session with the Marlborough High School Wind Ensemble included performances of the rhythms and melodies created by the students in the MHS Wind Ensemble. We also heard about the process that each group went through to create their melody or rhythm.

Jazzy melody performed on marimba

For the melody groups, the students first had to choose a style or a subject for the melody. One group chose to make a jazzy-sounding melody. The other group spent some time deciding whether or not they wanted to tell a story with their melody. A lot of the process centered around one person playing notes on a marimba or the piano while the other group members used their ears and judgment to choose notes that sounded good together.

The rhythm groups spent their time collaborating in two very different ways. One group discussed and created the rhythm all together as a group, while one student was designated to write down their created rhythm. In the performance of the rhythm today, this group performed their rhythm together.

Hand-notated rhythm score

The other rhythm group decided to assign each member the task of creating the rhythm for 1 measure of the final composition. Then they decided as a group how to order the individual measures in a way that made the most sense. Their final step was to make a few modifications to the overall rhythm so that it flowed well from measure to measure. When performing the rhythm, this group chose to elect one member to perform it.It was fun to see what melodies and rhythms everyone came up with and to hear how the groups divided the work and got from the blank page to the final product. Our composer, Cody Forrest, will be drawing from these rhythms and melodies as he writes the composition for InConcert.

Melody created at the piano and performed on percussion

Following the performance and discussion of the rhythms and melodies, we took a look back at our Thunderstorm composition from a few weeks ago. We talked about the tools from our Composer’s Toolbox that went into creating that Thunderstorm, and we talked about how these are just tools that the composer uses in the service of the creative process. These tools are used to generate ideas and to help the composer express a narrative through music.

Cody went on to talk about some different ways you might see narrative in music, like when music conveys an idea or tells a story. But music can also have a narrative that is not about something extra-musical. It might be a purely musical narrative.

Finally, we wrapped up the class session by talking about what a concerto  or concertino is and about how the piece we will be creating together will be a concertino for flute, guitar and wind ensemble.

Students were given a handout at the end of class with examples of concertos for them to listen to online as well as ways to hear more music from Bryan, Bonnie and Cody. The handout also told students how they could submit 2-4 measure melodies to be considered by Cody for inclusion in the final piece.

The handout from class is available here: Handout Class Session 4



Composer and Composing: 3rd In-class Session at MHS

L to R: MHS Wind Ensemble Director Gary Piazza, Composer Cody Forrest, Flutist Bonnie Cochran and Guitarist Bryan Wrenn

Today we visited the Marlborough High School Wind Ensemble for a third session, where we were joined by composer Cody Forrest. During an interview-type discussion we learned about how Cody got started in music and how he got into composing. We learned about supportive teachers, friends, and cultural influences (like the film score from Lord of the Rings) along the way which helped shape Cody into the composer he is today.

We also learned a little about Cody’s composition process, and learned about the meaning behind one of Cody’s compositions, To See the Stars Again. You can read more about this award-winning composition at Cody’s website, and you can listen to the full piece below:

After we listened to the opening of To See the Stars Again, we divided the class into 4 groups. Two groups worked on creating short rhythmic patterns, and two groups worked on composing short melodies that may eventually find their way into the composition in some form.

We’ll look forward to hearing those melodies and rhythms performed when we return to visit the MHS Wind Ensemble again next week.



Thunderstorm: Second In-class Session at MHS

Thunderstorm Piece composed with MHS Wind Ensemble

Today, we visited the students in the Wind Ensemble at Marlborough High School for a second session on composing. First we reviewed the elements in a composer’s toolbox from our last visit.

In the last session, we did some melodic improvisation with student volunteers. We brought back snippets of those melodic improvisations today to use in a piece that we then created together at the end of class.

We took a look at form/shape and how that can be used by a composer when starting to write a piece of music. We included an example of J.S. Bach’s Canon alla Ottava, which we performed for the students. We also created some rhythms together.

Then we set out to compose a short piece that depicted a thunderstorm. First, we talked about the shape of a thunderstorm in sound and how you could portray different parts of a thunderstorm (rain, wind, thunder, lightning, etc.) with instruments and other sounds (snaps, shuffling feet, etc.). Then we combined our sounds, rhythm, harmony, dynamics and melodies to compose a thunderstorm, which you can hear below: