What would a song based on your identity sound like? Would you want it to encompass many facets of your identity, or focus on a few important ones? How would we start to create such a composition? Now that students have dissected how Andrew uses music, they can take what they have learned and use it to create original compositions. At Nathan Hale, older students participate in “Student Success Workshops.” They reflect upon themselves and their progress in school. One activity done in the past is fill in a bubble letter “I” with words or phrases that describe them. It could be as simple or complex as the student wants, but it should be meaningful to them. The teacher can introduce the lesson by displaying a completed page for students to view. For example, the words and phrases in my letter “I” would be: woman, sister, daughter, teacher, reader, traveler, music lover, rule follower, Italian, love the color blue, loyal, and active.
After displaying the completed task and discussing individual possibilities, students should complete their own “I” independently. This could be completed during or outside of music class. It may be preferable for students to complete it for homework. This will allow music class to be dedicated to the composition and performing processes.
Now that students have written music to imitate or express the things Andrew observes, they have the tools to imitate or express the pieces of their identity that they wrote down in the first activity. Students should know to incorporate multiple aspects of their identities into the composition, but the composition does not need to include everything noted in the “I” activity. This is at the teacher's discretion. Teachers should consider the amount of class time available, and the amount of experience students have with this type of activity. This also means there is ample opportunity for differentiation. Students who need accommodations can still participate in the same activity, but perhaps be responsible for incorporating fewer identity aspects or musical elements. More advanced students could use more aspects and/or follow additional guidelines regarding the use of the elements, and the use of form, texture, and composition length. I would expect that, at first, most of the compositions will be imitative sounds. As students gain experience working and composing, their responses will develop.
The following is an example of a possible student response. A fourth-grade girl may fill her “I” with the following: Girl, daughter, sister, step-sister, tap dancer, ballet dancer, fourth-grader, friend, loves Justin Bieber, Irish, loves the beach.
This student decides to use a repeating rhythm of two eighth notes and four sixteenth notes. She begins by playing the rhythm lento and piano to represent her feet dancing during ballet class. She plays this rhythm on a set of bells (metal xylophone). As she switches to tap dancing, she plays the same rhythm, this time allegro and mezzo forte, on a bucket drum with wooden mallets, to represent tap shoes clicking on the floor. As someone who loves the beach, she plays the rhythm again on a wooden xylophone, playing the rhythm on a new pitch every time it repeats. The pitches ascend, then descend. This happens several times. This represents the waves rolling on and off of the sand. At the end of the composition, this student plays five different pitches; four quarter notes and one whole note. Each quarter note represents a person in her immediate family, and the whole note represents herself. Four beats/quarter notes fit into a whole note, just as the four members of her family are all important to her and essential to how she sees herself.
In this example, the student used six aspects of her identity that she listed in her “I.” She used rhythm, melody, tempo, dynamics, and timbre to represent those parts of her identity. I would expect a majority of my students to use at least six of the words or phrases, and at least five musical elements.