This past January, the Music and Theatre Arts Department brought an exciting project to Haas Fine Arts Center, with our very own faculty and music students helping run the program.
“The Very Young Composers Project'' was created by John Deak, who has been directing the program for the New York Philharmonic and at international sites for over 25 years. The project’s mission through the New York Philharmonic is to give 4th & 5th grade students the opportunity to compose original music to be performed by an ensemble of professional or student musicians. “I was told about this program by one of my colleagues at UW-Stevens Point, Rachel Brashier. They have been running this program for over a decade,” said Dr. Laura Dunbar, Associate Professor of Music Education at UW-Eau Claire. Dr. Dunbar served as the Program Director of this project and was very excited to expand this program to the Chippewa Valley and make it an in-person experience for our local students. “My colleague put me in contact with the executive director of Very Young Composers of Central Wisconsin, Robert (Bob) Rosen. He was developing a grant through the Wisconsin Arts Board to expand the program out of UW-Stevens Point, and I jumped at the opportunity to host the program on our campus. We started planning meetings about a year in advance.” Dr. Dunbar held administrative duties primarily, coordinating the finishing of the young composers' scores, made sure they were performance ready, and created the program from the start.
Afterschool classes began on January 2, 2023 and ran for two weeks in Haas Fine Arts Center. Dr. Dunbar recruited two local music teachers - Tammie Delveaux-Rubenzer from Hillcrest Elementary and Lauren Lierman from Altoona Intermediate - to teach the program with her. “Our group met with the group from UW-Stevens Point to learn more about how the program runs, and we also met as a group to determine how the program would function here at UWEC,” Dunbar states. “The UW-Stevens Point Very Young Composers program was online except for the rehearsal and final concert. I can see the benefits of being online, as there may be more accessibility to the classes for those that cannot get to the university by 4:00pm but it was fun to be in-person and see the kids creating their compositions though,” Dunbar said.
Music students were recruited by Dr. Dunbar as well and held the role of Teaching Artists. The artists served as an ensemble that performed the students’ compositions at the final concert at the end of the two-week period, as well as helped the students write their compositions. Rebecca Barrett (she/her), a 4th-year Instrumental Music Education major, was a recruited teaching artist for this program. She states, “Each teaching artist was assigned two young composers to work with one-on-one on a rotating basis. My main role as a teaching artist was to act as a scribe and translate the composer's musical ideas and put them into traditional musical notation.” Casey Hilts (he/they), a 4th-year Choral Music Education major, was involved as a teaching artist in the program as well and states, “the students looked forward to the experience each day, and they were allowed to show their personalities through their music. That freedom of expression is why I love teaching and working with music, and it was a great joy to see these students show off their personalities in this project.” Hilts felt as though this experience gave him a unique perspective on how young students learn and create when given the freedom to create their own projects. “In many settings, we feel that we have to be in control of what our students are doing, but I saw through this project that you can let your students show their creativity in unstructured ways.” Kate Rosenberger (she/her) a 4th-year Instrumental Music Education major and another Teaching Artist for the project, loved the creativity of the program as well stating, “most of the students wrote in shapes because they are not as familiar with music notation - so taking these shapes and coming up with some sort of melody was great practice for me to step outside of that comfort zone.” Rosenberger felt as though the program was a great success, as seeing students stand in front of their peers and parents to present their compositions was very exciting. “For most students, this composition was something that meant a lot to them and represented something very important to them.”
You can find more information about the Very Young Composers Program at this link: https://nyphil.org/education/school-programs/very-young-composers