The Power of Music

Unit 8 video summary – print

Unit 8: Composing Music

Composers Jon Deak and Angélica Negrón infuse the El Sistema philosophy into their collaborative work with budding composers in Venezuela as well as at P.S. 11 in Brooklyn, NY. Jon is the founder of the New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers program. He and Angélica help young people translate their musical ideas into scores written in expressive graphic notation that doesn’t look like conventional notes on a staff.

To familiarize students at P.S. 11 with non-standard notation, Angélica guides the class as they play a simple composition she has written on poster paper in color-coded lines and circles. Jon joins students as they play together using resonator bells and tambourines.

Then on his bass Jon tries out some of the students’ preliminary musical ideas that they developed at home. Using techniques drawn from a list Angélica posts on the board, students build on their ideas. Options include: repeat it exactly, change some of the notes, transpose it, throw it away, play it backwards, add harmony to it, add trills, add a drone, change the dynamics, add a countermelody, add percussion, take something away, speed it up or slow it down, and change the rhythm.

Two months later, students rehearse their individual compositions with Jon and three other professional musicians (flute, violin, and percussion). The musicians use the scores the students created using non-standard notation together with scores that Angélica has created using software that generates traditional notation. That afternoon, an audience of the students’ peers and parents hears the musicians perform the students’ compositions at a concert in the school auditorium.