Creating as an Artistic Process

Our course, Teaching Music in a Common Core World, is in the midst of working through the NAfME workbook: Building and Evaluating Effective Music Education in the School Ensemble. For the next few weeks, we are working through the four domains of the Danielson Framework, the system my school district uses and NAfME recommends for teacher evaluation. We are also reviewing the new National Core Music Standards as part of the process. Part of our assignment this week is to discuss the following prompt in reference to these standards:

Do you believe that all music teachers should include “Creating” in their courses? Why or why not?

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards developed new standards for Dance, Media Arts, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts. There is a lot of information available at NationalArtsStandards.org. The standards fall under four categories referred to as Artistic Processes. Standards are organized according to the process components (steps) of these Artistic Processes:

  • Creating
    1. Imagine – Generate musical ideas for various purposes and contexts.
    2. Plan and Make – Select and develop musical ideas for defined purposes and contexts.
    3. Evaluate and Refine – Evaluate and refine selected musical ideas to create musical work that meets appropriate criteria.
    4. Present – Share creative musical work that conveys intent, demonstrates craftsmanship, and exhibits originality.
  • Performing (dance, music, theatre) / Presenting (visual) / Producing (media)
    1. Analyze – Analyze the structure and context of varied musical works and their implications for performance.
    2. Interpret – Develop personal interpretations that consider creators’ intent.
    3. Rehearse, Evaluate, and Refine – Evaluate and refine personal and ensemble performances, individually or in collaboration with others.
    4. Present – Perform expressively, with appropriate interpretation and technical accuracy, and in a manner appropriate to the audience and context.
  • Responding
    1. Select – Choose music appropriate for specific purposes and intents.
    2. Analyze – Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works informs the response.
    3. Interpret – Support an interpretation of a musical work that reflects the creators’/performers’ expressive intent.
    4. Evaluate – Support personal evaluation of musical works and performance(s) based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
  • Connecting – contains standards that are cross-referenced under the other three Artistic Processes because these “connections are an essential part of each Artistic Process”
    1. Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make music.
    2. Relate musical ideas and works with varied context to deepen understanding.

For each standard, there are Essential Understanding, Essential Questions, and a rubric describing levels of achievement (novice, intermediate, proficient, accomplished, and advanced) across grades 5-12. For music, this information is available on NAfME’s website.

For this week of our course, we are focusing on Creating as well as Domain 2: Classroom Environment of the Danielson Framework. I just provided a ton of background information for my response to the following prompt:

Do you believe that all music teachers should include “Creating” in their courses? Why or why not?

I have wrestled with the inclusion of “Creating” in my ensemble courses quite a bit. From the old National Standards, how do I adequately incorporate Improvising Melodies, Variations and Accompaniments? Composing and Arranging Music Within Specified Guidelines? With the new National Standards, how do I adequately incorporate composition and improvisation?

Do not get me wrong. I believe improvisation and composition are an important part of a holistic music education. I just struggle with how to effectively integrate it into my concert ensemble in a meaningful way. Integrating improvisation in my jazz ensemble is quite effective and meaningful.

I struggle with how NAfME has defined the Creating process to only include composition and improvisation. I identify more with the arguments Brian Wis puts forth. Brian is a high school band and orchestra director at St. Charles North High School in Illinois. Brian argues that our students are in fact creating when they are interpreting a piece of music in rehearsal or performance. Creativity can happen individually and collaboratively. He cites and emphasizes selections from the Core Arts Standards for Theatre Arts:

“Experiment with, research, and challenge collaboratively and independently, various perspectives and multiple solutions to problems through created roles, design elements, and improvised and/or scripted stories in drama- and theatre- based work.”

“Communicate and differentiate artistic choices in new work, ideas, and perspectives made by self and others through problem- solving, taking risks, and experimenting with peers in devised, improvised and/or scripted drama- and theatre- based work.”

Like Brian, I would argue that an answer to the Essential Question for Plan and Make under the umbrella of the Artistic Process Create, “How do musicians make creative decisions?” would be similar to the description under Interpret: “Develop personal interpretations that consider creators’ intent.” I believe this is the most effective and authentic way of creating in an ensemble setting.

Update: October 18, 2014
As part of our other two assignments from this week, we were given the following prompt:

Write a narrative describing in detail how you plan to incorporate “Creating” into your curriculum. This could be what you actually do or what you would do in a perfect world with all of the time and resources you need at your disposal.

After some discussion via our course’s web app and our weekly Google Hangout, I believe I may have come up with a solution.

One of the power standards identified by our professional learning community is: “Student(s) will be able to perform a harmonic sequence with characteristic tone.” As a requirement for demonstrating proficiency in this standard, a student would need to be able to identify a harmonic sequence and understand chordal relationships. This is a skill we help build over time, and it will also provide an excellent opportunity to create in our ensemble classroom.

Beginning this year, our 9-12 marching band students used the Harloff’s Inside the Circle as a warm-up method. The study progresses through breathing exercises, long tones, lip slurs, scale patterns, articulation patterns, tuning exercises, and chorales, all designed to be done on the move. We use this book and our students’ knowledge of solfeggio to begin understanding building chords. The most common progression we introduce to them during this time is:

fa do
sol sol do re sol
mi la ti mi
do do do fa sol do

In concert band, we transition our warm-ups to utilize the Foundations for Superior Performance. In the section on Chorales and Tuning, we reinforce the concept of chord building in major and minor keys using solfeggio. We introduce the concepts of tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords as well as smooth voice leading through these progressions.

We continue to build on the tuning ideas introduced in the Harloff book for major and minor chords using Foundations for Superior Performance as well as Foundations of Wind Band Clarity by David W. Vandewalker. Questions we ask our students in this process:

  • What role are you playing in the harmony (root, third, fifth, seventh)?
  • Who else is playing that role?
  • How should you balanced based on your role/texture?
  • What quality is the triad (major, minor, augmented or diminished)?
  • What quality is the seventh (major, dominant, minor, half-diminished, or full-diminished)?
  • In what position is the chord (root, first inversion, second inversion, third inversion)?

A perfect next step would be to ask the students to write a four-voice chord progression for a quartet of like instruments. They would be asked to demonstrate a progression from tonic to subdominant to dominant to tonic, proper voice leading through this progression, appropriate dynamics for roles in the harmony, reminders for tuning adjustments based on roles in the harmony, and performing/recording the progression.

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