Carmen's Composition

Friday, February 3, 2017


Our first graders at Clow and Fry have been busy composing their own melody using three notes- "SOL", "LA", AND "MI"!  We notated each child's melody into an amazing program called Noteflight during class (and a student created the drum beat!).  All students helped label the "solfege" syllables, which is a system we use to help students understand the relationships between musical pitches.  This is a clip of 1BK singing 1MK's song for the FIRST time!  The goal: perseverance and learning how to follow/sing a three note melody.  For the first time, I was proud of them for their perseverance.  These guys are reading music better than I could at their age!

He's Not Going to Let ANYONE Turn Him Around!

There is nothing I'd rather be doing right now than what I'm doing.  I have the fine privilege of introducing students to the world through the lens of music, AND I get to show them how they can change it through music.  Music class is not just about singing songs or playing instruments- it's about connecting musical elements to the people and cultures they originated from to gain a better understanding of the WHY's of music.  WHY was "Aint Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around" so powerful during the mid 1900's?  It's simple form, catchy melodic and rhythm patterns, and powerful words made it accessible and singable to everyone during a very hard time in our counrty.  WHY is it in a minor key?  The minor key perfectly shows the atmosphere, emotions, and the hardships of the people singing it.  WHY is improvisation significant to this genre of music (listen to the singers improvise in the second video at minute 2:55)?  Because folk music, regardless of it's origin, is the PEOPLE's music.  It's expressive.  It's accessible.  It's leaves room for the voice of the average person to take part of the experience.  It's casual character leaves room for the unplanned, spontaneous creation of music.  Listen to Clow's 5th grader Mathis use his newly learned A minor scale to express himself in "Aint Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around".  Improvisation is composition in real-time.  There is no correcting "mistakes".  It requires boldness and courage- so way to go, Mathis!

Mathis' Improvisation Using an A Minor Scale

"Aint Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around"

Compare: Major Key vs. Minor Key.  #justnotthesamefeel

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Sweet Josephine"

Many of you have asked to be able to hear "Sweet Josephine", my new song for our little baby girl!  So, I am sharing it with you here!  CLICK-> SWEET JOSEPHINE

Here is a listening guide as well :)  Remember what we discussed: songwriting is made much easier and more successful when their is a clear FORM.  Form is simply how each SECTION flows from one to the other.  Starting in kindergarten, we've been learning about A and B sections.  In 4th Grade, we add the C section when we talk about Rondo form.  Look at the layout of sections for "Sweet Josephine"!

A Intro (guitar)
A Verse 1 (+Mr. Henry's voice)
A Interlude (+piano)
A Verse 2 (+Josephine's heartbeat)
B Chorus
A Verse 3 (+Djembe, +Cello, +Viola)
B Chorus x2 (+French Horn)
C Bridge (+Bass Drum, +Cymbals, +World Percussion, +Vocal Harmony, +Violin, +Trombone)
B Chorus (+Gong)
B Chorus Instrumental (+Glockenspiel)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Ready, Set, COMPOSE!

It was the first three minutes of class.
The kids hurried to an instrument, 
and I spoke this rhythm:

             Du  ta  de  ta  Du    Du   de    Du

I then said, "Make it into a melody 
using the C Major Scale"
A minute later, this is what they came up with.  
Hot Diggity Dawg, these kids ROCK!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Art of Composition

Composition is the art of improvising in slow motion.  However, improvisation often doesn't lend itself to reflective thought and modification of the musical idea one produces.  Composition, on the other hand, is an intensely reflective process which often incorporates much modification.  For both, we use the musical knowledge we have to create new musical thoughts.  Here are some clips of Fry third graders performing their "Question-Answer" composition.  Students built their own F pentatonic scale on the instruments and used it as a basis for composition.  We learned how to structure the phrases to give it the question-answer sound.  Notice the alternating feel with the phrases: the first phrase sounds more like a comma, while the second phrase sounds like a firm period.  It takes crafting to making sensible musical phrases!  Way to go, third graders!

Soham and Ishaan 3GP

Natalie and Shria 3GP

Sahana and Jayna 3Y

Isaiah and Tadhg 3Y

Madison and "Crazy K" Kennedy 3Y

Kyle and Jaden 3Y

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Your Family's Music Traditions Matter.

Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker

The New York City Ballet, 1993

In this season, know that your family's music traditions matter.

Looking back at some of my favorite musical memories as a child, I immediately go to the times where my mother took me to see The Nutcracker at the Paramount Theater in Aurora.  It was something we both looked forward to every year- our own special tradition that I could count on whenever the snow began to fall.

I truly believe that it was these special moments of togetherness with my family where music really began to become significant to me.  Music is meant to be a shared experience.  When it's shared with the ones we love, the value that is associated with it is irreplaceable and can't be matched.

Being exposed to such high quality musical works as Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker as a child really stirred something deep down inside of me.  The captivating combination of music, dance, visual art, and theater triggered my imagination.  The music was so well invigorating...that it needed to be explored.  Being a young boy who loved to build forts, go exploring "behind the railroad tracks", and make intricate stories with legos, the unexplored territory of the music I heard was intriguing.  Music was it's own field with treasure lying all round that needed to be discovered.  Who would walk past a field- knowing their was hidden treasure lying within its boundaries- without exploring it?  That seems like nonsense!  This is it how it feels for me. Who knew that my early years of exposure to music and the valuable family traditions would stir a curiosity that would lead me to be an explorer, a lover, and teacher of music?

Don't underestimate the value of your family time, music traditions, and the "simple things" you do together.  You're building wonder, value, and artistic curiosity in the heart of your child.  This is one of the best gifts you can give!  We need a generation of dreamers and creators- people who have eyes to see the beauty around them, and recreate the beauty music when times aren't so beautiful.

I hope your winter break is amazing and filled with much love and music.  Please don't hesitate to share your musical traditions with me through email to

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Musical Gift for Our Veterans!

"Freedom is not free, thank you for protecting me!"

This is the phrase that Fry students cheered as our guest Fry-community veterans entered the gymnasium.  A drum ensemble comprised of 4th and 5th grade students stretched across the front center of the gym as they played along with the chant.  It was so neat to see students walking so proudly with the member of their family who served!  We've had several conversations this year regarding the irreplaceable value of music (see my Friday, August 28th post entitled "Music and Life"!).  Music is a GIFT that should be stewarded well and shared with others.  What an opportunity we had today to give thanks through music/art/poetry to amazing men and women in uniform!

Today's assembly was a culminating event that would tie together the last few weeks of music class. Students have been studying essential music concepts such as verse/refrain, solo/duet/chorus, introduction/interlude, audience etiquette, singing and matching pitch, steady beat, and many more.
We've also been discussing these essential questions in preparation for today's event:
  • In what ways are we free?
  • How would you feel if your freedom was taken away?
  • How does the military help secure our freedom?
  • What are the five branches of the military?
  • Why is it a sacrifice to serve?
  • How can we show gratitude and respect for those who've served?

The weight and respect of the hour was tangible.  In an assembly filled with transitions, moments of silence, speakers, a video presentation, and performers, there were plenty of opportunities for disruption.  However, our kids were FANTASTIC!  Aside from everything they sang, their etiquette was one of the most notable gifts they gave to our Veterans!  I think this is a true testament that our kids are really  starting to understand the nobility of sacrifice!  Perhaps it's best summarized in one of the lyrics of our all-school finale song, "American Anthem" by Gene Scheer.

"For those who think they have nothing to share, who fear in their heart there is no hero there,
know each quiet act of dignity is that which fortifies the soul of a nation that never dies."

Today, each student had a "quiet act of dignity" moment:  they conquered the temptation to be silly and inattentive and chose to give their best attention, admiration, and respect to each other and our Veterans.  Check out this incredibly special moment below as Fry's very own Mrs. Jeanette Skrip led the school in honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice of laying down their lives.  Hear her sound "Taps" in the video below.


Hear the whole school sing "God Bless America"!

On behalf of Fry and Clow School we extend our deepest gratitude for those men and women who willfully gave of themselves to secure America's freedom and the future of our children.  There is no greater love than lay down one's life for one's friends, and we are forever grateful for your service!

Fry Hands