Collective Composition

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Collective Composition

Cecille Elliott, Director of Creative Play, BRAVO Youth Orchestras, Portland, OR


At BRAVO Youth Orchestras, there are ongoing conversations about the impact of introducing collective composition–composing together as a group–often focusing on how it impacts the staff, our students, and our community, and on what it means to facilitate and support a collective musical voice. There’s an active effort to establish equitable practices that reinforce a supportive environment for BRAVO students during creative projects. BRAVO’s central goal is student empowerment to discover what it is they want to say through their music.

BRAVO’s most recent project occurred in January 2019. Instead of setting an expectation to have a “finished” piece, the week was left more open to allow for student ideas to run and see where they landed. Students from three schools spent the week writing about nature, the creative process, and important people in their lives, among other things. They shared their musical ideas at a final presentation.

An equitable approach must include facilitators (adults in the room) giving students tools and ample time to ask questions and engage in trial and error-style collaboration, letting them discover how to translate their ideas from abstract to tangible. At my own teaching site, with my 3rd-5th graders, we brainstormed as a group before finding three topics they wanted to collaborate on. By the end of the week, there were four separate musical motifs. More than once, a student was able to tell me when I wasn’t translating their idea “correctly,” and we collaborated until it was as close to their vision as possible.

If integrated thoughtfully and responsibly, collective composition has the potential to be one of the most equitable elements of music curriculum our students will ever receive. In recognizing this potential impact, we as educators and administrators have the responsibility to tread with care, mindfulness, and self-reflection when integrating collective practices into our programs. Our students deserve this from us. Their experiences will reflect what we bring to the table, and we must challenge ourselves to bring our best selves.