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Inclusion through Tiered-Parts Music
Zachary Bush, Co-Founder, Leading Tones Music, LLC
How to find repertoire that excites our students and invites inclusion of their many different skill levels? The Harmony Project Phoenix (HPP) has been exploring this question in the course of a several-year partnership with Arizona State University (ASU).
The collaboration began with the dissertation project of a doctoral student in composition, Melanie Brooks, who wanted to explore innovative models of music-making as a means for social inclusion.
Dr. Brooks, who is now the Director of Bands at Winona State University in Minnesota, commissioned 23 composers to write concertos that featured beginning musicians as soloists, accompanied by an advanced ensemble. In one of the concerts showcasing the new works, HPP students played along with students from the local school district and from Tijuana, Mexico. Bringing all these groups together for a weekend was challenging, but the resulting concert was incredible.
This success led us to continue collaborating with ASU and with local composers to commission the creation of mixed-ability chamber music works. Each piece contains an advanced part and an easy part for each instrument group (e.g., a string octet would have eight parts—four advanced and four easy). In 2018-2019, our program concerts featured 14 new chamber pieces. (All the music from the collaboration, and more music like it, is available on leadingtonesmusic.com.)
Recently, we decided to include the students in the decision-making process about new works. In a brainstorming session, we explored what the students found interesting in music and what kind of topics they would like to see addressed in a piece. Composers used the students’ ideas as the basis for new commissions. A few days after the concert, Harmony Project students met with the composers for a panel discussion. Each composer explained which ideas they liked and how they turned the ideas into a piece of music. Students asked questions about the composition process and the composers assisted students with their musical ideas.
One student commented, “Doing the side-by-side with ASU, I got the chance to play next to new people I had not yet had the opportunity to play with, and was overall a fun, positive experience I enjoyed being a part of.”
Harmony Project director Diogo Pereira notes that for parents, seeing their kids on campus has been a cultural wake-up call. “It was important for them to see their kids being featured on stage at a major university,” Pereira says. “I think it has broken some barriers in their minds. They know now that it is possible and feasible for their children to get here.”