Champaign music teachers score grant for composition tool

Champaign music teachers score grant for composition tool

CHAMPAIGN — South Side Elementary School fifth-grader Evan Sauer knew he wanted to do something big for his music class, so he decided to write an odyssey of a composition piece: a story set to music about travellers from Africa to the Arabian Peninsula who faced hardship and danger on the way.

With only paper, this might not have been feasible for the elementary student.

But Unit 4 music teachers Amber Owens and Karinsa Moline knew that Noteflight, a subscription-based online composition tool, could help students like Evan do big things. Owens had implemented the limited "demo" version into her class, but said she knew it wasn't enough.

"There were some restrictions, like you can only record 10 scores, and you can't access the other features," Owens said. "We wanted to expand on that — we wanted the full power."

So they teamed up to write a grant request to the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation, and in early November, the nonprofit provided a check for enough money for all their students to access the full version of Noteflight.

"We hope it will continue because it's been so popular with the students," Owens said.

To see that popularity, Owens said, she just has to log in to her Noteflight teacher's account, where she sees student interest piquing enough for them to voluntarily work on composing music outside of school hours.

"They'll be working on it over the weekend," Owens said. "They're doing piece after piece after piece. Their stamina for composing has increased."

Part of that is accessibility — Noteflight is based online and can be logged into anywhere. Part of it is the instantaneous nature of the program versus the older method of trying to know what sounds good on paper.

"There's instant feedback as to how a note sounds, which is a completely different experience than on paper," Owens said. "On paper, they have to hear it in their head, which is hard for elementary students."

For Sauer's composition, he needed the ability to put text into the composition as well, which Noteflight allowed him to do easily. And although all students are composing, some students wanted to compose music they could use later. James McLemore, also a South Side fifth-grader, decided he would write something he could also play.

"I've played cello, and I love the symphony," he said. "I wrote four pages of cello music and one page of piano. My ears are dead from that."

Owens said several students have decided to also write music based on instruments they already know how to play.

"It's not directed from me, I give them the tools and the ability, but the ideas are their own," she said. "It's what they're motivated to do."

Owens said the program also makes music more accessible for students of differing income levels.

"Some of the kids who are interested in composing are kids who are not able to afford outside lessons," she said. "But this is portable, and they can log on at any time and any place."

By April, the teachers hope the students will have finished their takes on classical symphonies so they can compare them when they hear the originals performed on a field trip to the Krannert Center for Performing Arts.

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Topics (2):Education, Music