Music Composition at
Lowell Elementary (2015)

The Question

What is the reason for writing music?
What is a leitmotif, and what does a leitmotif do in a story/movie?
How can we write leitmotifs without using traditional notation?
How can we adapt leitmotifs to reflect the mood of the character?

The Objectives

  1. Students will be able to communicate musical ideas verbally and through graphic notation
  2. Students will create leitmotifs for characters in “The Wizard of Oz” and adapt them as the story goes along and the character’s mood changes.
  3. Students will work directly with Fifth House musicians to edit and refine graphic scores for final performance
  4. Fifth House will perform student graphic scores with a live (condensed) reading of “The Wizard of Oz”

The Process

Fifth House musicians visited Ms. Kurban’s after-school band program once a week for five weeks, leading the students through activities that let them explore music composition in an open environment. Students were encouraged to explore sound and see the immediate results of their creative choices. The students were familiar with The Wizard of Oz based on a recent unit where Ms. Kurban focused on musicals.

Below is an activity where the students were asked to perform one of their classmates’s graphic scores. The score represents Toto, the dog, and emulates his barking using colors and shapes to show when the performer should growl and bark.

Toto Graphic Score

The Impact

“What I thought worked really well was when we demonstrated exactly what they had written and asked if it was what they wanted. Some kids needed encouragement before they would say “yeah, no…not really.” Once we started digging deeper, they understood how their instructions and choices of shape and words and colors really influenced what we did.”

– Charlene Kluegel, Fifth House Ensemble Violinist

The Final Project

The final project featured a reading of a condensed version of The Wizard of Oz, complete with student’s graphically-notated leitmotifs performed by Fifth House Ensemble musicians.