Juilliard - Group Composition Project

All the way back in November 2017, I applied for the British International School Abu Dhabi to be part of the Juilliard group composition project. At the time I did not really know what this would entail for our students or how much of an impact that this would have on their music making. The Juilliard composition project is offered to all Nord Anglia schools throughout the world for both individual and group compositions. Once we heard the great news that we had been selected we decided that we would focus on one class from Year 3 (3A), Year 4 (4B) and Year 5 (5E).

This was a ten-week project that students undertook in their music lessons. The only stipulation from Juilliard was that the music had to be composed by a group of students and it had to be written for violin, cello and clarinet. We firstly looked at the Juilliard composer of today, Sean Shepherd and listened to his piece ‘Means of Escape’ which was written for a trio of instruments. The students were really inspired by the world of Houdini and all three classes decided that they wanted to write a piece of music to accompany the ‘box-into-water’ trick. From there, we discussed the mood and feelings that both Houdini and his audience would be feeling; this would form the basis for the students’ story. The class was then split into groups with each group composing rhythms and melodies to accompany their mood words. Whilst this seems quite simple, it can also be a really hard process to link a word with music. The children from all three classes managed to be so creative with their musical ideas but I was also very impressed with the musical skill that our students were demonstrating.

From here, each individual group had tutorials with myself so that we could input this onto a program called Sibelius (notation writing software). There were lots of questions for the groups to answer at this point: questions surrounding tempo, pitch, dynamics and instrumentation, to name a few. We then spent a long time editing and refining the ideas as a group and then as a class. Finally, the end product was ready to be sent to New York.

A big thank you to Andrew Roitstein and his team over in Juilliard for making this possible and recording the students’ pieces with fantastic musicians. All three classes have worked really hard on this project and I have been amazed at the ideas that they came up with throughout.

All the finished compositions from classes 3A, 4B and 5E can be found here and I think you will agree that they are fantastic. I am very proud of each and every pupil who has taken part in this process. Well done!

Kate Rochell, Director of Music
The British International School Abu Dhabi