What can be done to prepare students in younger grades for the wonderful rigour of the DP Music course?
My experiences in the my non-Diploma music classes were large musical ensembles (60-100 students per ensemble) that had consistent membership/enrolment for the entire academic year. These ensembles performed 4-6 times. As I developed my DP Music course, I wanted to design a class that invited and encouraged participation from students of all musical backgrounds. Through implementing this goal, I found that as I widened student access to the Diploma Music course (e.g., encouraging students would could not read music to take the course at the standard level), students with minimal piano experience struggled with composition and detailed analysis.
As I reflected on these students, I thought of different ways that I could prepare students in grades nine and ten (my school had grades 9-12 and offered the DP in grades eleven and twelve) for DP Music. One way that I found success was to transform my final yearly concert into a composition exposition. My academic year ended in June with the final concert occurring the first week of June. The final concert was moved to the month of April, allowing students five weeks to develop collaborative compositions.
Students created groups of four. A variety of musical groupings were encouraged and students were not allowed to have members of the same section in their group (e.g., four clarinet players could not be in the same group). Each of the members of the group had to write one composition for the group (e.g., a quartet for flute, alto saxophone, euphonium and xylophone) and the group performed all four pieces. As the composer was a member of the group, there was open dialogue concerning what worked about a particular composition or what needed improvements/changes/etc.
The compositions were performed over a three hour period on a weekend afternoon (Saturday or Sunday). Light refreshments were served and the entire school was used as a performance venue. Ten small groups performed simultaneously along with performances from current DP Music students on a main stage. Their compositions were performed, recorded and became part of those students’ DP portfolios.
There are many ways to prepare students for DP Music depending on the context of your school.