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ORNG Ink: Creative Musicianship (II)

Added on by Douglas Farrand.

Here is our first update on the ORNG Ink Creative Musicianship Class.

The class is now at its half-way point and we are taking a break to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The first four weeks of the class have been an excellent experience for all of us - both the two teachers and our 14 registered students. We are looking forward to the last four weeks - during which we will explore some basics of 'organic' rhythms and pitch constructions and begin to work more explicitly on group composition. We are also excited to plan the final showcase - where students will both present what they have done in the class and have the chance to share the musical work they have been doing on their own time. We also now have plans for teaching a middle school class - the same curriculum modified for that age group, as well as an adult course that approaches sound through the idea of 'space,' linking our work more directly with the "urbanism" initiatives in the area.

Below you will find brief descriptions of each of our first four classes, as well as pictures and sound bites from those days. 

We hope you enjoy!
-Jessie and Doug-


After giving our students and ourselves the opportunity to introduce themselves and share their hopes for the course, we jumped right into orienting our ears with a Pauline Oliveros score called 'Environmental Dialogue'. The piece broke the ice with the challenge of sitting and listening quietly to our environments, then moving at the sound of a bell into an improvisation using remembered environmental sounds. The students were enchanted by Jessie's small 'dripping' vocalizations and Doug's pinecone playing, and we were likewise impressed by both the fluidity with which the students improvised using found objects, and the bravery of their vocalizations (most memorably, one student imitated a small dog).

Intrigued by this new paradigm of listening and sounding, we reflected on the difference between "listening" and "hearing" and contemplated a series of questions on the topic.

To end the evening, Doug introduced the students to contact and electro-magnetic microphones, showing how the inner workings of various objects - slinkies and light switches to name a few - could be listened to with these devices. After a sound search around the space, the students left excited about making their own mics and ended the evening with their own vocalizations in the gallery's resonant acoustic.


As this was a bad weather week, our session of building contact microphones was attended by three highly committed students. Doug led us all through the process of the microphone building, explaining both the physical tasks at hand and the science behind the little machines. At the end, those who came felt extremely accomplished, and all had something to take home and show for it.


This was another well-attended day, including the addition of several new students. We started the day by checking-in or introducing ourselves by sharing memories of an interesting sound recently heard. The sounds ranged from short melodic contours to the sound of wind whistling through blinds. We then 'arrived in the space' together through doing some basic "body work," a combination of yogic posturing and Deep Listening exercises.

We then gathered around an "amplified table," with contact microphones attached to it and routed through a mixer to speakers. There Doug led us through a series of improvising exercises (informed by Vic Rawlings' approach to teaching improvisation) - moving from exploring the different sounds of objects on the table to coordinating breath-length phrases with the group and in pairs, slowly building to playing short original pieces. The students had so many insightful things to say about this activity. These comments included their surprise at how the actions they least expected to produce interesting sounds were often the most complex, how starting and stopping the sound was a great challenge, and how the sounds - as unique as the scratching of a rusty saw - never-the-less reminded them of some of their favorite familiar sounds - like a smoky alto voice or an earthy viola tone. Below is a sound bite from one of the later improvisations.


Most recently, we has another day of terrible weather and a day for our core group to shine. Instead of going ahead with the planned lesson on rhythm - which was intended for a large group - we decided to use the time as a forum for the students to share the songs they are each working on outside of class. We started by openly talking about our projects, which led us to questions like 'Why do we make music?' We discovered that for each of us the focus was different, yet we could relate to the others' motivations as well. We also talked about how making music is sometimes a struggle, even in terms of simply motivating one's self to follow through with projects. The evening ended with one student sharing an original song he had written in the fall, but shortly thereafter felt uninspired by and never saw it to competition. We then talked about how sometimes inspiration comes not from waiting, but from approaching the task at hand in a detail-oriented way. Then, from that road map, inspiration - or a pretty good approximation of it - can arise.