Composer Steven Bryant on Play, Creativity & Making Mistakes

'Don't worry about doing it right'

3 student activities and 5 teacher PD questions from my interview with Steven Bryant

This post is from the #rehearsalhomealone series on activities for ensemble students who are #stuckathome due to COVID-19.

Steven Bryant's music is heartfelt, interesting and accessible. I have a particular fondness for his slower works like Bloom (I've conducted both the orchestra and band versions mulitple times), Dusk (band, orchestra, sax ensemble, brass band), and The Low Arc of the Sun (string orchestra, band ). However, much of his music incorporates electronics, bringing entirely fresh, new sounds to ensemble rooms - like his piece Hummingbrrd, which we discuss at length.

This interview covers incredibly valuable territory for all of us teachers, and our musicians. In particular, it's worth honing in on Steven's discussion about experimentation, how mistakes are integral to creativity and being brave in putting your work out there.

What We Discussed

1.51 - I’ve been training for isolation my whole life!

2.21 - On having fun in this crazy time

3.19 - It doesn’t matter if it’s awful

4.16 - How to try making electronic music yourself

5.45 - How to deal with overwhelm when starting out

6.43 - Don’t worry about doing it right

8.02 - The courage to be yourself

9.10 - Hummingbrrd - an electronic experiment Listen to Hummmingbrrd

11.00 - Creating different versions of the same piece

12.33 - Musician Challenge: Try to count the meter of Hummingbrrd

12.46 - On avoiding exact repetition

13.52 - The value of performers thinking like composers

14.16 - The dangers of sheet music!

16.00 - On approaching a piece of music

17.14 - What I want to hear in my music

18.32 - If you only play the right notes, it’s wrong

19.24 - The role of practice in creating music

20.09 - What can you do in practice to create more expression

21.27 - Why you should record yourself practicing

PD Questions for Teachers

Watch the video yourself and respond to the following questions:

1. How do you feel when you make mistakes?

2. How do you respond? What does the voice inside your head say to you?

3. How do you respond when students make mistakes?

4. How is that related to your personal response and experiences?

5. How would it feel to put your unpolished work (whatever it is) out there for others to see?

Activities for Students

Watch the video first and decide which parts are most relevant to your students (use guide below).

Ask the students to watch the relevant section of the video.

Possible activities could include:

1. Avoiding exact repetition

Pick a passage/phrase in your music and record yourself playing it 4 times in different ways. Could you really hear the difference? How did that impact your experience as the listener/audience?

2. Count the Meter of Hummingbrrd

Listen to the piece Hummingbrrd and clap with the beat. Count along with your clapping. Write down all the different meters/time signatures can you hear? (eg. 3/4, 5/4, 4/4).

3. Experimenting with Electronic Music

Open up the free online Splice Beatmaker and experiment with making some beats. Record yourself practicing a piece or scale using the beat you made as your metronome.

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