I was recently asked to adjudicate the 2017 Lincoln Music Teachers Association composition competition. More than 35 students, many in elementary school, submitted original pieces, which I heard for the second time in a recital on Sunday. I found their music incredibly refreshing, especially the work of the youngest students. These kids have some great natural habits that we "serious" adult composers should be trying to emulate:
- Kids write what they hear, and they don't try to write things they aren't hearing. There's no faking. Their music radiates honesty.
- Kids' pieces are the exact length as the amount of music they come up with. If they have 30 seconds of music, the piece is 30 seconds long. No kid unnecessarily stretches a small amount of music into a 7-minute piece.
- Kids aren't afraid to write melodies. No one has told them this isn't cool, and they seem to do it naturally. Huh.
- Kids write music that is clever without sounding like they are trying to be clever. One girl had a piece that was entirely in C major, gentle and flowing, and then the last two chords, suddenly loud, were E7/G# and A minor. Hilarious.
- Kids are so clearly not trying to impress anyone. If you haven't seen a young child play music they've composed, I can't explain how totally great this is. Their music is just earnest and fun. This was the first composition recital I've been to in YEARS where I never wanted to roll my eyes. They are entirely unpretentious.
- Kids' music grows organically out of their musicianship. Everything is playable and idiomatic because they have to play it.
I hope that as these students grow, learn, and deepen their musical understanding, they don't lose these great intuitive compositional impulses. And let's all try to compose a little bit more like kids do.