May 29, 2014

The EXPO Experience: High School Music Students Make Real-World Connections at the EXPO

By Anne Fennel

Music Composition students from Mission Vista High School in Vista, CA at the 2014 ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO

Mission Vista High School music composition students at the 2014 ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO

Mission Vista High School music teacher Anne Fennell brought her music composition class to the ASCAP EXPO in April. We asked Fennell what it was like for her students to connect what they learn in class with the real-world opportunities available at the EXPO. Here's her amazing response.

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Real life learning and connections: that is what the ASCAP EXPO experience provided for my high school music composition students, and that is what education should always be! The EXPO was life-changing for each student, and from the moment of our arrival we knew it was going to be special. Everyone was so welcoming and we all felt at home with like-minded musicians and composers. We found family in the real world that think and create like we do. The students mentioned this over and over.  

These high school students aren’t traditional music students – each has studied music composition in high school with over 400 hours of composition time in three years. They devote much of their creative life to evoking emotion and telling stories through sound. They write everything from rock to pop, house music and classically-styled symphonic works that ask them to spend hours adjusting dynamics, attacks and modulations to convey exactly the expressive emotion they feel. They have online accounts to house and share their music and have truly began connecting to other composers, at least virtually. The ASCAP EXPO brought their love of composition to life!

Music education in the US is currently in a unique place, as many programs have been cut, and traditional programs are beginning to shift. These students have been fortunate to be a part of a different program, but the challenge is bringing the real world into their daily lives. Yes, we read about composers, study composers, and listen to and respond to a great many pieces of music both current and old, as well as study and reflect upon current trends and issues in every aspect of music, including licensing. But it all means nothing if they can’t connect it outside of themselves to the real world. The ASCAP EXPO was alive and thriving, and it captured the minds of these students with possibility and creativity, placing them in the same room with professional creative types that understand the power of sound and all that it can give to the human experience.

High school junior Christoph Rayburn wrote afterwards “At the various panels, so many ideas personally spoke to me that I felt I was already a better composer walking out of the room!” Meeting composers was incredible for everyone. We at Mission Vista High School are fortunate enough to have had Jason Hayes from Blizzard Entertainment visit our school and connect with over 120 students involved in music composition each year. It was a highlight for these young composers to meet the entire Diablo composition team in the EXPO session Soundtracking Hell: The Music of Diablo. They listened intently to how each composer began with Blizzard and how the Diablo music was created. My students were speechless, and one in particular was so moved by the experience, he could barely utter a word.

Mission Vista High School Music Composition students connecting with composer Jason Hayes before the <i>Soundtracking Hell: The Music of Diablo</i> panel at the 2014 ASCAP EXPO
Mission Vista students connect with Diablo composer Jason Hayes at the 2014 ASCAP EXPO

Thank you to Russell Brower, Jason Hayes, Derek Duke, Neal Acree and Joseph Lawrence, who took the time to truly talk and share with the students after the session, and to Christopher Tin, who was kind to stand with us and share his knowledge and connect with the students, as well. As student Adam Abadilla said, “Being around so many like-minded composers made for an environment where I felt completely at home, and the various panels I was able to witness have given me expert insight that I would not be able to learn anywhere else.”

The ASCAP EXPO allowed my students to see that yes, they ARE composers, they CAN write music for a living, and the world is waiting to hear their music. As we sat and listened to composers critique pieces, the students would hit me in the arm and say “Hey - that’s what I was thinking!” or “That’s what you tell us” (nothing like being validated by a professional), and often times we would discuss the panels afterwards. The conversations were amazing because the students were engaged at the right musical level, and they live and breathe this language every day. At one point I found I was crying because they were all so excited. Senior James Bautista shared that “To be there in person - to listen and ask questions to those who compose music for commercials, video games and TV shows - was so important to me.”

More importantly, this EXPO connected the students to the outside world. They saw that what they do is REAL in the music business. It’s not studying history that has passed, or memorizing a fact for an upcoming test. It was real learning, in-the-moment, through sessions that allowed them to hear composers discuss pieces, or to teach skills that are unique to various aspects of composition.  Senior Brandon DeLucas wrote “I gained so much insight into how the music industry runs. I’m glad I had the opportunity to go and gain knowledge that no other person around my age can get.”

Sophomore Mark Jorgensen was so excited as he went through the exhibits and said his “favorite part was learning about all these programs that I can plug into my compositions. I cannot wait to get them and start incorporating them into my future pieces!!   

Because of the EXPO, I found the Society for Composers and Lyricists and joined in hopes of taking students to events over the year. Even if it’s one student at a time attending, it will again connect them to the real music in their world. We also use the cloud notation software - Noteflight - and the students connected with the developer and owner and he wants to visit our school site! He had them open their compositions in the cloud and he “favorited” their pieces. After the spectacular Writers Jam that closed the EXPO, Mission Vista student Kassidy King said it best: “The ASCAP EXPO gave me the unique opportunity to find inspiration in not only the music itself, but the ones who create it.” 

The EXPO experience changed all of us. As a teacher, I can’t thank ASCAP enough for making my students’ love of music both relevant and meaningful.   

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Anne Fennell is the Chair and Instrumental and Music Composition Teacher Leader for the Creative Arts Department at Mission Vista High School in Vista, CA. She is a recognized presenter at professional clinics, conferences, and workshops at local, regional, and national levels. In addition to her professional activities as a teacher, clinician and coordinator, Ms. Fennell has made advocacy presentations and served as a consultant for school districts on standards-based curriculum, creativity and composition, assessment and integrated arts programs. Visit her online at annefennell.com.

Find out how the ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO can help you make real-world connections at ascap.com/expo.

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