My experience with Continuum in the Classroom

Working with students of all ages

One of the most exciting projects I’ve been a part of in the last three years is the Technology in the Music Classroom partnership between the Toronto District School Board and Continuum Contemporary Music, for which I facilitate the creation of group-compositions by music classes in grades 3 to 8 from across the city. Students use recording technology and digital audio workstations to compose new chamber music inspired by their own stories, communities, and cultures.

In the first phase of the project, I get a chance to visit each classroom to introduce students to composition and digital audio workstations, and provide feedback on their work in progress. We devise ways to listen closely to our surroundings and to capture the sounds we hear through recording, improvisation, and graphic scores. We also explore how we can imagine new sounds by transforming what we hear in the real world by slowing it down, speeding it up, raising/lowering the pitch, etc.  

Once the students finish their piece, it is my job to make their work “stand ready” for Continuum to play. They often deliver recorded tracks or GarageBand sessions that include a mix of notated music and processed recordings of sounds from their community. Using notation software, I transform the music they’ve created into a score. I strive to be as accurate as I can in recreating their sounds in a chamber setting, and often they’ll send instructions to help with my interpretation. For example, the students at Secord Elementary School – whose piece included ideas of building a new home in Canada – requested that the opening of their piece sound exactly like an airplane taking off. It’s incredible to see the variety and creativity in each work, and it’s always a fascinating process to adapt their preojects into a chamber music setting.

Their work culminates in a concert presentation of their music. This year, Continuum partnered with A. Y. Jackson Secondary School, with a number of A.Y. Jackson music students playing alongside Continuum during the concert. To me, this is one of the most incredible aspects of the project: it brings together children of all ages, as well as professional musicians, in a collaborative process. The mood of the final concert is always celebratory. Not only have they created new music from scratch, they’ve also given voice to their own stories while listening to the stories of others, building a stronger sense of community in Toronto through music. 

See excerpts the 2016 performance here.