Eighth-graders to perform music they composed


TEN EIGHTH-GRADE band musicians have received a high honor.

They've learned how to compose music and score it for their middle school band. They'll show music teachers what they've done at a workshop on music composition during the Maryland Music Educators State Convention at the Baltimore Convention Center Feb. 19.

To highlight their presentation, the first two movements of their composition, "Sikorsky Trilogy," will be played by the 63-member North Carroll Middle School Eighth Grade Band, directed by their teacher, Philip Stephenson.

The 10 composers are Jennifer Gehret, Julie Jugo and Laura Smith, who play clarinet; Emily Grossnickle and Megan Murphy, who play tuba; Rachel Heeter, who plays flute; Meghan Leidy, who plays horn; Lars Nolen, tenor saxophonist; Kaitlin Bressler, oboist; and Stephanie Crumbaugh, percussionist.

It's taken two years to write the piece. Last year, they worked each day from 7 a.m. until school started. This year, they donated lunch time. Twice each week, they gather at the piano or computer and work through the score note by note.

Last year, Laura, Jennifer and Emily had a close encounter with a low-flying helicopter on their way to the 7 a.m. gathering.

"The helicopter almost got them," Stephenson says. "After that, we didn't let a day go by without some form of helicopter tease."

Members of the group discovered an Internet site about helicopter technology. To their surprise, helicopter terminology was very similar to musical terminology.

The term "gyroscopic precession" sounded like a march, an appropriate name for their first movement. The "cyclic" is a control for the rotor, and became the name for their second movement, in which the melodies were inverted.

The final movement, which is in dissonant harmony, is the "Coanda Effect," named for the Romanian scientist Henri Coanda, who discovered, after mid-air explosions, that air hugs the contours of a plane.

The group titled the piece for Igor Sikorsky, who helped develop the helicopter.

Two years ago, the composing process began with individual melodies created by each of the 10 students. They chose parts of the melodies to combine and wrote harmonizing chords.

The students decided what instruments would play the melody, counter melody and harmonic parts. After working with the students at the piano, Stephenson, who understands better the limitations of various instruments, transcribed their music into a computer program for band.

The computer prints music, but doesn't play sound. The student composers cringe when remembering how "Gyroscopic Precession" sounded when the entire band played it for the first time.

"We rewrote it and still didn't like it. We knew the effect we wanted," Stephenson said. "So we scrapped the middle section and went back to principal melodies they'd written."

"We finally took an idea from Eric Osterling," who composes band music. "We looked at how he had scored "The Pulsar March" and applied it to our music," said Meghan Leidy. "In all, we did four different 'Gyroscopic Precessions.' "

This spring, the band and composers will work with Quincy Hilliard, composer of music for middle school bands and for the Olympics in Atlanta. He'll see how writing music is incorporated into the three bands at North Carroll.

"We begin with sixth-grade band learning chord progression by my hand signals and harmonizing melody from method books," explains Stephenson. "It's something we've done for years."

Three years ago, he began to offer the extracurricular composition class in seventh grade, which extends through the eighth grade or until the composition is complete.

"Sikorsky Trilogy" is the second full composition students have written. The seventh grade is deep into its own composition. The third movement, "Coanda Effect," might be finished for the spring concert May 27.

Information: 410-751-3440.

Auxiliary receives $1,000

The Women's Club of Hampstead has announced that its annual November breakfast was an overwhelming success. Advance ticket sales were an indicator that the breakfast would offer a large benefit to the Hampstead Fire Auxiliary.

On Jan. 25, Women's Club president Victoria Garrettson presented the proceeds of the breakfast to Wanda Sparks, president of the Hampstead Fire Auxiliary.

"We thank everyone for making this the best breakfast we've ever had," said club publicity chair Elsie Cooper.

Pub Date: 2/10/99

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