Performer Blogs@Sequenza21.com

Jay C. Batzner is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida where he teaches theory, composition, and technology courses as well as coordinates the composition program. He holds degrees in composition and/or theory from the University of Missouri Kansas City, the University of Louisville, and the University of Kansas.

Jay's music is primarily focused around instrumental chamber works as well as electroacoustic composition. His music has been recorded on the Capstone, Vox Novus, and Beauport Classical labels and is published by Unsafe Bull Music.

Jay is a sci-fi geek, an amateur banjoist, a home brewer, and juggler.





5/06/2009
What I learned from teaching orchestration

My biggest challenge this semester was developing and teaching a single semester orchestration class as an upper division theory elective. There ended up being 34 students, only 3 of them composition majors (we only have 3 comp majors). I've blogged about prepping the class, and I wanted to run down what I got out of the experience. It was a lot of work, but it was also my favorite class. We got to talk about great orchestral music and how to write it. Who wouldn't love that? Guitarists? Sure, they didn't enjoy the class too much, I suppose.

1. The Kennan/Grantham is a good book. There were three major choices, the Adler, the Blatter, and the K/G. I love the Blatter and have used it as my guide for about 15 years. The Adler is okay but severely bloated for a one semester overview course. I've taught from it before and I like some of the things it does but not enough to foist it upon the class. The K/G is a lean, mean, terse reference book with good practical suggestions and a CD that targets important listening. I'd happily use it again for a one-semester course, even though it puts sax and euphonium in a back chapter labeled "infrequently used instruments." K/G knows not of this thing you call "band."

2. Raising the bar really makes the students work harder. The class didn't do so hot on the midterm. I had high expectations and they weren't ready for it. For the final, the expectations were the same and they rose to meet them. I was happy to see it.

3. The Dover edition of Mahler 6 should be avoided. I made the class buy 4 scores in addition to the textbook: Symphonie fantastique, Mahler 6, Rite of Spring, and The Planets. As we talked about different sections of the orchestra, we looked at how those sections were used in these very different pieces. Mahler 6, my favorite of his symphonies, turns out to have Bruckner-like issues when it comes to score revisions. The Dover is a cheap version of Mahler's original orchestration. He changed it substantially before the final version. Turns out it ONLY happens with Mahler 6. I should have done more research on this one. The score is a historical novelty to the students, not practically useful the way I had intended.

4. Some students just won't do the work and I can't help them. It really isn't my fault if you see a score excerpt from Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto and label it as Debussy's Prelude on the Afternoon of a Faun.

5. I love talking about music. The last month was spent going over the basic concepts of orchestration (not instrumentation) and playing examples. I wish I had a document camera in my classroom (or a projector of some kind) because you can't get 34 people (or the 17 that usually showed up) to crowd around miniature scores. I stressed the idea of orchestrating dynamics and accents. Some of them really got into it.

I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to teach such a course again. My new job at Central Michigan University is focused on music technology and electroacoustic composition. There is still a lot of orchestration to talk about in electroacoustic music, but CMU has plenty of composers to talk about the acoustic side of the story. At any rate, I learned more from this class than my students did, I'm sure. Some things I won't change if I teach it again, some things I will. We will just have to wait and see.