This year, as I’ve reported before, our composition department is focusing on interdisciplinary collaborations. Back in November, we gave the students the assignment of putting together a collaborative performance with some other art form on the first Saturday of February. We gave them no guidelines, no rules, and no assistance – this was all supposed to happen on their initiative, in addition to the work they were doing for composition lessons. All we did was provide a space and a block of time for rehearsal and performance.

The results were evidenced last Saturday. As might be expected, some composers hatched grandiose plans and others played it safe. One composer collaborated with a filmmaker on a brief documentary. One took a painting as inspiration for a flute and cello duo. Two others created electronic pieces that were choreographed by dance students. One enlisted the assistance of actors and designers in a political performance piece. And one joined forces with lighting designers, took over a room for an entire day and created a light and sound installation.

As I try to remind the students as often as possible, artistic success or failure while in school is not so important. Their primary responsibility is to learn. If a student puts on an artistically successful performance, but learns nothing from it, I consider it a failure. On the other hand, if a student tries something new that doesn’t work, it is a success to the degree that the student learns something to be applied in future efforts.

Having said that, I think all of the students involved learned something and, for the most part, what they learned was in direct proportion to how much they invested in the process. We’re discussing the results and assessing what was accomplished. I’m looking forward to repeating this experiment on a regular basis in the future.

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