Sun Times staff
Students in Charles Glasspool’s classroom have things to say, both with and about their music.
It’s more like a workshop, with the veteran Silver Hearts performer – now in his first year teaching music at Macphail – at the helm. He’s clearly in charge, but more as a facilitator and collaborator than as a boss, Glasspool said earlier this week in Flesherton.
In class, Glasspool raises his baton. The music flows, slow and steady.
“Okay Katherine, this is your piece, where are you going to go with it?” Glasspool asks.
“Trumpets,” shouts Grade 8 clarinetist Katherine Teeter, as her surprised classmates quickly adjust, join the mix and boost the sound.
Teeter is one of several main composers for the school’s Flesherton Symphony Orchestra project this year.
Funded through a $1,000 education ministry SpeakUp grant, students at the school, and mainly in the 7/8 class, are creating original music inspired by two picture books, the very dark The Island, and the bright, cheerful Symphony City.
With help from some community musicians and high school players with the Grey Highlands band, the plan is to arrange, rehearse, perform and record the finished compositions in a few weeks at a local church.
Teeter was at her piano, at home, when she came up with the untitled piece she’s thinking of calling Dreams.
“I was basically just sitting there and I was bored and I played a chord and I thought it was pretty,” she said after class.
The music flowed from there.
Composing is something she does “now and then” and plans to pursue after the encouragement during this project, she said.
“I really like how this pushes us to try to make a song.” Saxophone player Holly Adams also created some of her music at home, at the piano, inspired by the Adele hit Someone Like You.
“I just sort of changed it around and turned it into something else,” Adams said. Class pianist Katie Viljakinen hasn’t contributed original music yet, but said the project and Glasspool’s collaborative classroom approach has her inspired to write, soon.
Adams likes the space this project provides to explore and create music.
“It gives us so many choices. We can go so many different ways,” she said “We’ve never had these opportunities. We get to let ourselves be free with our music.”
That is exactly Glasspool’s goal, he said after class.
“The speak up grant is about student voice. It’s for projects that are student directed as opposed to top down ‘I’m the teacher in charge, I am the boss and we’re doing this.’”
Collaboration in music is comfortable and familiar for the Markdale-raised teacher, who worked for awhile as a full-time touring musician.
He helped establish a decade ago the popular Peterborough music collective The Silver Hearts.
Also one of the band’s three primary songwriters and vocalists, as well as playing piano, Glasspool remains active with the group and will be with The Silver Hearts on stage tonight (Friday, February 17, 2012).
It’s the band’s first-ever Owen Sound show at the Roxy Theatre as part of the Lupercalia Winter Arts Festival.
With as many as 14 musicians sometimes on stage with The Silver Hearts, and more than 30 different players involved over the years, Glasspool is well used to seeking middle ground among musicians.
It’s an approach he now brings to his classroom, and especially to the Flesherton Symphony Orchestra project.
“I think that experience has certainly helped me be more present and aware as a music teacher, with younger people,” he said. “I don’t really like to be the tyrant. I like to create a more open, safe space.”
Although he’s been a school teacher for several years, and often worked after school with student musicians, Glasspool recently gained accreditation as an instrumental music instructor. At Macphail, he’s in his first year teaching elementary band music.
“For me it’s kind of a unique group,” he said of this Grade 7/8 students. “We work not really like an elementary music class. To me it’s more like a music workshop, with equals really. They’re really great musicians and very insightful.”
Glasspool began using the picture books which eventually inspired this composition project to show differences in sound and texture between, dark, somber minor keys and bright, happy major music modes.
The composition process takes many forms.
Sometimes it’s just student “jot notes” or a visual illustration of rising and falling sound. Some start with a riff, or a written sequence of notes.
Anything can lead somewhere, Glasspool said. His job is to encourage and develop these ideas.
As a prolific songwriter, that’s also something he’s done plenty of over the years with The Silver Hearts and other groups, including The Big Love, based in Owen Sound recently, and his Burton Glasspool Overdrive duo project.
Compositions for the Flesherton Symphony Orchestra project are still evolving.
“We’re in the process now of kind of working them, arranging them. I’ve taken some of the melodies and some of the musical ideas and fleshed them out for a larger ensemble,” Glasspool said. “They’re like little fragments that are repeated and developed in various ways, not unlike soundtracks from films.”
Despite the unusual project, and collaborative classroom approach, Glasspool still requires attention to technique and regular work in class on the school’s concert band material.
But, as he closes his eyes, quietly sings the phrases of these newly-crafted melodies, and draws the music from these young players with his baton and his enthusiasm, it’s clear their compositions have more of his interest than does the standard student repertoire.
“I love listening to these compositions and hearing them start to get a brain and a heart and a soul and flesh and blood. They really come to life,” Glasspool said after.
“I think giving these really bright, intelligent, very talented musical people some choices in this class has really made a big difference. Instead of just playing music out of a method book, which I get bored of pretty quickly, although it’s important and we have to do it. I like this idea that the students are generating their own material. It’s original they’re invested in it, considerable more and they have a real choice and a real voice.”
Charles Glasspool performs tonight (Friday, February 17, 2012) with The Silver Hearts, at The Roxy Theatre, as part of Lupercalia, and again Saturday at 2 p.m. at Randy’s Records as part the duo Burton Glasspool Overdrive. Details at lupercalia.ca