The Makings of a Melody

September 2023

In the fall of 2022, the Avaloch Farm Music Institute, the Composers Conference, and Concord Community Music School began an exciting new collaboration. Several students from CCMS were selected for the New Music/New Communities Initiative (NM/NC), with the goal “to inspire and engage young musicians through collaborations with local music education organizations in the greater New England area.”

CCMS faculty member Rebecca Herst was excited by the partnership and suggested the program to students that showed interest and promise in composition. “Participants didn’t necessarily need previous training or experience, only to show an interest in composing,” says Herst. “I felt that
the group collaboration might offer new ways for students to explore and create.”  

Chase (13), one of three CCMS participants in this year’s program, started taking piano lessons at the Music School last fall, but his interest in music and composing began much earlier. “I started beat boxing when I was really young,” he smiles, “and I got interested in the piano when I received a small Yamaha keyboard for Christmas.” The miniature Yamaha quickly transformed into a full keyboard with weighted keys, and Chase seized the opportunity to start building his musical portfolio. Between the songs he wrote on the keyboard and those he composed digitally using an online tool called BeepBox,
Chase entered the NM/NC Initiative with a sizeable songbook.

Ethan (11) didn’t have as extensive of a musical background when he started lessons with Rebecca Herst at age 7, but quickly fell in love with playing and writing for the piano. After starting with classical pieces, Ethan quickly transitioned to playing rock music and began writing songs inspired by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Pixies. When his teacher mentioned the NM/NC Initiative, he knew it was something he wanted to try: “The chance to get to compose for other instruments was something that interested me.”

The NM/NC Initiative helps young composers develop their skills through a mentor-mentee relationship. Participants in Avaloch’s Fromm Composer Fellowship are paired with selected students, and the mentorship takes place through virtual meetings over the course of the spring academic term. The initiative culminates in a recital at the Avaloch Farm Music Institute where
the students’ pieces are performed by their composer mentors.

The virtual meetups were constructive in different ways for Chase and Ethan. While Chase was able to further develop his existing material and even integrate using BeepBox into his sessions, Ethan reveled in the tips and techniques his mentor gave for writing out the pieces he was composing. By
the time the final concert came around, both boys had developed new material they were proud to share with an audience. Chase’s piece, entitled “Vibes,” was performed by a vibraphonist and Ethan’s “Jamtastic” was a duet for vibraphone and cello.  

“It was definitely cool to hear somebody else playing my piece and be able to recognize it,” says Chase, while Ethan agrees, “It was really cool to hear the musicians perform my piece and they played it really

While scales, form, and technique will always be part of a sound practice routine, Herst is adamant about the importance of creating and composing in music education: “Self-expression is paramount, whatever our musical persuasion. Improv and composing can be a departure from the rigors of
the lesson, and we can discover ourselves outside of the lesson model. I think it also engenders deeper understanding of whatever music one is studying and vice versa.”

Both Chase and Ethan are eager to start back up with their lessons this fall, utilizing the tools they developed during the composer’s initiative. Chase is hopeful that his experience will help him create more dynamic melodies, while Ethan will look to put his newfound notation skills to good use. And the young composers will also be ambassadors for the budding partnership between Avaloch, the Composers Conference, and CCMS. Learn more about the program here.

Below: Chase. See his performance on YouTube here.

Bottom: Ethan. See his performance on YouTube here.