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Music for Mars

​École River Heights students unlocked the power of tablet computers to create musical compositions during a recent major project.

Opening Doors to Creativity: iPad Composition for the Music Class was a pilot program that had the school partnering with the University of Manitoba.

Grade 7 students worked with university students from the Desautels Faculty of Music and Gaja Maffezzoli, a music teacher and composer from France. Teacher Adam Charbonneau hosted the workshops as part of his design class at River Heights.

Students created their own electronic compositions with iPads and music apps such as DM1 Drum Machine, iDensity (a granular synthesizer), Garage Band and others.

"These programs combine rhythm, composition, sound manipulation and the creation of melody," Mr. Charbonneau said. "Every one of the students is creating sounds that are vastly different than the student next to them."

Student Nathaniel Betts plays guitar, saxophone, piano and flute; the project expanded that skillset even more.

"I play music at home, but not so much on an iPad," he said. "It's another opportunity to get to know technology.

"Lots of kids like videogames, so maybe they can relate to this because it's on a computer."

Ms. Maffezzoli agreed that the technological aspects of the project could attract students who weren't normally musically inclined.

"By using technology, it helps students who are not as musical to be more creative," she said, through a translator. "Normally, when you want to compose, you have study orchestration and so on. By using technology, it offers younger students the opportunity to get into a theory of practise at a younger age."

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The music educator added that music technology was also a powerful collaboration tool.

"There is room for individual work, but students are also encouraged to work collaboratively to share their creations," Ms. Maffezzoli said. "It also gives the opportunity for adult learners to work with younger kids and embrace that love for music through interactive technology."

Ms. Maffezzoli and some of the U of M music students will be mixing the River Heights students' music into one master composition.

"Our theme is 'Music for Mars,' so everything is supposed to connect in some way to the planet, whether it's the geological features or the meaning behind the name of the planet (Mars is the God of War)," Mr. Charbonneau said, adding that design students had already been analysing a journey to Mars as part of a previous class project.

"Students are creating small pieces of music that will eventually be assembled into a much larger piece."

The teacher added that it was a great role modelling opportunity to have U of M students visit River Heights.

"When you bring in people who have expertise and a passion for what they are doing, I think that's a great example," Mr. Charbonneau said. "These people have gone on to university and are pursuing something they love."

Ms. Maffezzoli also spoke with music educators about her pedagogical practices in a special seminar on Feb. 22.

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