Encouraging Musical Exploration at Dedham Country Day
This winter term, DCD’s Alternative Ensemble music program has returned with a new twist. A free after-school program created in 2013 by Duane Claussen and Rob Thacher for grade 4 and 5 students, the “Alt Ensemble” has taken a variety of shapes in exploring non-traditional approaches to music and sound, including improvisation, game-play, and instant composition.
In November 2019, DCD was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant to bring visiting artists to campus as part of the Alt Ensemble. Joining Rob Thacher at the start of 2020, “Music as a Second Language” artists Neil Horsky and Scott Mizrachi bring fresh ideas and perspectives from their practice as music and art educators each week to this new 90-minute format.
The Ensemble’s overarching goal is the creation of a joyous, playground atmosphere in which students participate in listening games and improvise freely with traditional and non-traditional instruments, giving them the opportunity to explore music as a state of being or a mode of decision-making, without undue emphasis on performance or final product.
By engaging in free play, students are permitted to make their own rules and produce creative work according to their own parameters; at the same time, the collaborative aspects of musical interplay require sustained commitment to active listening, empathy, and trust. The Ensemble’s development of communication and collaboration skills places it firmly within DCD’s multimodal approach to interpersonal, cooperative decision-making – an essential feature of the DCD student experience from Pre-k morning circle all the way through the middle school Advisory program’s student consensus process.
The Ensemble also sits within DCD’s deep commitment to wide-ranging music education. The school does provide opportunities for structured, traditional music performance and literacy through general music classes, concert band, chorus, and private instrumental instruction. Beyond these traditional offerings, however, there is also a rich program of composition and recording projects and classes that include songwriting for class plays; technology-based composition projects such as Noteflight and the middle school film soundtracks elective; and a musique concrète sound sculpture composition elective in which students record, edit, and shape their own field recordings into structured works of sound art complete with artist statements.
The Alternative Ensemble meets on Thursday afternoons from 3:00 – 4:30 in the middle school band classroom in the months of January and February. This is a drop-in program designed for DCD students in grades 4 and 5. With no long-term commitment and no charge for participation, students are free to come as they are, and come when they wish!