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Kids build a musical bridge with Hyperscore

From our archives. This story about the 2012 “A to A: A World in Harmony” concert in Yerevan, Armenia, is a testament to the power of Hyperscore to foster powerful collaborations.

The opulent Armenian Opera Theater in the heart of Armenia’s capital Yerevan will reverberate with some truly fresh sounds on the evening of February 25, 2012, as two of Armenia’s elite musical ensembles dig into new pieces composed entirely by children from Armenia and the United States. The concert features the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra and DOGMA, one of the country’s most popular rock bands. The event is co-sponsored by the LUYS Education Foundation and the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan to celebrate the embassy’s 20th anniversary.

Despite the composers’ youth – they range in age from 8 to 14 – their work is rich and rewarding to hear, thanks to the boost their musical imaginations received from Hyperscore, a music-creation software developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab by a team led by renowned composer Tod Machover. Hyperscore puts unprecedented composing power into the hands of people who long to express themselves musically, regardless of their formal training. More than that, Hyperscore turns out to be an exceptional tool for collaborative creativity. One of the pieces receiving its world premiere at the Yerevan event was jointly composed by children in Boston and Armenia.

Musical composition is usually imagined to spring from the minds of geniuses toiling in splendid isolation. But for the youngsters visiting the Media Lab earlier this month, the composing process was more like a cyber paintball game. Color-coded splashes of melodies and beats popped up on a large flat-screen monitor as a half-dozen students from the Armenian Sisters’ Academy in Lexington, MA, traded ideas over a Skype connection with their counterparts in a classroom 8,700 kilometers away in Yerevan.

Under Machover’s deft direction, the students launched into creating their new piece by humming melodies and tapping out rhythms, which were notated using Hyperscore. The screen quickly filled up with melodic ideas, or ‘motifs’, and a percussion sequence. The kids then started assembling their composition. “Do you want the piece to start with a big explosion, or something quieter?” Machover asked. Something quiet, the kids agreed. A motif was selected and “drawn” onto the digital canvas. A second pensive motif was introduced, and then it was time to bring in some livelier motifs to wake things up.

“How do you tell a story through music? How could we keep this moving, keep it building?” Machover urged. The kids started piling on layers, made a motif swing high and swoop low, tried out various harmonic configurations… and they were out of time. In one hour, they had put together the first minute of their piece. After a few more sessions, they completed a short but complex and fascinating work which they titled “Frenzy of Friendship”, ready to be orchestrated and sent to the Armenian Phil for its world premiere.

“We usually think of music as belonging to a special elite who have unique powers to create it and share it,” Machover says. “Hearing these exciting new pieces by young people renews my conviction that anyone can create original, valuable music given the right tools, environment and encouragement, and that through music we can build friendships, share individual visions, and enhance life’s meaning.”

To Jacqueline Karaaslanian, Executive Director of the LUYS Education Foundation, this is a perfect example of harnessing technology to spur creativity and collaboration. The foundation was established by Armenia’s President Serjh Sargsyan and Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan to transform the nation by raising the quality of education and infusing the country’s youth with a “can do” attitude.

“Hyperscore wakes up the genius within children and instills in them a desire to better understand a whole universe of worlds they had not previously imagined or considered,” Karaaslanian explains. “When children know that their elders and professionals will play their music, they are empowered. This process is beyond encouraging words; it validates children as thinkers and creators.” And that, she says, is vital for any nation that expects to thrive in our rapidly changing and interconnected world.

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Hyperscore enables “Amazing accomplishment”

As we reported previously, Hyperscore is being used by hundreds of school children in Toronto this fall to compose music for Tod Machover’s “A Toronto Symphony” project. How has it worked in practice? We found out last Friday when Tod met with around 300 kids gathered with their teachers on the campus of Toronto’s College Français. There to witness the occasion was Musical Toronto‘s John Terauds. He writes:

Hyperscore offers synthesized audio output of its own, but orchestrated by a real composer and played by the excellent young musicians on stage, these miniature compositions from pint-sized composers sounded remarkably sophisticated.

Here is one example, from Broadlands P.S. student Nebyou. What you see on the projection is the Hyperscore screen. The crazy doodle is the composition. The music is being played by members of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra:

Terauds says, “I have to admit that the ease with which the user becomes a creator worries me, because it feels too easy. Part of me considers this to be a form of pseudo creation, that only the careful application of pencil (and eraser) to notation paper is real creation.”

But the results have convinced him otherwise:

These children, many of whom I’m sure haven’t had any lessons music theory, were truly and fully engaged with the act of creating music.

Isn’t that what we all dream of?

The fact that their work will eventually find itself performed on the stage of Roy Thomson Hall seems almost superfluous after this amazing accomplishment.

Read John Teraud’s full post here: Toronto school children become engaged composers in Toronto Symphony experiment

Empower kids to tell their stories through music. Set their creativity free with your support!

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