ANN ARBOR, MI – With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing schools into remote learning, John Churchville knew he needed to think outside the box to teach his music composition and theory class at Rudolf Steiner School.
As the year comes to a close, Churchville’s students have released “QuarenTeen Music,” an album of 14 compositions they’ve worked on throughout the year with the help of music software that helped them collaborate with their teacher, fellow classmates and even students overseas from the comfort of their homes.
It’s the second album students in Churchville’s class have put together, with Churchville providing guidance and production on last year’s six-song “Music From a Distance.” Both albums are available for purchase on Bandcamp.
“For me it’s under the umbrella of what I would call student-led, project-based learning,” Churchville said. “The students are the leaders of deciding the project and what it is and through that project is where the learning happens.”
Steiner sophomore Calvin Hillman sent a social media callout seeking musicians and connected with students from the Titus Brandsmalyceum school in Oss, Netherlands, to create his song “Miami” through a music creation platform called Soundtrap.
It was the second straight year a Steiner student had worked with students from Titus Brandsmalyceum, after student Alex Nitsche collaborated to create the song “No rest for the Weary,” which has since been entered into the Dutch National education prize contest, Nationale Onderwijsprijs.
Soundtrap allowed Hillman and the students collaborate around the clock by contributing their own instrumental tracks or samples to his composition, blending the talents of the students to create a sound all its own.
“I changed the title of the song to ‘Miami’ because the genre and style of the song was inspired by that low-rider style of Miami,” Hillman said. “I was inspired by a lot of Dutch EDM, as well, because they have a lot of good EDM music there. It was a fun song.”
Churchville, a Grammy Award-winning tabla player, describes Soundtrap as an online portal that combines music software like GarageBand with Google Drive, allowing students to invite others to contribute their instrumental tracks. The program also allows for messaging to provide feedback in real time, while giving updates whenever new music is added to a song.
Churchville would use Soundtrap to note production adjustments he made to the songs, giving students a “scrapbook” of the step-by-step creation.
The class and program have helped Steiner School junior Maya Liljegren foster a greater desire to compose songs, after growing up with a passion for dancing and acting.
The class was a gateway into the world of songwriting for Liljegren, who provided the vocals, ukulele, keyboard and loops, while Churchville chipped in bass and drums duty on her contribution to the album, “Echo.”
“Adding those other elements, it was really interesting to see how much that changed the whole dynamic of the piece,” Liljegren said. “The amount of knowledge I have gained over the course of this year has been huge for me, especially as someone who was just starting to want to write her own music. Now I feel like I have the tools to be independent and do that by myself once this class is over.”
Liljegren’s desire to create her own album is music to the ears of Churchville, who has been heartened by students’ ability to develop in composing their own music from a distance.
As the school year came to a close in early June, Churchville’s students requested they play their songs during an all-school assembly – evidence of just how confident they had become during an unusual school year.
“Now the students are asking for ownership of their work,” Churchville said. “That’s everything for me as a teacher to watch that happen.”
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