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Janesville strings students learn by writing music

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Frank Schultz
August 4, 2012

— "Is this another dead composer?"

Ruth Banwell has heard that question more than once in the years she's been teaching in the Janesville School District's annual summer strings camp.

"So I just thought we need to start connecting more with our music," Banwell said,

So, instead of just teaching how to play the violin, viola, bass and cello, Banwell started asking her young players to compose music of their own.

"If they get excited about their own pieces, then they get excited about the pieces they are playing, understanding that the piece is also written by a composer," Banwell said this week after a class at Marshall Middle School.

Banwell took that idea to a new level this week when she invited a local composer to talk to the students.

Not only is Matthew Hollingsworth a composer, he's just like these budding musicians—a local product. He graduated from Craig High School in 2001.

Hollingsworth has been composing for years, but he's turned his talents into a serious business over the past year, working from his Janesville home studio.

"It's my passion. I really love doing it," he said.

Composing music is just sitting down and writing notes, Hollingsworth told the students.

"People think it has to be this huge, big deal, but it's really not," he said.

Hollingsworth played clips of his compositions, using them to get the students to consider how music can evoke feelings or even pictures in people's minds.

The kids asked a lot of questions, including his favorite kind of music.

He likes Celtic, classical and new age styles of music, but he'll write rock 'n' roll or even hip-hop.

"When somebody comes to you and says, ‘We need this kind of music,' you write that kind of music," he said.

He showed the students videos of commercials he has worked on, including one for Netflix that was made for the Brazilian market.

Seventh-graders Michael Hounshell and Blaize Butler were impressed.

"The playing is fun, but this was something different," Michael said.

The students were impressed to hear the software they were using to compose their pieces was the same as the one Hollingsworth uses.

"It's really cool," said Michael, who hopes to be a composer. "I'm thinking of getting that for my computer."

Blaize said she was most impressed with the money a composer can make.

Hollingsworth said his fee can be $3,000 per minute of music, but it can take 20 hours to produce one minute, and projects are sporadic.

Even so, Banwell nearly fell off her chair when she heard the figure.

"Wow, I'm changing my job," she said.


 

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