Southwest music students learn from Saskatoon composer at workshop
The Swift Current Registered Music Teachers hosted a workshop for music students to give them an opportunity to learn from Saskatoon composer Lynette Sawatsky.
The workshop for music students between the ages of four and 16 took place at the Family Community Church in Swift Current, Oct. 27.
Registered music teacher Barb Levorson said the workshop was attended by about 50 music students from Maple Creek, Pambrun and Swift Current.
“We thought it would be a really good opportunity for students to be able to meet a living composer,” she mentioned. “Most of the music that they study are composers who have been passed for several hundred years. So it's a wonderful experience for them to be able to meet a living composer and to understand how compositions are created, the inspiration and the stories that are built behind all of those songs.”
During the day the different age groups came in for hour-long interactive workshops with Sawatsky. She has been presenting these activity-based group classes for several years and the Swift Current Registered Music Teachers therefore invited her to do a workshop in Swift Current.
“Lynette has composed a series of books that are beginning with prereading activities for children who are just starting to learn music and then they are staged all the way up,” Levorson said. “She has a series of about six books and then activities that support each one of them. She does a lot of work with younger students in her own studio. So she has a vast experience with this and we're quite happy that she's here.”
She noted that Sawatsky is able to connect different elements of musicality in these group classes, which have various benefits for students.
“I think it helps them to understand that the music stories we create are not just plain notes on the page,” she said. “We have to build stories and emotions into the music and understand how they're created and what type of atmosphere you want to create in your own mind, because if you have that music story, that music picture in your own mind, then when you are performing it, you can convey that to your audience so much better and you create more engagement with the music, both for the student who is playing it as well as for the audience who is listening to it.”
Levorson felt the music teachers who were there during the day also benefitted from watching the interaction during the classes.
“I think that it was a good experience for the teachers as well to be able to see how this composer has built her own songs so that when we go to teach them in our studio, we'll have a better approach as well,” she said. “As teachers you always have to be learning and it's not all just about teaching. We have to learn as well. So it's been good.”
Sawatsky's musical training started at the age of four and she completed her performer's A.R.C.T. (Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music) in piano when she was in high school. She has a Bachelor of Education (elementary) from the University of Saskatchewan.
Her piano compositions have been used as festival test pieces in Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan and have been added to Conservatory Canada's syllabus. Her elementary collection, Waddle & Quack, is on the Music for Young Children supplemental list.
“I always enjoy meeting students and just sharing the love of music and trying to inspire them to try new things,” she said after her workshop in Swift Current. “As musicians we do a lot of things solo and so it's really fun to have the opportunity to spend time together and do some ensemble playing and just share the joy of being musicians.”
She will teach different musical aspects during these classes, but her goal is also to ensure that children are enjoying the experience.
“Often there's something I'm trying to show them, how music works, and there's so much to that with rhythm and harmonies and things,” she said. “But I think mostly, because we just have a short snapshot of time together, I want to make it fun and motivating for them so that they're going away and say to their teacher 'I want to play this piece' and just to have something that fires up their imagination or get them enthused to try something that's new.”
Many of her compositions are specifically aimed at children. The music used at the Swift Current workshop was relevant to different levels, but it will also assist students to progress to the next level.
“We're always trying to work with where they are, but I really think it's important for students to have music that they enjoy playing and that is musical,” she said. “So I'm always trying to create pieces that will be lyrically appealing. I sometimes use humour in my music, that sort of thing, just to try to invite children to participate”
The Flutter & Blink music book is aimed at beginners, but she wants students to already enjoy the musical aspect of training at this level.
“It's meant to be taught by rote and teachers would teach it to their students and just show them patterns, and each of those pieces in there has a teacher duet,” she said. “So it sounds like music right away, because beginner piano often sounds like one note at a time and this is meant to sound musical right away, and then I have books that build from there. ... I use a lot of patterns in my compositions so that students can predict what's next and it's easy for them to memorize what's next, and to create a piece of music that's musically satisfying.”
In her music book Once Upon a Time, which is for students in grades 1-3 RCM/CCM levels, there are three pieces that allow the students to make their own musical choices.
“That's empowering, because they don't have to just play exactly what's written,” she said. “They can make some decisions too, with their teacher too, to feel like they have a bit of control over what they're creating.”
She believes music can bring joy and enrich lives. She is doing a weekly lunch hour program in Saskatoon with children from core neighbourhoods.
“I use a lot of sign language with the children as we're singing,” she said. “We have a lot of kids with learning disabilities in that choir and they're not able to focus in their classrooms and teachers who've come in and watch tell me they're amazed because they all participate. They're trying to do the sign language and they're able to do it, and so I think music has a power beyond itself to communicate with each other and to make us feel like we're part of something important and to help us remember things that, if we're trying to learn a verse and we want them to memorize it, to set it to music is really a powerful way to do it.”
This was the first time the Swift Current Registered Music Teachers hosted a workshop of this nature and it will probably not be the last one.
“We're looking forward to doing more, because Saskatchewan has a wealth of composers,” Levorson said. “We're hoping that this will be the first in a number of workshops that we'll be able to run over the years. So we're really excited about this. I think it's been very successful and we're already thinking ahead to next year of somebody else that we can bring in to do something similar.”
Saskatoon composer Lynette Sawatsky interacts with music students during a group class at her Swift Current workshop, Oct. 27.