Derek Bermel, Seattle Symphony composer in residence, visited Thoreau Elementary after their composition was selected to be performed at Benaroya Hall. Photo courtesy of Seattle Symphony

Derek Bermel, Seattle Symphony composer in residence, visited Thoreau Elementary after their composition was selected to be performed at Benaroya Hall. Photo courtesy of Seattle Symphony

Fifth grade students become musical composers

Thoreau Elementary was selected to have their composition played by the Seattle Symphony.

Fifth grade students of Sharon Frank’s music class at Henry David Thoreau Elementary School can now consider themselves musical composers.

As part of the Link Up program through the Seattle Symphony, third through fifth grade students are invited to learn to sing and play orchestral repertoire in their classrooms using the hands-on Link Up curriculum. The curriculum culminates in a performance with the Seattle during which students sing and play along from their seats in a highly participatory concert at Benaroya Hall.

The program’s goal is to link the classroom to the concert hall. Link Up provides teachers with standards-based materials in preparation for the concert. Students are actively engaged, singing and playing recorders or other instruments.

Each year, the Seattle Symphony holds a competition asking schools to submit a short piece written by students. Each year, the symphony’s composer in residence usually arranges the music or the symphony. This year, Kaley Eaton arranged Thoreau’s composition. The theme for this year’s composition competition was “The Sounds of Your School.”

This is the second year Thoreau has attended the Seattle Symphony.

“‘The Sounds of Thoreau’ was written in rondo form. The repeated section is the theme from our school song, ‘The Frogs are in the House,’” Frank said.

Working in groups of four, the students began by selecting sounds they hear during the school day and thinking of ways to compose rhythms that matched those sounds. Next, they added pitches and each group decided which instrument, or families of instruments, would best represent the sounds.

Amy Heald, collaborative learning manager for the Seattle Symphony, said this competition started three years ago.

“It’s a great way to highlight student work,” she said.

Out of 13 submissions, Thoreau was selected as the winner.

“All of the submissions were wonderful and creative, but Thoreau’s was the most evocative,” Heald said.

For instance, Heald said there’s a section of the composition that the students wrote for violins to play a high-pitched “screeching” sound to illustrate students playing at recess.

After the class’s submission, Eaton arranged the composition to be played by the full symphony.

“It’s so great that we get to put this music in front of the eyes of the [symphony] and see the students’ faces when they hear it for the first time,” Heald said.

All Thoreau fifth-grade students traveled to Benaroya Hall on March 14 to hear the Seattle Symphony perform their composition.

“Every student in the class was actively involved. Students listened to each other and respected different ideas,” Frank said. “The process in itself was rewarding but getting the chance to hear the Seattle Symphony perform their composition is incredible.”

For more information about Seattle Symphony’s Link Up program, visit their website.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Derek Bermel arranged the students’ composition.


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Derek Bermel visited Henry David Thoreau Elementary School in Kirkland to interview the students about their piece, which depicts the sounds of their school through the instruments of the orchestra. Photo courtesy of Seattle Symphony

Derek Bermel visited Henry David Thoreau Elementary School in Kirkland to interview the students about their piece, which depicts the sounds of their school through the instruments of the orchestra. Photo courtesy of Seattle Symphony

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