District 300 students perform world premiere of song in Carpentersville

Middle School Honor Band collaborates with composer Joni Greene

CARPENTERSVILLE – Community Unit School District 300 music teacher Michael Kasper said he wanted his students to create something so memorable and unique that it would transcend time.

“At District 300, we don’t just want to be followers in musical education, but leaders in what we are doing here, because we feel our community has a lot of positive things about it and a lot to share,” Kasper said.

Kasper, who teaches at Carpentersville Middle School, then got the idea to bring in a renowned composer to help students create their own piece of work.

“This experience our students are having right now is incredibly unique to education,” Kasper said. “We practice playing and give brilliant concerts like other schools do, but we don’t always get to be involved in the compositional element until now.”

On Tuesday night, the D-300 Middle School Honor Band put on a public concert in front of hundreds of people at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville. Throughout the evening, District 300 middle school students performed four different compositions, including “The Dawnland,” a brand-new work of music the honors band helped create.

“This is a very diverse school district, and it’s nice for all the students from all the different middle schools to be able to get together to do this,” conductor Mark Bettcher said.

Bettcher, who taught at District 300 for 34 years before retiring in May, said he was honored to be invited back to conduct the world premiere.

“These kids have done an exceptional job at really being focused and at the same time having a lot of fun together,” Bettcher said.

The show was made possible by an $8,000 Large Project Grant approved by the District 300 Foundation for Educational Excellence during the 2014-15 school year. The grant, facilitated by Kasper, allowed the D-300 Middle School Honor Band to hire renowned composer Joni Greene to help write the new piece of music. Kasper said Greene was selected for the project because of her unique style.

Greene started working with the students two years ago to make this performance possible, asking students via Skype what they’d like to create. Greene said this was her first time working with middle school students to compose a piece.

“I taught them how the writing process works,” Greene said. “It was wonderful working with these kids, and it was one of the most inspirational parts of the process.”

Greene asked the students what kind of story they wanted to tell. She said they wanted it to be about nature and make it an emotional journey. Using the students’ input, Greene started basing the composition off a trip she took last summer to Acadia National Park in Maine, where she learned about the first-known settlers in the area, the Wabanaki Indians.

In their native language, “Wabanaki” translates to “People of the Dawnland.”

Greene eventually sent the completed work to the district and led multiple rehearsals at District 300 middle schools last fall. As a result, the students performed a nature-inspired piece by creating innovative sounds with various instruments.

“I find it really exciting because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, because we got to give our input on what we like about the song and what we could add to the song to make it even more dynamically interesting,” said Eric Bahena, an eighth-grade student at Carpentersville Middle School who played the bassoon during “The Dawnland.”

After the event was over, Kasper said he was extremely pleased with the students’ performance.

“They did a tremendous job,” Kasper said. “And another thing that makes this so exciting is this piece of art will go out to other bands and performances and will eventually be heard around the world.”

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