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New Mid-Pen Music: Scenes from a Quarantine

For Mid-Pen’s music program, the music room is a sacred space. It goes beyond collaboration. It’s a vibe. Energy. A place where the class is part theory, part creation, and all connection. 

When Mid-Pen closed its campus and moved to distance learning, students lost the in-person togetherness that was more than a daily class; it was a favorite part of their day. Zoom meetings couldn’t replace it.

To help his students push through the separation and grief of being apart, Music Teacher Jameson Swanagon had them experiment with a different type of creative process—one that challenged them to learn how to use recording technology as well as reflect on methods that worked, and those that didn’t. Students compiled a list of what they call Creative Maneuvers, “things to do when you sit down to make music,” said Jameson.

One Maneuver asks students to “imagine or hum a melody. Find the notes on your instrument. Repeat melody many times to see if you hear developments or refinements.” Students use the Maneuvers to start the creative process, whether at the beginning of a session, when students run into the musical equivalent of writer’s block, or when they want to experiment for fun.

“I think it was a really good way for my band to work together to problem-solve ways to create our pieces,” said Bridget Cruz ‘21, whose vocals are heard in sixth-period music class. “I think it also definitely brought us a little closer together and made the experience more fun. Just having fun with what you’re creating and knowing that it doesn’t always have to be perfect was definitely something I took away from the whole thing.”

Students in each class then recorded Scenes from a Quarantine, where all musicians composed their parts in an agreed-upon key and tempo, but without hearing what each other are making. They were encouraged to use Creative Maneuvers while discovering and documenting new ones. All the parts were recorded individually and collected. Jameson then arranged the tracks into a piece of music.

The end-result of their work is a new Mid-Pen Music website, where visitors can listen to a compilation of music that each class created while apart. Students also shared photos of their home workspace while they shelter in place and their thoughts about the creative process.

“Sometimes what you create doesn’t have to sound like music at all,” said Bridget.