This month we’re sharing a series of beautiful stories about ACG community and education projects that happened in the spring! If you’re curious to see more of our past projects please check out our ACG Productions page and our previous Blogs!

This spring we had the opportunity to connect with the students of Northeast Highschool’s guitar program in a spectacular way. Our Teaching Artist and Director of Ensembles, Tony Mariano connected with local singer/songwriter Daniel Fears, to guide the students of Dallas Shreve’s guitar and orchestra classes through composing and recording their own music. 

Daniel Fears visited several classes and walked students through his compositional process to inspire them to compose their own music. Dallas and Tony then worked with the students directly to create some outstanding pieces of music inspired by the theme of Hope. 

We had the opportunity to speak with Tony Mariano about the process and value of the project. Tony shared, 

“Helping students to be creative in a way that brings them out of their comfort zone is incredibly valuable. It’s what musicians do all the time – create beautiful music from nothing. We started with an idea of Hope, and ran with it. And in doing so, the students had the opportunity to take their limited experience on their instruments and create something brand new that connected what they were playing and composing to a specific feeling and idea. This gave them an opportunity to create despite feeling unsure of what would come from it. It allowed them to feel vulnerable in a safe and positive space, and seeing the final product gave them a chance to feel proud, not just of a performance, but proud of what they created. It wasn’t always easy, in fact, the composition process was incredibly difficult, and many students felt super hesitant and self-conscious. But in the end, everyone was able to contribute a little bit of something to the final product, whether it be an idea for a melody, thoughts on the form, a video clip, or some poetry.”

The students in Dallas’ class were given the freedom to create their piece of music in any style or genre and were not limited to only the classical guitar or orchestral instruments. 

“While each composition began with music notated and composed in the manner you’d find typical of a “classical” piece of music, we did not limit their creativity to a classical genre. In the final product, there are drums, electric guitar, spoken word, etc. We were less concerned with creating a piece of music that adhered to a specific genre, but rather we were more interested in providing the students with an opportunity to use their musical voice to create something beautiful, whatever that may be,” Tony shared. 

The process of creating something beautiful is different for every artist and musician. It can be so rewarding and intricate to be able to create what is in your mind into something tangible or audible. We asked Tony to share what a typical composition lesson looked like for the students and how their creative process began. He shared, 

“A typical composition started with a prompt – “pick one string, pick three notes that sound good together.” From there, we built a melody. Then, we would ask the students to come up with a bass line that sounded good with whatever melody they created. Usually we’d help them out with this part by choosing certain notes for the students, and allowing them to improvise with those notes until they came up with something that felt right. We then added ostinatos, chords, middle voices, anything that added positively to the “mix” we were creating – all improvised and coming directly from the students. And with each step, we would try to tie in what they were doing with the idea of Hope – “does this sound hopeful” , “what chord would make this sound and feel more hopeful” etc. Once the mixes were finished, we turned some of the more advanced students loose to compose their own solo’s, which turned out incredible. And we passed one song on to Daniel to add his special touch to the mix.”

We at ACG are constantly astounded by the fiery creativity and talent that surrounds us. And today, we are so excited to share the hard work of Dallas Shreve’s students with you. 

“Composing and recording can be so messy, even for the pros. So seeing all that hard work pay off in an incredibly beautiful video was heartwarming in a truly special way. Whenever you start on a journey like this, you never know what is going to come of it. The students don’t know, the teachers don’t know. So it is always a special surprise to see the final product. And passing that video on to the students so that they could take it and show it to a family member or friend to say “Hey, I made this” is so so powerful.” -Tony Mariano