Playing computer keyboard, composer makes music at Northwest Middle CARROLL COUNTY EDUCATION

November 30, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Sixth-grader Jessica Muller was mentally taking notes -- th musical kind -- as she watched the professional composer visiting her classroom.

The composer was using a keyboard -- the computer kind -- to show the Northwest Middle School band classes a faster, high-tech way to transcribe musical notes.

Instead of taking a piece of paper with bars on it and drawing in each note one by one, Les Taylor tells the MacIntosh computer to do it.

That way, for the 25 measures in the theme from "Peter Gunn" that use the same bass-clef pattern, Mr. Taylor has only to hit a few commands and the computer repeats the pattern for all the appropriate measures.

It looks complicated to someone who is not music-literate, but Jessica had no trouble keeping up with Mr. Taylor, 48, a composer who lives near Gettysburg.

Through a grant, the school has brought Mr. Taylor to work with band students one day a week for four weeks, then compose an original piece of music for them to play.

Jessica, the daughter of Teresa and Gary Muller of Keysville, plays clarinet and piano. She already has two computers at home and would love to get her hands on the MacIntosh setup that Mr. Taylor is using. But the technology is too expensive to have in every school. The one at Northwest is on loan from Francis Scott Key High School.

Jessica already has tried her hand at writing music and knows how cumbersome it can be. A computer would make it a lot smoother, she said.

"If you want to change the key or change the note, instead of erasing it all you just tell the computer," Jessica said.

She fully expects to use computers when she grows up to become a music teacher.

"Computers help you explain things," she said.

Mr. Taylor, who was once a band teacher, has spent most of his life making a living by taking popular music and arranging it for student bands to play. He is a free lance, taking work from large companies such as Columbia Pictures and Hal Leonard Music, a publishing company.

One of his current projects is arranging all of movie composer Dmitri Tiomkin's work for student bands. Another is for the TV show "Cops," for which he is arranging a rap-style piece for the opening theme.

"I'm not excited about that, but it's work and part of the job," he said of the "Cops" theme.

The part of his job that does excite him is working with students as a composer-in-residence, even though he says the money is just enough for him to break even.

"My favorite situation is just this -- writing for somebody I know, or somebody who wants me to write for them," he said of his work at Northwest.

Mr. Taylor has finished working with students, and now will go home to compose an original piece for the school's band, allow the band to play it for a year, then publish it for other school bands to play.

If he's lucky, he said, 250 to 300 copies will be published and he will be able to collect royalties from the sales.

"None of us get rich, trust me," he said. "It won't mean a lot of money, but at least other people will have a chance to play the piece."

The piece will always have the words, "Commissioned by the Northwest Middle School Band, Taneytown, Richard Stimmel, director," on the sheet music.

Mr. Stimmel brought the musician here by applying for a grant from Meet the Composer, a non-profit organization in New York City.

The organization awarded Northwest a $1,600 grant, contingent on Mr. Stimmel's getting the community to match that amount. )) The local contributors were Crouse Ford, Evapco, Lion Brothers, Taneytown Bank & Trust, Maryland Troopers Association, Willet's Painting, Nathan's Forge, Lions Club of Taneytown and Lehigh Portland Cement.

Carroll County school officials were able to supply a MacIntosh from the computer lab at Key and a special machine that projects the image on the monitor onto a movie screen so that the whole class can see what is happening.

Mr. Taylor brought some of his own equipment to hook up to the computer, including a synthesizer and a MIDI, a musical instrument digital interface.

The MIDI allows the synthesizer and the computer to talk to each other. Mr. Taylor can play notes on the synthesizer that instantly appear on the computer screen.

And when he wants to hear what he wrote played back, he just strokes a few commands on the computer keyboard and the entire Peter Gunn theme starts playing while Mr. Taylor sits with his hands on his knees, smiling, and the students start bobbing to the beat.

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