Ellington Energy at ISP

The ISP music program regularly brings in Prague professional musicians as visiting artists to inspire and coach our learners in the hard work of becoming a musician. We’ve had the fortune of having Andy Schofield, musician, composer and arranger, as a visiting artist for the past several years. Not only has Andy played professionally in Prague but has played with numerous internationally renowned groups across his career.

A few years ago, Andy launched the Jazz Dock Orchestra (JDO). We also have the great fortune of having Suzanne Higgins, also a member of the JDO, now on staff as our Elementary Music Teacher. Thanks to these connections, our young musicians will have the opportunity to see how a professional big band rehearses and prepares for a concert. The JDO will be at ISP on Friday, September 17 and everyone in the community is invited to join the livestream concert at 13:15 or watch the recorded video when you have a chance.

Duke Ellington, composer, pianist and leader of what is considered the best regarded orchestral group in the history of Jazz, earned 12 Grammy awards and a Pulitzer Prize.  In 1956, after performing at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Ontario, Ellington decided to put together a suite, entitled Such Sweet Thunder, based on Shakespeare’s characters. The Jazz Dock Orchestra will be performing this suite for their concert at ISP. 

In preparation for this event, our young musicians in Elementary, Middle and Upper School are learning about, listening to, playing and remixing Duke Ellington’s compositions and arrangements. 

In the Elementary School, Ms. Higgins launched this inquiry by showing pictures of Duke Ellington, listening to some of his music and then soliciting the students’ questions about what they were wondering so they could build their knowledge of him and his music over time.

Students also learned about the instrumentation of a big band and honed their listening skills by identifying the instruments when listening to pieces of Ellington’s suite. And of course, they are further developing their own instrumental skills by learning how to play the introductory part of Such Sweet Thunder on xylophones, metallophones, glockenspiels, and/or boomwhackers.

This week Elementary students were thinking about Shakespear’s character Othello, what he might sound like and why. In Grade 5, they came up with what they thought it would sound like and played it before then listening to the opening of the suite. And as Ms Higgins recounts, “This was an amazing moment – I asked the 5th graders to think of music that would fit the character of Othello…this rhythm is the actual opening of the piece Ellington wrote, I couldn’t believe it! You should have seen their faces when I played them in the original! Please listen to both the Grade 5 students’ version and the original audio here

In addition to learning about and listening to Duke Ellington’s music, our Middle and Upper intermediate and advanced band students are learning a version of Such Sweet Thunder that Andy arranged for them.  Ms Simondet’s Grade 8 (right top) and Upper School Band (right below) students are learning the catchy riff and recording their playing with a backing track in GarageBand. 

Another exciting learning opportunity of the Jazz Dock Orchestra’s visit relates to ISP’s US Creating Music With Technology class. Mr. Ethridge will be running sound for the performance, which will allow the students a behind-the-scenes view of microphone choice and placement and professional level multitrack recording techniques. In addition, the Jazz Dock Orchestra has given their permission for the students to take those multitrack recordings of each instrument and then completely remix them with a student-composed drum groove and GarageBand plug-ins and effects to create an original remix of Such Sweet Thunder.

On Friday September 17, music students will be able to observe and question the Jazz Dock Orchestra musicians during their morning rehearsal and then attend the concert in our very own Landau Theatre. Feel free to join us via ISP’s livestream to experience the inspiration and energy of Duke Ellington’s Shakespearean inspired musical creation.