Woodland music students learn music composition and performance from a visiting composer

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Composer Darryl Johnson II visited Woodland Public Schools band classes during the district's Meet the Composer event in late May to teach students how to play his music while also educating them on the process of composing for a variety of different bands and instruments.

Composer Darryl Johnson II helped three different school bands learn to play and better understand his music.
Composer Darryl Johnson II helped three different school bands learn to play and better understand his music. 

Bryana Steck, Woodland Public Schools Band Director, organized the Meet the Composer Event to provide students with an engaging experience to better understand music. "For me, taking part in band clinics when I was a student had a huge impact on me; performing the composer's music in front of them provides so much insight into how to play the music and what they were thinking when they were composing the music," said Steck. "Johnson gave excellent instruction to help the students find different ways to create the intricate sounds he listens for in his pieces."

Johnson worked with three different Woodland school bands to help them learn and play five of his pieces during his visit: the Woodland Middle School band, the Woodland High School Concert Band, and the Woodland High School Percussive Ensemble, a new band class offered for the first time this semester. After working with the different classes throughout the day, the three bands performed a special concert for parents and Woodland community members that evening.

Students in Percussive Ensemble learn to play a variety of percussion instruments including using plastic buckets as drums in 'found performances.'
Students in Percussive Ensemble learn to play a variety of percussion instruments including using plastic buckets as drums in 'found performances.' 

Steck created the Percussive Ensemble Class in order to introduce students who might not have previous experience playing musical instruments or reading music to the joy of playing instruments. Students in the class learned to play a variety of traditional percussive instruments and also learned innovative styles of play by using large plastic buckets as drums. "The students have been incredibly excited about learning to play and performing with their newfound talents," said Steck. "The class learns a large number of different types of performances including traditional marching ensemble, percussive style featuring different kinds of instruments, and 'found productions' where students use plastic buckets and other found items to create music."

Johnson developed Meet the Composer events after one of his professor suggested he reach out to schools.
Johnson developed Meet the Composer events after one of his professor suggested he reach out to schools. 

Johnson developed the concept for the Meet the Composer events after one of his professors suggested he try visiting public schools to help with their band programs. "After I graduated, I realized that I truly enjoy creating music and wanted to compose again," he said. "I woke up in the middle of the night and realized my professor was right; I grabbed my laptop and began planning my first tour right here in Washington State."

Johnson offers his services touring different schools throughout the United States, helping school bands learn to play his music and educating students about music composition. "These Meet the Composer events have been the linchpin connecting me with students and teachers," he said. "This year, I have already visited 50 different schools."

Johnson discovered his love of music and music composition during his own days as a K-12 student. "Music was always the thing that stuck out to me while I was a student," he said. "From the minute I started playing piano in middle school, I wanted to write my own music, so, in high school, I wrote the music for my high school marching band."

For Johnson, teaching students motivates him to develop new concepts and create music for school bands to perform. "I like seeing the light turn on in a student's eyes; every student is looking for that spark that sets them on fire," he explained. "If I can be that spark for a student, that's outstanding, and to know I made an influence in someone's life is amazing."

Steck's students raved about their experience with the Meet the Composer Event.
Steck's students raved about their experience with the Meet the Composer Event.

Steck's students raved about their experience meeting Johnson and working with him throughout the day. "The students thought Darryl was warm, inviting, and easy to work with while also providing them with a better understanding of the importance of minute details transcribed in his music," said Steck. "The experience provided them with the ability to get inside the head of the composer of the music they working with which was incredibly insightful for them."