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RMS band students will get a tailor-made original

Australian composer Jodie Blackshear speaks to Rosemount Middle School band students last week. Blackshear will write an original piece of music that the RMS band will premier next year.2 / 2

Just about a year from now, Rosemount Middle School band students will perform a piece of music nobody in the world has ever heard.

The RMS band is working with Australian composer Jodie Blackshaw on a piece Blackshaw will write specifically for the band through a program called Band Quest. Over the course of several months Blackshaw will write her music and check in with students through Facebook and other means. The result will be an original piece of music that, thanks to the student input, likely won't sound quite the same at any performances that follow RMS's world debut.

Blackshaw compared the process to a choose-your-own adventure book.

"My idea is that the students are doing this. They're going to have a lot of say in terms of what the piece is going to be," Blackshaw said last week on a visit to RMS. "I'm just going to present a building block and students are going to be very, very strongly involved with the journey the piece takes."

Band director Herb Dick has been involved with BandQuest for the past 20 years or so, helping to write curriculum to accompany the composition process.

Until recently, though, he never thought to ask how bands were chosen for the program. Once he did, RMS got put on the list.

BandQuest usually pairs composers with bands located near them to make collaboration easier, but with Blackshear location was irrelevant.

Blackshaw's commission doesn't officially begin until January, but she's already gotten a jump on the process. She was in Minnesota for other reasons last week, so she stopped by RMS to listen to the school's eighth grade band and talk a little bit about music and her background. She won't work with these specific students next year -- they will have moved on to Rosemount High School -- but Dick thought it was a good idea to give Blackshaw an idea of what RMS eighth graders are capable of. Some of the school's seventh graders came in during their lunch period to meet Blackshaw.

Dick is excited to be part of the program. He is especially excited to work with Blackshaw because of the way she works. He likes that his students will play a role in shaping the music.

"Her music tends to be fragments and little snippets of stuff with lots of direction for improvisation and ways for kids to use that stuff," Dick said. "We spend so much time teaching kids how to recreate art that's been created by someone else ... that sometimes we don't give them enough opportunity to use the art form they've learned about ... to convey their own ideas."

All three band directors at RMS have students who will be involved in the process.

Once work begins on the piece next year Blackshear will write and share the music with students. They will record video clips to send back and Blackshaw will refine the work. Dick expects to perform the piece at the band's spring concert next year.

RMS band concerts typically take place in the school's cafeteria, but Dick hopes to find something a little bigger for this occasion.

"I'm just really excited about it," he said. "I'm really grateful and not taking for granted this opportunity our kids are going to have."