2018’s Ballads of the Borderland was expanded to include an educational initiative that gave young grade-school composers the chance to work with college-level composers to create original works of music. Here, UTSA student composer Letslie Aguirre shares her experience with her grade school composers.

It was a great pleasure to have mentored these talented students. As we worked on their pieces, I was very impressed to hear their ideas and happy to give them new insights so they could experiment and expand their musical palette.

All of the student composers had great disposition and dedication throughout the development of this project. From their very first lesson, my students had melodic and harmonic material ready to play. One of my students embraced the spirit of San Antonio and composed in a syncretic form, mixing ideas of two different music styles. I merely presented a guide for them to explore a musical language beyond the traditional language that they had learned through their previous piano lessons.

My job as a mentor was to introduce these young composers to extended harmony, suggest interesting harmonic progressions and modulation to other key areas, and even make them aware of different types of harmonies.

Given that they had a clear idea of the opening melodic line, I decided to give them an overview of contrapuntal melodic contour. I was surprised to see how this idea influenced their music. They understood the effect of contour and shape in a melody and used this concept to build interesting phrases, creating a deeper connection with the listener.

One of the main focuses while working with my students was the introduction to form. In the beginning, their works in progress exposed a character of repetition of phrases and harmony. When I presented the idea of musical form as a map to organize themes and larger sections, they started to acquire a clearer idea of the structure in their pieces. This concept helped students answer the same question that I frequently ask myself when composing, “What should I do next?”. It should be noted that when introducing the concept of musical form, I made it clear to my students that this should not be a strict imposition to their music, but rather, a flexible tool that could serve as a guide to unify their musical ideas.

During the lessons, I realized that the pianistic ability that the students had was crucial for the development of their music. Not only did they know how to express themselves with dexterity, but they easily understood and applied the new topics related to music theory that I introduced in our lesson.
I was very impressed with their final performance on March 3rd, 2018 at the Musical Arts Center of San Antonio (MACSA). I am very grateful to CCSA and SOLI Chamber Ensemble for giving me and my fellow composers the opportunity to learn from these young, promising composers. This experience has impacted me and my growth as a musician, composer, and teacher. I hope to be the guide of many great student composers in the future.