For almost three decades (on and off) I have been involved in music education: from experimental, conceptual sound taught to university students, to concert band tuition for primary school students. Anecdotally, the years that seem to matter most for kids regarding the ability to be able to engage with a wide variety of music (experimental and non-Western for example) are the first years, yet exposure to non-traditional types of music seem to be shunned in favour of a simplified familiarity. A lot of this (in the pre-school years) can be passed off as parents reaching for what they know to work – lullabies and nursery rhymes – but what about beyond that?

What about the first few years of school music education and literacy? Every year new series’ of reading books, each seeming longer and more complex than the last, seem to fill our library shelves. Other subjects are continually updated, leaving parents scratching their heads at such terms as mental maths and gamification, but early music tuition books are filled with old worldy classics such as the complete works of Stephen Foster, Jingle Bells and When the Saints Go Marching In. (Most of these early books – regardless of brand – share much of this same content).

It’s not as if composers aren’t writing new, exciting, edgy material and some of it suitable for young performers. The main factors against including new material seem to be familiarity, accessibility and cost.

Sounds Wide Open is desperately trying to overcome this time warp. We are asking composers to submit an extract or movement from, or an adaptation of, longer works that may themselves be suitable for younger players. The idea is that these short pieces (8-48 bars, ideally), would be designated Creative Commons, while the longer pieces from which they are derived would remain copyrighted (if the composer so wishes).

In doing this we hope to overcome the three impediments to the distribution of new ideas and material in the following way:

  • Cost
    These works would be free to distribute under a Creative Commons licence (under the ‘Attribution Licence’), providing that they are attributed to the composer and the name of the work from which they are derived is mentioned. This would make them competitive with stock standard works that are generally public domain.
  • Accessibility
    These new works will be available in three ways (eventually):

    • Online through a database to download as PDFs, MusicXMLs (via Finale or Sibelius etc.), and/or MP3s,
    • Through specially-produced hard copy tutorial guides for school bands, orchestras, recorder groups and other ensembles,
    • Publicised to existing music publishing companies to use at no cost (thus replacing the Stephen Foster etc. staples) as long as they attribute properly (thus promoting the composer).

    A forth way will be through secondary distribution (after distribution through one of the other three ways), again with proper attribution.

  • Familiarity
    This is the most difficult impediment to overcome, as some of the existing tunes have been used in this context for well over a century, but young performers don’t know most of these tunes (with the exception of nursery rhymes) so it will be teachers that need convincing. It is hoped that over time accessibility and publicity will lead to familiarity.

Types of Music

Sounds Wide Open is a project set up to displace (or at least dilute) traditional pieces of music that have been used again and again to teach beginners. It is designed to demonstrate ideas beyond the limited tropes normally conveyed, but it is not meant to scare or alienate children, parents and teachers. To this end, it is assumed that most pieces will take a gently, gently approach, offering a bridge between the known and the unknown. However, this certainly does not discount works from containing the following:

  • non-Western musical ideas
  • algorithmic composition (including serialism)
  • phasing,  process-based or drone composition
  • aleatory
  • microtonality
  • polytonality
  • jazz and alternate modes
  • graphic notation
  • extended technique
  • anything else you can think of…

In terms of instrumentation, works may specify instruments, but the most useful pieces are those that are more general in their direction and for one to four instruments.

Sounds Wide Open will effectively operate as a non-profit enterprise (so we won’t make any money from your contributions), but commercial organisations (such as music publishers) may profit if they give the proper attribution.

Please contribute to this project and help build a library of new small works and ideas for future generations of budding musicians by filling out THIS FORM.

Greg Shapley