IU East professor uses work as composer to enhance the classroom
Assistant Professor of music Elliott McKinley, the music program coordinator at Indiana University East, is bringing his compositions into the classroom.
"My experiences as a composer and a musician come back to the classroom directly, giving students an idea of what it is like to work as a professional in the field. It is the kind of thing that a textbook cannot really demonstrate," said McKinley, whose compositions have been performed throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. "Potential composition students get to know me through my music -- and sometimes, that's enough to encourage them to study with me. I know of several students who have come to IU East specifically because they have heard my music. It's like a business card of sorts."
McKinley recently released a new CD recording, String Quartets (Navona Records, distributed by Naxos), featuring the Martin String Quartet of Prague playing three string quartets that he composed over a 10-year period. The Martin String Quartet commissioned and premiered each of the quartets.
The recording of McKinley's sixth quartet was supported by an IU East Faculty Research Support Grant in 2009.
The Essex Chamber Music Players in Boston recently commissioned him to write a new piece for flute, cello and piano commemorating the 50th anniversary of Northern Essex Community College. The work will premiere March 25, 2012, at that college.
McKinley received another IU East Faculty Research Support Grant to record a recent composition, Three Symphonic Moods, commissioned and premiered by the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra last November. "I knew going in that this wouldn't be a symphony," he said of Three Symphonic Moods. "I wanted each movement to explore a different feeling or mood, hence the title." The recording took place in August with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kirk Trevor, who is also the music director of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra.
When the edited recording becomes available, McKinley will use the piece in his orchestration and arranging course.
McKinley also instructs students on composition. This fall, his students were embedded with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra in a rehearsal, allowing them a behind-the-scenes look at the musician's experience. Many students may not be directly familiar with playing an instrument, he said, so seeing musicians at work provides an invaluable lesson on the issues, problems and solutions related to preparing a musical performance.
Guy Bordo, music director/conductor for the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, said a big part of the orchestra's mission is education.
"We are always glad to see students taking advantage of the opportunities we can provide," Bordo said, adding that the growth IU East is pleased to enhance the student experience through such innovative courses..
"It's always very important for students studying orchestration or composition to see the practical application of what they are doing," Bordo said. "It's one thing to put notes on a page, but it is completely different to see the results of what a composer does with a live orchestra. Playing music is not an exact science -- it's an art. So there are many ways to interpret the notation we use. Seeing that done first hand is invaluable to a student in music."
Students can use this experience to their benefit as they work on their own music, McKinley said.