The Composer Collaboratory: Transforming the Relationship Between Pre-service Teacher and Student in Young Band Settings


Casey J. Clementson, Rosemount Middle School

John R. Stewart, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire


Research regarding collaboration between universities and K-12 music programs focuses primarily on the benefits to pre-service teachers: the ability to observe teacher-student interactions, classroom pedagogy, and the application of theory to practice (Brophy, 2011).  While these benefits are valuable to pre-service teachers, the perspective of the K-12 music student is often ignored.  How can we reimagine collaboration to be mutually beneficial for the pre-service teacher and the music student?   


This presentation will describe the development of the Composer Collaboratory, an annual partnership between a pre-service teacher/composer and a sixth grade band.  The term “collaboratory,” a combination of collaboration and laboratory, was coined to describe global online spaces for people to create and explore together (McGonigal, 2011). As part of the Composer Collaboratory, a pre-service music education student composes an original piece for young band. Throughout the process, students communicate via videos, handwritten notes, Skype sessions, and through the music itself, resulting in a world premiere performance of the composition by the sixth grade band. Following the performance, the middle school students embark on their own compositional process, collaborating in groups and performing their pieces for peers.  The university professor and the middle school band teacher facilitate the communications and interactions between the composer and the students and help prepare the music for performance.


While Bresler (2002) advocated that collaborations need not be rigid in the outcome or final product, we have found the benefits of the Composer Collaboratory to be as follows. First, while performance ensembles may have the opportunity to premier new compositions through consortiums or commissions, this is not always a financially feasible option for middle school programs. Conversely, music education students with an interest in composing may struggle to find opportunities to write for young bands. Second, the pre-service teacher/composer has a chance to witness student-teacher interactions and classroom pedagogy using their own music as curriculum, resulting in learning how to creatively develop ideas to reinforce musical concepts for students while maintaining compositional integrity. This experience for the pre-service teacher/composer helped reduce their fear and apprehension for composing for younger ensembles.  Third, young band students become part of the creation process as they learn with the composer, question what is happening in the music, and then apply those ideas to their own compositions, resulting in a constructivist learning environment (Wiggins, 2015).


As we look towards imagining possible futures, we propose that school and university partnerships can move beyond field placements for pre-service teachers to practice teaching.  Rather, exploring innovative ways for pre-service teachers and K-12 students to collaborate can create valuable interactions and transformational relationships for all.




Bresler, L. (2002). Out of the trenches: The joys (and risks) of cross-disciplinary collaborations. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 152, 17-39.

Brophy, T. (2011). School-university partnerships in music education: A status report. Arts Education Policy Review, 112, 149-153. doi: 10.1080/10632913.2011.566092

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how can they change the world. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Wiggins, J. (2015). Teaching for musical understanding. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.