The Big Band Sound of Your Back Yard!
Activity: Backyard Composition
1. Find an area outside your home (your patio, backyard, balcony, front yard, or common area) where you’ll be able to sit, undisturbed, for approximately 10 minutes.
2. Listen to the sounds in front and to the sides of where you’re sitting, paying close attention to their timbre, dynamic level, and placement of each sound you hear.
3. Name the sounds and list their occurrence according to presentation order, location, and duration, using the graphic, below, as your template.
For instance, if you hear birds singing quietly to the center-right of your location, indicate that in your diagram in area D, also noting when the sound occurred and for how long it occurred. If a moment later you hear a car horn to your far left, indicate that in area A. Also indicate the sound’s dynamic level.
4. Collect sounds for approximately 10 minutes.
5. You can go inside now. Your task at this point is to (a) decide what different musical instruments found in the typical swing band of the 1930s best match each sound you heard, and (b) what performance direction you could provide for each instrument to suggest the qualities of each sound you heard. You should use a chart similar to the example below to help you organize your thoughts.
We’re surrounded by sound and new sounds enter our environment all the time. You should have 15 or more sounds indicated in your composition (some of them may repeat, if that’s what happened when you were collecting sounds).
Sound Location Time it Occurred Duration Musical Instrument(s) Performance Instructions
1 Air conditioner A 1:15pm Ongoing Ride cymbal Soft Ride rhythm played with brushes
2 Car starting E 5 seconds later 2 seconds Trombone Quick ascending notes starting low and ending high.
3 Parrots squawking Start at A, sweep to C 1:17pm 6 seconds Saxophones Rhythmic dissonant sounds that decrescendo
6. Give your composition a title.
7. Upload your work to the Backyard Big Band drop box.
Your experience is very similar to the creative experience that many composers complete. Beethoven often walked in the forest and listened to sounds for inspiration. Many jazz performers were inspired by city sounds, industrial sounds, or the sounds of the countryside. For example, can you hear the sounds of the city in Taxi War Dance or Harlem Air Shaft, from CD 1 tracks 8 & 9 from your Jazz Classics disk?