I have a friend who is generally a genius. His name is Anthony Hawley. Originally I knew him as a poet who had published a stack of chap books that I could call when I needed help translating Italian. Now he works in the art department. What interests me about what Anthony as an educator is the way that he comes up with assignments. Anthony’s projects always seem to be asking the students for more than just making a work. He asks them to become artists.

Consider the following post from his FB page the other day:

“We had a pretty invigorating night last night in Senior Capstone for Art Majors. Students were faced with two big challenges: first, they had to bring to class a work of theirs they wanted to destroy (that in and of itself caused a fair amount of anxiety and raised a lot of questions about preciousness). Then, they were asked to take that work and sell it to a complete stranger on the street in an hour and 15 mins. How they did that was up to them. There were a few cop-outs, a couple primadonnas, some who managed to do it in the quickest least painful way possible, and some extraordinary people went out on a limb and took a real risk and came back with amazing stories and encounters. They had to document the exchange in some way. There are some marvelous videos and photos I’ll post in a bit. Those who did take a real risk to make something happen came back electrified and beaming with excitement and a tad bit of fear. This is what it’s all about folks.”

There are so many things that I like about this. There are so many things it asks of students. I’m wondering how we could apply this to composers. It seems that we are always so busy teaching the craft — at least I am because I find basic skills to be so deficient — that I don’t have time to talk about how to be an artist. I suppose I just hope they will look at how I’m doing stuff and absorb it by osmosis. I think, though, that I want to spend some time considering how to bring some sort of existential challenge to the table.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have on how we might do this as composition teachers.