Westview, Longs Peak middle school students to debut original piece of music

Originally published in the Times-Call >>


On Feb. 22, Longmont middle school students will be the first people to play an original piece of music inspired by education activist Malala Yousafzai.

Westview Middle School Band Director Nicole Kmoch reached out to Colorado Springs-based composer Erin Paton Pierce to ask if Pierce could compose an original piece of music for Westview and Longs Peak middle school students.

Pierce agreed and composed an original piece of music for the students to perform titled "When the World is Silent (Even One Voice Becomes Powerful)," inspired by Yousafzai's story.

The 7 p.m. concert at Longmont High School on Feb. 22 is free and open to the public.

Yousafzai, a Pakistani woman, began anonymously blogging about her life under Taliban rule when she was 11 years old. During the subsequent years, she publicly campaigned for girls' rights to an education.

In 2012, she was targeted and shot in the head, neck and shoulder by a Taliban gunman while on a school bus. Yousafzai survived the attack, and in 2014, she became the youngest Nobel Laureate at age 17. She is currently enrolled at the University of Oxford and continues to advocate for girls' education.

Kmoch said that her eighth-grade students had just read Yousafzai's biography, "I Am Malala," so performing a piece inspired by the young activist tied perfectly into their language arts education.

Westview students said as they rehearsed the piece Thursday morning that it's a unique opportunity to be the first to play a piece of music.

"I'm very excited to have this opportunity that not very many people have," 14-year-old saxaphone player Ben Cooper said.

Another sax player, 14-year-old Cruzie Dudley, agreed.

"It's really cool because we're playing music that was specifically made for us," Dudley said.

Pierce said it's a more of a challenge for a band to perform an original piece.

"There are no recordings or reference. You can't just YouTube it and find 14 different performances," Kmoch said. "You have to use your musical knowledge and background of musical knowledge to interpret the style of the piece. As a musician, that's an added challenge, but an exciting one."

Pierce visited the students for a joint rehearsal on Tuesday morning. Kmoch said the students were a little starstruck to be in the presence of a modern-day composer.

"Musicians are so used to seeing a name on a piece of music that they don't imagine that it's a real person necessarily — especially a person who is standing there and saying, 'I wrote this and I wrote it for all of you,'" Kmoch said.

Longs Peak Middle Band Director Chad Lemons agreed.

"It's sort of like you ask the students before what questions they might have for her and they can come up with a million questions, but when she was actually there, they're suddenly very shy," Lemons said.

While the annual joint concert helps middle school students make connections with their future high school classmates, Kmoch said that Pierce's visit on Tuesday added an extra educational component.

"It showed them that there are other facets of music besides sitting in ensemble and playing their instruments," Kmoch siad. "They start to think, 'Maybe I could try composing music because (Pierce) started in high school herself.'"

Lemons credited Kmoch with reaching out to Pierce and just asking if she would be willing to do something for Longmont students.

"We're really lucky that we've got some really outstanding composers and arrangers in Colorado ... really big credit to Nicole because she was the one who had this idea to ask Erin." Lemons said. "I hope I can open other band directors' eyes or music teachers' eyes to that — that it's definitely in your reach even though it sort of seems like you don't know what the first step would be. Nicole showed me that all it takes is a phone call or an email."