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"Putting the E- in E-nsemble"

syllabus and curriculum

by Alex Shapiro

A big ensemble, making music online
A big ensemble, making music online.







An introduction from Alex

Alex Shapiro


If you're looking for a way to creatively engage music students in an online or hybrid format, below are the links to my "Putting the E- in E-nsemble" syllabus and the CBDNA COVID-19 Response Committee Report of which I'm a co-author and to which I refer in the syllabus. In addition to featuring a ton of helpful teaching ideas, the report contains links to resources that may be useful for getting students set up for their online efforts.


I created this course in mid-March 2020 at the invitation of University of Washington's Director of Bands Timothy Salzman. He called me up out of the blue that historic week, as Washington state schools abruptly shifted to online learning in response to the growing Coronavirus pandemic that initially hit Seattle-area communities. Tim and I knew of each other solely by reputation: his, as a revered conductor and educator I'd always hoped to meet, and mine, as a composer-geek who had over a decade of experience connecting through what I coined "webhearsals" with ensembles around the world via Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime, and Zoom.


Tim and I discussed the need to keep his band and orchestra students playing their instruments, and the desire to keep them engaged with each other through an ongoing online collaboration-- knowing full well that synchronous audio was not yet an option. We also talked about the possibility of opening their minds to additional musical skills of composition, improvisation, and technology that they may had yet to experience. You can read about it below.


After we hung up the phone that evening, I mapped out a multi-page syllabus, with step-by-step ideas for starting and continuing a creative journey. I emailed Tim the results assuming that maybe he'd adopt just one or two of my ideas. Instead, to my surprise and delight, he decided to launch into the full syllabus. Within days we were Zooming with the students, and over the following weeks these lesson plans were further developed and improved with the input of the UW conducting faculty and participating students.


In the months between Spring 2020 and 2021, in addition to my "cheerleader" role in overseeing the process with the University of Washington students, I worked directly with over 30 universities and high schools on this project, watching their student instrumentalists become composers. It's been nothing short of magical and deeply inspiring to witness this natural evolution of expression. I have always contended that everyone can compose-- if they're simply given the encouragement and opportunity to do so.


Delving into this aspect of personal creativity makes for a better musician all around. Students who have learned the inner workings of motivic development by organizing sound themselves will never again look at a score the same way. They will forever hold an affinity to the process, and to the structure that frames the repertoire they play.


And as Tim and subsequent ensemble directors have said, this beautiful creative process is something that has been absent from traditional rehearsals. Having experienced it, there should always be time set aside to continue this path when we're back to convening in person. It's not "either/or": it's BOTH.

The initial curriculum was designed for college and community band musicians, and thanks to conductor and educator Glenn Hayes and his middle school band director wife Christine Hayes, it soon morphed into NAfME-compliant versions for high school and middle school students. Additionally, my gifted composer friend Brian Balmages has composed a companion piece that serves as a "toolkit" of ideas for younger students called, A Little Matrix Music. I'm delighted to be collaborating with these exceptional musicians, who share my passion for addressing the needs of music education in the 21st century.


Additional teaching resources continue to be added to this page. I'm always available as a consultant, or to help you customize the course for your students. And if you ever want to Zoom me in to talk with them, that would be a pleasure! Conductor and educator Timothy Salzman from University of Washington, composer and conductor Brian Balmages, composer Alexis Lamb, conductor and music educator Glenn C. Hayes from University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and conductors Chris Mathakul and Dan Fischer, are also available as consultants in conjunction with this course, and their information is included on this page.


Don't hesitate to drop me an email and let me know if anything in the syllabus isn't clear. I'm continually tweaking it, and it's very helpful to me to receive feedback from others!





A newly formed quintet of five baby swallows. Photo by Alex Shapiro.
A newly formed quintet of five baby swallows.







The curriculum documents are free to download, offered with the hope that they will present an engaging path for ensembles and teachers.


If you would like to have Alex Shapiro participate in one or more of your online classes, she offers a package of the syllabus, the audio track drones, many resource and teaching materials, and a Zoom session with the students, for $250. She is available for additional Zooms for $200 for a session of any length.


Composer and conductor Brian Balmages, composer Alexis Lamb, and conductor and music educators Glenn C. Hayes from University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Timothy Salzman from University of Washington, Chris Mathakul, and Dan Fischer, are also available as consultants in conjunction with this course, at the same fee rate; you can read about them below.




.PDF file of CBDNA COVID-19 Response Committee Report



Please CLICK HERE to send a friendly email to Alex to obtain the access code to download any of the free curriculum documents.

Email Alex!


.PDF file of the curriculum
created by Alex Shapiro.

For university students

Syllabus-University level


.PDF file of the Shapiro curriculum,
as adapted by Glenn C. Hayes.

For high school students

Syllabus for high school musicians


.PDF file of the Shapiro curriculum,
as adapted by Glenn C. Hayes.

For middle school students

Syllabus for middle school musicians






To purchase the package of these related curriculum materials, either with or without an online session with Ms. Shapiro, please CLICK HERE.


After you order you will receive an email with the private access codes and additional helpful information about the course, as well as valuable resource materials including:


--AUDIO TRACK DRONES in all pitches, to serve as an engaging background against which any kind of music can be created. A drone not only offers sonic inspiration, but helps keep everyone in tune!


--COMPOSITION TECHNIQUES and unusual ideas for getting started writing motives and then developing them;


--A variety of optional ASSIGNABLE PITCH SETS;


--PDF GUIDES for recording and mixing;


and more, because the resources continue to expand.


Thank you!









The University of Washington featured this project in its May 2020 newsletter. Click below you'd like to read the article about how Director of Bands Timothy Salzman, Alex, and the UW conducting faculty brought the online syllabus to life! The piece includes two audio excerpts from the mid-point of their Spring 2020 class.



Making Music--At A Distance


The "Putting the E-in Ensemble" class format provided the UW students with a new way to make music together, despite their physical distance. "Illumin-isolation" is the final product of this months-long project, and brings it from the purely digital, to the acoustic and visual realms. In the words of the students:


"Illumin-isolation is a programmatic set of six pieces selected to reflect the turbulence brought upon us by the pandemic. While these pieces were composed by six individual students, they are comprised of dozens of original sound samples played by other members of the Wind Ensemble. Illumin-isolation is a fresh and creative conjunction of music, technology, and collaboration. It represents how even during these difficult times, instead of being driven apart, we might continue to connect with each other through art and music."


There is much beauty and creativity displayed in these six videos, and you're invited to view the experience by clicking the image below:



illumin-isolation videos





Band director and educator Robby Burns has been reflecting on the teaching practices and technologies of the last year that he thinks are worth taking into the future. His latest August 2021 NAfME blog post is a treasure trove of VERY helpful information and links, including one to this curriculum. Robby discusses the tools and approaches he believes are most important to "take," to "leave," and to use to "transform" teaching this fall. Have a look!







In April 2021, the music students at University of British Columbia streamed a one-hour concert of their inspired remote music-making, and the last 30 minutes are devoted to the students' creations from their experiences with the "Putting the E- in Ensemble" project.


Christin Reardon MacLellan guided them through the lesson plans and process, and Alex Zoomed in to coach. You can see the beautiful results of eight of the student compositions in the "UBC Remote Ensemble Showcase" video posted here, beginning just after the 30 minute mark. Click the graphic below, to watch:



UBC videos




"Practically everyone in our wind ensemble this semester has become a composer, and it has been really inspiring to see this group thrive through adversity and to still be able to collaborate under these conditions."


Arkansas Tech University's newsletter Staccato Synergy features one of its talented music students, Michael Barker, and if you scroll down to the "Symphonic Wind Ensemble" section you can read about the band's work, led by Michael and Director of Bands Dan Belongia— and listen to several examples! Click HERE for more.






Alex Shapiro joined host Robby Burns of Music Ed Tech Talk in June 2021 to discuss getting young students to compose, the importance of composing repertoire for young musicians, writing electro-acoustic music, her "Putting the E in E-nsemble" curriculum, future tech, her amazing studio space, and overcoming blocks in the creative process. Click HERE to listen!

Music Ed Tech Talk, with Robby Burns

And, as a guest on an October 2021 episode of the podcast “Pass the Baton,” Robby Burns describes to hosts Kathryn Finch and Theresa Hoover the experience of working with his students on the curriculum. Click here to watch, and be encouraged

Pass The Baton





A Little Matrix Music



by Brian Balmages


Written for band and orchestra (both versions are included in the set), this work is a fun musical adventure on its own, and is also designed to be used in conjunction with Alex Shapiro's "Putting the E- in E-nsemble" curriculum. Approachable by beginning students through high school musicians (and further), the piece offers students the opportunity to play and learn about motifs, melodies (developed from those motifs), countermelodies, and dissonant elements.


In addition, students have the opportunity to explore composition and/or improvisation, all part of an amazing project that lets them play, develop basic audio recording and engineering skills, and feel part of a vibrant community of their peers. The end results are new pieces of music as unique as the personalities who have created them. CLICK HERE to learn more about this piece!








Listen to Alex explain the syllabus during an interview she did with conductor Aaron Noe for his WindConductor webcast series in May 2020. The video is cued up at 7:15 to begin with an introduction to the subject as Aaron and Alex talk about new technology, and from 15:25 to the 31 minute mark Alex specifically discusses the course:


Alex Shapiro talks with Aaron Noe about the syllabus




Alex Shapiro discusses her "Putting the E in E-nsemble" curriculum in April 2020 with University of Washington Director of Bands Timothy Salzman, and the conductors and instrumentalists in the UW program:


Alex Shapiro talks with Timothy Salzman about the syllabus




Watch the Zoominar hosted by Robert Ambrose in his Digital Directors Lounge series on September 8, 2020, in which Alex Shapiro, Timothy Salzman, Glenn Hayes, and Brian Balmages discuss the curriculum and take questions:


Alex Shapiro, Timothy Salzman, Glenn Hayes, and Brian Balmages discuss the syllabus with Robert Ambrose




Students in the 2021 Vancouver Symphony Orchestral Institute's Young Musicians Program took on the "Putting the E in E-nsemble" curriculum, and present their process and resulting compositions in this delightful video:


2021 Vancouver Symphony Orchestral Institute's Young Musicians Program students



Alex loves working closely with ensembles.
Alex loves working closely with ensembles.





While not imperative, it's helpful to have someone very familiar with the curriculum present at the first class session, to give an encouraging overview of the technical and compositional aspects of the project. Below are the profiles of consultants at the ready to help you!









Alex Shapiro is known for her genre-blind acoustic and electroacoustic pieces, including a significant catalog of electroacoustic works for wind band for musicians at all performance levels. Published by her company Activist Music LLC, Alex's music is heard daily in concerts and broadcasts across the U.S. and internationally, and can be found on over thirty commercially released recordings.



Alex has been a lead clinician at many conferences including The Midwest Clinic and TMEA, speaking about creative uses of technology in performance. Among her published writings is the chapter, Releasing a Student's Inner Composer for the 2013 GIA Publications book, Musicianship: Composing in Band and Orchestra, in which she explores ways to encourage expression. Two of her electroacoustic band pieces, Paper Cut, and Tight Squeeze, are included in the GIA book/CD series, Teaching Music Through Performance in Band, Volume 10. Educated at The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music, Ms. Shapiro advocates tirelessly for other artists. She is the Symphonic and Concert writer member of the Board of Directors of ASCAP, and serves on the Board of Directors of the ASCAP Foundation and The Aaron Copland Fund for Music. For more information, please visit her full bio.


Alex can be reached at hello@alexshapiro.org.









Brian Balmages is an award-winning composer and conductor. His music has been performed throughout the world, including premieres at the College Band Directors National Conference, the Midwest Clinic, Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. His commissions have ranged from elementary schools to professional symphony orchestras. He is a recipient of the A. Austin Harding Award from the American School Band Directors Association and the Distinguished Alumni Award from James Madison University. His music was also performed as part of the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service with both the President and Vice President in attendance.



He is a recipient of the A. Austin Harding Award from the American School Band Directors Association and the Distinguished Alumni Award from James Madison University. His music was also performed as part of the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service with both the President and Vice President in attendance.As a conductor, Mr. Balmages enjoys regular engagements with all-state and regional honor bands / orchestras as well as university and professional groups. Conducting engagements have included the United States, Canada, Australia and Italy. He is Director of Instrumental Publications for The FJH Music Company and Assistant Director of Bands and Orchestras at Towson University. For more information, please visit his full bio.


Brian can be reached at brian@brianbalmages.com.









Glenn C. Hayes is the Director of Bands and Professor Music Education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Throughout his career, he has been a tireless champion of contemporary music within the music education curriculum. As a 5-12 instrumental music educator early in his career, Hayes was a pioneer by programing music for band, synthesizer and ambient sound and encouraging students to explore the music via composition. He continues to inspire 6-12 musicians annually at the UW-W summer band camps.



As a collegiate conductor/educator/musician, Hayes has commissioned and programmed music for band and electronics, band and video and band with amplified soloists. He has also created curricula and coached/guided performers and ensembles in the realization of graphic and video scores. Hayes is a member of the Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance Project based in Wisconsin for over 20 years. He has conducted and presented clinics and workshops throughout the world. For more information, please visit this bio.


Glenn can be reached at hayesg@uww.edu.









Timothy Salzman is in his 34th year at the University of Washington where he serves as Professor of Music/Director of Concert Bands, is conductor of the University Wind Ensemble and teaches students enrolled in the graduate instrumental conducting program. Former graduate wind conducting students of Professor Salzman have obtained positions at sixty-two universities and colleges throughout the United States. Prior to his appointment at the UW he served for four years as Director of Bands at Montana State University where he founded the MSU Wind Ensemble. From 1978 to 1983 he was band director in the Herscher, Illinois, public school system where the band program received several regional and national awards in solo/ensemble, concert and marching band competition.



Professor Salzman holds degrees from Wheaton (IL) College (Bachelor of Music Education), and Northern Illinois University (Master of Music in low brass performance), and studied privately with Arnold Jacobs, former tubist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He has numerous publications for bands with the C. L. Barnhouse, Arranger's Publications, Columbia Pictures, Hal Leonard Publishing and Nihon Pals publishing companies, and has served on the staff of new music reviews for The Instrumentalist magazine. He is compiling editor and co-author of A Composer's Insight: Thoughts, Analysis and Commentary on Contemporary Masterpieces for Wind Band, a five-volume series of books on contemporary wind band composers. For more information, please visit his full bio.


Tim can be reached at salzman@uw.edu.









Alexis C. Lamb is a composer, percussionist, and educator interested in fostering communities of mindful music-making, particularly through the medium of storytelling. Lamb was a recipient of the 2018 ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Award for Meia, her song cycle for the Afro-Brazilian berimbau. Her recent collaborations include the Albany (NY) Symphony's Dogs of Desire, Contemporaneous, the Yale Philharmonia, the University of Nebraska Percussion Ensemble, and the Arizona State University Symphony Orchestra. Lamb is also working on a solo project called The Concord of Discord, which combines spoken word with percussion and electronics.



Lamb's work as an educator spans the range of teaching private lessons to students of varying ages and abilities, coaching chamber ensembles, and directing middle and high school band programs. She has also written and piloted multiple curricula for summer music programs that prioritize bridging the practices of performing and composing. Lamb earned a Master of Music in Composition at the Yale School of Music and two Bachelor of Music degrees in Music Education and Percussion Performance from Northern Illinois University. Her compositions can be found on Innova Recordings, National Sawdust Tracks, and Evan Chapman's self-published record, Caustics. For more information, please visit her full bio.


Tim can be reached at alexislamb26@gmail.com






(as well as with music!):


The two gentlemen below ran the curriculum at University of Washington under the aegis of Timothy Salzman, and are very familiar with the process involved in each round of creation, as well as with the software used for working with the audio files.







Christopher Vongvithayamathakul (Mathakul) joins the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Theatre and Music in the 2021-22 academic year as the Ensemble Programs/Public Engagement Coordinator and director of the Symphonic Band. Currently, Mr. Mathakul is a doctoral candidate in Instrumental Conducting at the University of Washington, studying with Professor Timothy Salzman. As concert bands graduate assistant at Washington, Mr. Mathakul served as the director of the Concert Band and assistant conductor for the Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band. In the Spring of 2021, Mr. Mathakul and fellow graduate conducting student Daniel Fischer presented a clinic entitled "Creative Learning Experiences for Music Ensembles Using Digital Audio Tools" at multiple state music education conferences. This presentation was inspired by the virtual composition project entitled "Putting the E in E-nsemble" piloted by the University of Washington Wind Ensemble in collaboration with composer Alex Shapiro in the Spring of 2020.

Prior to his doctoral studies, Mr. Mathakul served for seven years as a high school and middle school band director in schools on the island of O'ahu, Hawai'i, where he was an active member of the O'ahu Band Directors Association and chair of its Beginning Honor Band.


Chris can be reached at mathakul@uic.edu









Dan Fischer is a visiting band director at The University of North Carolina at Charlotteis completing his Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Instrumental Conducting at the University of Washington in Seattle. For the past three years, at the University of Washington, he has served as the Graduate Assistant Director for the Husky Athletic Bands and served as a graduate teaching assistant of the Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band, and Campus Band. He is a conducting student of Timothy Salzman.


Daniel can be reached at dfisch@uw.edu






The VERY best way to reach Alex is through email, by clicking here Email Alex!




You can even send a fax to:
(270) 916-0093, and she'll respond promptly.






Alex Shapiro in her San Juan Island, WA studio.




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