In the summer of 2007 I was invited to observe a program called Very Young Composers, sponsored by Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival and the New York Philharmonic. This innovative program, run by its creator Jon Deak, a retired New York Philharmonic bass player, and Bill Ghord, a storyteller, uses a nontraditional methodology focusing on creativity over craft. Students write their own stories and then create very intriguing chamber music compositions to accompany these stories. Student compositions are then performed by members of the New York Philharmonic.

As a composer, and someone who has long felt music education is too focused on performing and not enough on creating, I fell in love with this beautiful program.

I came down the mountain and immediately started finding ways to implement a variation of this program into The Playground’s education programming. Since then, our Young Composers Playground has spread across Colorado’s Front Range in ways I could never have predicted. Our team of Teaching Artists—including classroom teachers Karissa Swanson, Luke Wachter, Sam Goodman, and Jeff Gleason—have helped make Young Composers Playground what it is today.

The full program requires classroom visits with our Teaching Artists over a number of weeks, as well as an energetic and forward-thinking music teacher, and financial resources that many music programs don’t have. Even so, the demand for our Young Composers Playground has outgrown our ability to meet all requests for the program.

That is what this online portal is about. With the tools here, teachers can learn to replicate the program with or without our teaching artists onsite. Here you will find a step-by-step guide you can use to provide the program to your students, along with classroom handouts and videos to guide you along the way. There are also one-off lessons you can use as a part of a larger music program or in any way you see fit to get your young people creating music.

Of course, our team of teaching artists would also love to come to your school, either to work with your students, or to coach you. We learn so much from classroom educators and invite them to share their ideas with us to help make our Young Composers Playground program innovative and adaptable to students’ needs.

Inspire your students to create. Tell them that their ideas are important and deserve to be heard, and then make sure they hear them. Incorporate writing and involve your school’s literacy teachers. Have students illustrate their ideas and get the art teacher involved. It takes a village! But most of all get students creating.

Don’t over think it; don’t let your training tell you that you don’t know how to do this. We’re here to help.

Every child is an artist.
The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.


Conrad Kehn
Young Composers Playground