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Student Composer Showcase - Early Music Education

Betsy Nolan (right), the music teacher at Edmunds Elementary, and Betsy Green (left), music teacher at Champlain Elementary, encourage their students of all ages to create original music and participate in Music-COMP.
Music-COMP, Betsy Nolan, Betsy Greene
used with permission
Betsy Nolan (right), the music teacher at Edmunds Elementary, and Betsy Greene (left), music teacher at Champlain Elementary, encourage their students of all ages to create original music and participate in Music-COMP.

BETSY NOLAN: So, I view my role as fostering something that's already within kids. Every five-year-old who walks through our door loves music.

BETSY GREENE: To me, this is the most important part of their journey in music education, helping them become musical people.

JAMES: I’m James Stewart and for this month’s student composer showcase we are featuring the music of some of the youngest participates in Music-COMP, Vermont's online composition mentoring program as well as the voices of two Vermont music early-educators.

B. NOLAN: My name is Betsy Nolan, and I am the music teacher at Edmunds Elementary School.

B. GREENE: I'm Betsy Greene. I teach at Champlain Elementary School in Burlington School District.

JAMES: Both Betsy Green and Betsy Nolan have incorporated the creation of original music as an important part of their curriculum.

B. NOLAN: It starts in kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade with one of the elements of the pedagogy that we use, called Arioso, which is basically vocal improvisation; just to develop that idea of; what is a melody? how do I create melodies?

B. GREENE: Kids in third-grade they start with their ukuleles and they'll play their ukuleles and sing to each other questions and answers and then eventually add words.

B. NOLAN: …and as they develop their skills, we're able to utilize music technology and notation programs like Note Flight.

B. GREENE: And then we have Soundtrap, which is picking loops out and organizing the loops to create their song choices or tunes. They get to choose them by listening and picking them out and then layering them together and figuring out how they go together.

B. NOLAN: And so, I really try to instill in my students that I'm gonna expose you to a lot of different ways that professional composers write music.

B. GREENE: But when we get to Music-COMP, there's more freedom for them to not have that structure and to be able to go beyond that. And so, they have to have that perseverance.

JAMES: Betsy Greene and Betsy Nolan have both been active with Music-COMP for decades, encouraging their students to participate in the program and get a professional mentor.

B. NOLAN: It's really evolved since back in the 90s, with the introduction of the opus concerts where kids have the opportunity to have their pieces performed live by professional musicians and realize those musical ideas in a new way.

B. GREENE: To have all these opportunities available for them, I don't think anybody, even as a college student, I never would have dreamed of having an opportunity like that, let alone as a child having that opportunity.

B. NOLAN: Every student that I've had that has gone through mentoring has had a really positive experience and it's really challenged them to kind of move beyond their current skills and strive to that next level.

B. GREENE: Kids say all the time, you know, I've learned so much more about music that I never would have thought of, just having that opportunity to talk about it more and to learn from each other more.

JAMES: We’ll take a moment here to highlight some of these young composers’ work and sample some recordings made in past Opus concerts. The first is a piece for piano and xylophone called “Zoe and Peach – The Story of a Dog and Cat at Play” by Edmunds Elementary School student Kiara Kirkland.

“Zoe and Peach - The Story of a Dog and Cat At Play” / Kiara Kirkland, Grade 3, Edmunds Elementary School / Premiered at Opus 33 in 2019 / Evan Peltier (xylophone) and Alison Cerutti (Piano)

B. NOLAN: Kiki was a student of mine. She was a third-grade student. She knew what she wanted her piece to sound like and she was really committed to figuring out what skills she needed to get it to where she wanted it to be the mentoring process for her, I think, really helped her understand the structure of music.

JAMES: Our next selection is called “Chill Beats”. A collaboration of two Champlain Elementary School students, Arlo Smith and Leon Summers.

“Chill Beats” / Arlo Smith and Leon Summers, Grade 4, Champlain Elementary School / Created in Soundtrap

B. GREENE: They’re fourth graders, this is their first year composing with Music- COMP and they chose to use Soundtrap. We had a celebration just a week ago with all the pieces that were written. And Arlo stood up and said, you know, this is our first time and we just, we loved it and we, we just loved learning about this and doing something new.

JAMES: I’ll let our next student composer introduce the next piece.

ORSON: My name is Orson Bush. I’m in fifth grade at Champlain Elementary School. This piece is called “I Will Name This Later”, I did not.

“I'll Name This Later…Or Will I?” / Orson Bush, Grade 5, Champlain Elementary School / Premiered at Opus 36 in 2022 / Stefanie Weigand (piano) and Kyle Saulnier (bass)

B. GREENE: Orson was one of mine too. He's in Opus again this year as a sixth-grader and he just couldn't think of what he could name his piece. And in the end, he didn't name it. So, that became the title of his piece.

JAMES: Our last selection is a piece for solo piano called “Hot Coffee” written by 4th grade Edmunds Elementary School students, Amelia Alger and Leena Yager.

“Hot Coffee” / Amelia Alger and Leena Yager, Grade 4, Edmunds Elementary School / Premiered at Opus 36 in 2022 / Stefanie Weigand (piano)

B. NOLAN: What was interesting about this piece was the collaboration between the two. Their mentor was also their mediator at times. And in the end, they both were very proud of the work that they had done and felt ownership of it. And so, it was a great experience for them to actually get some feedback about how do you work through these challenges when you're doing something creative with another person.

JAMES: Of course, this is just a small sample of the amazing work being written by students all across Vermont as they participate in Music-COMP.

B. GREENE: But I think the most important thing is that you get to do your own work, right? It's really your own music. It's completely yours.

B. NOLAN: This is the great privilege of being a child of the 21st century is that you have the opportunity to connect with someone who does this work professionally and get feedback on your work and help you and guide you along your way to create the best piece that you can create.

JAMES: To find out more information about how you or a young composer in your life can get involved in Music-COMP check out their website,

The Music Composition Mentoring Program (Music-COMP) is a Vermont non-profit started in 1995 that teaches students in grades 3-12 how to compose original music. Students are paired with professional composers as mentors, and over 50 works are premiered each year with professional musicians.

Production support for the Student Composer Showcase is provided by Lake Champlain Access Television, a community media center serving eight towns in Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle Counties, providing a free forum for expression, and a link to local government and training. More at

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.