Ieong Chang (Katy) Ho

Columbia University

Exploring the Possibilities of a Collaborative Composition Program for Children

This presentation provides insight into a contemporary music program, specifically targeted toward young musicians. The main idea is to provide a space for those young musicians to explore the possibilities of collaborative contemporary composition. Collaborative composition is a fairly new idea in the field of music. Typically, classical music is composed by only one composer. Collaborative composition can be found in popular music and other contemporary forms of non-classical music. There is a lack of research into collaborative composition in the current music and music education fields. Collaborative composition in contemporary classical music for young children is especially rare. As a part of Face the Music in New York City, a group of ten participants, ranging for 9-13 years old, gather every Sunday afternoon to experience and experiment with contemporary classical music as performers and composers. This facet of Face the Music is known as the Harmonics Lab, and it was created with the idea that contemporary music can be invented, experimented, and co-created by young musicians. The participants have at least a few years of experience playing violin, cello, or piano.
As an observer, I witnessed their organic music-making processes as a collaborative project. Limited parameters, suggestions, and help were provided by the mentors. The children had final say on suggestions, modifications, experiments, and invention. One of their compositions, Kitchen Concerto was co-composed and utilized various unconventional contemporary compositional techniques, incorporating the sounds of water, cans as percussion instruments, crumpling paper, whistling into a piano for reverberation, and using pencils and forks as mallets. Extended techniques, such as harmonic glissando on strings, striking the strings on the piano, and tapping on the instruments, were also incorporated by the composers. Utilizing Webster (1998 & 2000)’s Model of Creative Thinking in Music as a framework, this study will explore the enabling skills, such as aptitudes, conceptual understanding, craftsmanship, and aesthetic sensitivity, and the enabling conditions, such as personal, social and cultural conditions that influenced the participants’ thinking processes and creative products as a collaborative experience. The young musicians involved in Face the Music are a collective of musicians, composers, directors, and friends. The boundaries of traditional musical concepts are stretched and re-conceptualized by this group of children.

Keywords: Collaborative composition, children composers, contemporary classical music.


Macao-born violist Ieong Cheng (Katy) Ho received her Bachelor and Master of Music degree at The Juilliard School and has quickly gained national and international attention, gracing concert stages around the world. Ms. Ho performed in various concert halls in United States, China, Germany, Austria, France, Sweden, and Denmark. Ms. Ho is also a dedicated music educator and contemporary music advocator. Her dissertation focuses on young musicians and contemporary music. She is also interested in strings pedagogy and democratic music education. In the past year, Ms. Ho works as an education director of International Chamber Orchestra Young Artists Program, which aims to promote orchestral experience to underserved students. In addition, she is also the strings faculty at Opportunity Music Project, Teachers College Community School and research assistant at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is now a doctoral candidate at Columbia University’s Teachers College in Music and Music Education degree.