The highest aspiration of the World Music Program is the fostering of a compassionate global consciousness through the development of musical skills and the act of creating performance works. In keeping with this vision, the Gratitude Project was a year-long artistic process involving the exploration of gratitude; the practice of cultivating gratitude in our everyday lives and reflecting on its transformational power; and the creation of a musical performance work to express this. The Gratitude Project was conceived of and composed by the students and teachers of the Brockton World Music Ensemble. Heavily inspired by two influential contemporary American creative figures, composer Steve Reich and psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, it is the musical expression of what we are most grateful for in our lives.
We began our exploration of the subject of Gratitude by having the students reflect on a series of questions: What is Gratitude? How do we express it? When do we express it? Why do we express it? Is it important to express our Gratitude? Responses to these questions were informed by the work of renowned psychologist Marshall Rosenberg and his model of communication called Compassionate Communication. Students began writing daily gratitude reflections in their journals as a way to nurture and develop a consciousness of gratitude.
As students continued their daily gratitude reflections, we began to explore 20th-century music and some of the compositional styles that emerged in this century. Interest focused on Steve Reich, who is largely known for pioneering a style of music called “minimalism.” His innovations, including the use of tape loops and phasing patterns, have had a significant influence on contemporary music. One highly innovative compositional technique that Reich pioneered in his work Different Trains involves instruments mimicking the rhythmic and melodic inflections of spoken words. As a group, the World Music Ensemble decided that this technique would work well for translating their written gratitude reflections into a musical performance work.
Through engagement in the creative cycle - a dynamic, ongoing process of sensing, planning, creating and evaluating, and one in which all of the senses are involved - the students used their gratitude reflections as the basis for developing musical material using Steve Reich’s technique of imitating the sound of words and sentences in speech. By analyzing the rhythmic and melodic structure of words and phrases in their gratitude reflections they were able to translate these reflections into musical and melodic material. These musical motives were then strung together to form larger phrase structures, to which further text was developed - again using the students’ gratitude reflections. Key words and phrases were also woven into the purely rhythmic structure of the piece, creating a rich and organic musical representation of the students’ gratitude. The students’ gratitude reflections were further developed into the “Gratitude Song,” which is featured in the piece.
Instruments used for the 2010 Gratitude Project that toured to China included handbells, synthesizer, djembes, bongos, cowbell, grand pianos, violins and singers.