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Students Create Film Scores for Heights Middle School Shorts Camp
May 14, 2024 -- Imagine having a soundtrack to your life: Foreboding, eerie music would warn you not to walk down that alley or inspect the strange sound coming from the basement. A sweeping, orchestral score would alert you to pay closer attention to that handsome stranger you just locked eyes with across the crowded room. As all moviegoers know, music sets the tone and enhances our experience of each scene.

The 6th, 7th and 8th graders participating in Heights Middle School Shorts are not only learning just how important a role music plays in the short films they create, but a handful of them are creating the actual music themselves.

Throughout the spring, a group of middle school musicians participated in the new HMSS Film Scores subgroup. They worked with Tyler Maxey, a 2014 Heights graduate with a Masters in Music Composition, on writing and composing their own scores. Using a digital software program called NoteFlight, the students wrote their own musical themes and then created variations of that theme for different genres of movie. What might work for a love story could be sped up for an action film or slowed way down to instill fear in a horror flick. 

On an afternoon in March, the students and their volunteer instructor met at Heights High to share and discuss the music they had created over the weekend. Maxey reminded them of the importance of talking about what they’d created. “We need to talk about the aesthetic techniques used, the intention of the music, and whether it achieved that intention. All the things you have to think about when writing for film,” he said. 

When 8th grader Lyndsey played the piece she wrote for her violin, the students talked about how and where it could fit in a scene. They thought perhaps the very slow tempo could work when a character was thinking about or contemplating something. “I can envision someone acting to that music,” said Executive Director and founder of HMSS, Jen Holland. Maxey pointed out that it has to be fast enough for an actor to move to.

“I feel like this will help me with my instrument skills,” Lyndsay said. And Maxey agreed: “I got much better as a player when I started writing my own music.”

The students will also write pieces for each other’s instruments, a fairly advanced skill for the middle schoolers, who are meeting twice a week after school throughout the spring and then for three weeks over the summer. By the time camp starts, they will have a library of scores for the rest of the campers to select from for their films.  

In addition to Maxey, the students participating in HMSS Film Scores are also working with high schoolers from Andrew Bennekamper’s Audio Engineering classes. According to Dr. Carmen Daniels, who oversees the Career Technical Education Consortium for CH-UH, Bedford, Maple, Shaker and Warrensville, HMSS has signed on to be a White Star Partner with the CTE programs.

Thanks to CTE’s lucrative partnership with Y.O.U., which is paying Heights students for their summer work with various employers and organizations, students from the audio engineering program will be paid to work with the middle school students at the Heights Middle School Shorts summer camp. Guiding the youngsters through editing, adding and cutting music and sound effects into their films is a valuable part of the overall process. 

Dr. Daniels says that last summer, when the CTE programs first partnered with Y.O.U., there were no relevant work experiences available for students in the audio engineering program. “This opportunity has really filled a hole for our kids,” she says of the HMSS partnership. “It’s a win-win.”

The mixed-media film arts camp is in its fourth year providing this unique opportunity to community middle schoolers. They work in teams under the direction of industry professionals to write, direct, act in, and edit their films, which are then featured in a special community screening at the Cedar Lee Theater on June 16 at 6:30pm. Current 6th, 7th and 8th graders can still sign up for the 2024 summer session; scholarships are available.

hmss film score subgroup
hmss film score subgroup
hmss film score subgroup
hmss film score subgroup