Noah Tan has a plan. The second classman from Stevensville, Mich., is actually working on two plans during this shelter-in-place time.
The coronavirus has temporarily sidetracked his work with 10 other Culver students to introduce elementary students to string and orchestral music. The string orchestra was to play at Culver Elementary School on March 19, but it was postponed indefinitely after both Culver Academies and Culver Community School Corporation released students early due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Now, while he is home, Tan has been using his down time to work on his second project, writing a musical for the Culver Theatre Department to perform next spring. Tentatively called “Culver: The Musical,” the story follows a fourth classman through his first year and the first classman who helps him navigate his way.
The music education organization is called The Note-by-Note Foundation. While it is not officially a non-profit corporation, Tan is hoping to take it in that direction in the future. It is structured with a mission statement, board of directors, and the group is keeping a set of minutes from each meeting.
“It’s more than a school club,” he explained, and the hope is that it will expand to offer music opportunities beyond the local community. Tan simply believes all students should have the same opportunities he has enjoyed, and Note-by-Note is a way to accomplish that.
“I’ve been every lucky,” he explained. “I’ve had music education my entire life; from violin lessons to composition lessons to conducting lessons.”
Since many schools lack the resources to provide a robust music program, Tan wants to build collaborations between those schools and musical organizations to expose students to a variety of music. This would be through in-school performances and introducing children to different instruments. Tan believes taking this concept beyond Culver will require a more formal structure. This is why he is paying attention to the details.
The performance at Culver Elementary School was to include a 40-minute program with the string orchestra performing followed by each orchestra member showing the children their instrument and how it fits into the performance. One goal locally is to blend the string orchestra with the Culver Community High School concert band for a combined concert, he said. Another is to offer peer-to-peer instruction between the string orchestra members and the elementary students.
Working with Tan and the other students are choir instructor Stacey Warren and Jeff Kenney, the director of the Culver Academies Museum. Serving on the administrative board are Lilian Adams ’21, Alec Collins ’21, Andrew Perun ’22, Evelyn Tabor ’22, and Elena Vona ’21. The musical board includes Alexis Allen ’21, Talinaiya (Angel) Bao ’21, Matthew Dwyer ’20, Maxwell Gifford ’22, and Connor Lee ’21.
Composing and writing a musical presents a different set of challenges, Tan said. A Batten Scholar, he has tapped into his summer experience stipend to purchase a new computer and composition software. He needed both since he will be attending a music composition summer institute at the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina. He was pushing the limits of both his old computer and software, which he had been using since the seventh grade, Tan explained.
He has received several honors for his compositions. His most recent was winning the Chicago College of Performing Arts National Young Composers Competition. Some of his compositions have debuted at Culver. But writing a stage musical takes a new skill set. The biggest difference is the need to write songs or passages with each character in mind. Keeping track of each character’s personality and speaking patterns can be difficult. There is also the dialogue that must be written to help move the story forward. “There are so many moving parts,” he said.
It’s definitely a challenge, Tan said. But trying something new – even as complicated as writing a musical – can also be “very rewarding.”