Friday, March 2, 2018

Artists Can Work Together

Music by Composer Garrett Hoffman

Students - Sometimes artists work together, even if they do not know each other.  One person can be inspired by another's work, even if the work is in a different genre, such as art to music or writing to art. Artists of all kinds like art of all kinds, and we learn from and kindle ideas for each other.

Today I would like to offer a joyful Congratulations! to my new friend-I-have-never-met-in-person, Garrett Hoffman.  In honor of him, I am not sharing anything new of my own today...but rather an old poem from the first year of The Poem Farm blog and Garrett's beautiful, haunting music.  And a brief story.

Last September, I received one of the most professional, polite notes I have ever received.  In this note, a young man from Pennsylvania - Garrett -  requested my permission to compose music to go with one of my poems.

Garrett Hoffman

It is a complete honor to be asked such a thing, so of course I said Yes! and Thank you!  to Garrett, a senior at Bethel Park High School. Garrett's composition has brought my poem to a different plane, and I am humbled and grateful to have my words associated with his work. 

And now, please enjoy learning about his process.  If you are a maker (of anything!), think about how his process may be like - or different from - your process.  Welcome, Garrett!

My name is Garrett Hoffman, and I’m an 18-year old composer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’ve always loved writing music, and I especially love music for choirs, because I love singing and the sound of the human voice. I recently took Mrs. Amy VanDerwater’s Poem “Leaving” and wrote music along to it for a composing contest. And, it WON! I was very very excited.

The Poem Turned into Lyrics and Music

Mrs. VanDerwater asked me to tell you all how to turn a poem into a music.

What I typically do is write out very rough sketches of ideas on paper, and once the idea takes more form, I then go ahead and do all my writing on a computer. So, in the case of "Where Will I Go", I only ended up writing the first 7 measures out on paper before finishing it on a computer. 

Beginning a Composition
Photo by Garrett Hoffman

Every poem you will ever read will have a certain mood that goes along with it. Some poems are happy, some are sad, and some are a bit of both. Your job as a composer is to make sure the music sounds like the poem does, and are many different ways to do this.

There are two basic types of songs: those that are in major, and those that are in minor. A song in major usually sounds happy, while songs in minor usually sounds sad. Some songs will use a mix of both, and that’s what I did in my most recent song. “Leaving” is a poem that is very very sad, but it also has some small bits of happiness in it. So I used minor for the sad parts and major for the happy parts.

Choir songs are really cool because they have words, and you can do a lot with a lot with them. What choir composers will try to do is write the music so that it sounds like each specific word. This is called “word painting”. For example, if the lyrics talk about going up, then the music should go up as well. If the choir is singing a word like “air”, then the music should sound like air. There is no right or wrong way to do this--what you think air sounds like might be very different from what other people think it sounds like! This is part of what makes music so much fun: everyone has their own ideas!

Now that I’ve said all that I should mention that it’s difficult to explain exactly how to write a song. There’s this thing called “Music Theory,” which is the study of how music works and how it makes us feel certain ways. This is something that most people don’t understand very well until high school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write something now. Most of Music Theory’s rules are things that you probably already know, even if you don’t know the name for it. So, go and write a song!

Writing music is an art, just like writing a poem or painting a picture. So, your first piece of music won’t be a masterpiece--and that’s okay! What’s important is that you keep trying, because if you never stop trying, you’ll never stop getting better.

You can read more about Garrett's work with this piece at the Bethel Park School District website HERE or in THE ALMANAC HERE.  And if all goes as planned, it looks as if Garrett has sold this piece to a music publisher.  Good, good, good luck, Garrett, on this and on your April performance of Where Will I Go? at the Pennsylvania Music Educator’s Association all-state festival in April! I feel grateful to be connected to your gorgeous work and I know that you will be a magnificent teacher should you choose to follow that path.  Thank you for sharing your process and passion, for teaching us all here today.

Some of you may know that my lullaby picture book with illustrator Aaron DeWitt - DREAMING OF YOU - releases on Tuesday.  We are both very excited!  If you wish, you can learn more about that book HERE.

Renée is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup at No Water River with a celebration of Poetry Friday Poet and Wholehearted Soul, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes. Enjoy learning about her books and hearing a couple of her own wonderful poems too! Each week, we gather our posts together at one blog, so if you visit Renée this will be introduced to many new poets and blogs and books.  

Please share a comment below if you wish.


  1. Congrats to your friend, Garrett, on selling his poem/song. How exciting!

  2. Oh, my goodness....yes! What an honor to see and hear this poem set to music...the sound of the human voice. I love the collaboration between you two. Wow....WOW! Garrett I really enjoyed reading about your process. Word painting is my favorite phrase!

  3. I can see why he won. The music is as beautiful and haunting as the words. They work perfectly together! Congratulations, Garrett, and thank you for sharing your process!

  4. This is the coolest thing ever! My brother is a singer, songwriter and I've always thought it would be fun to collaborate.

  5. So wonderful, Amy and Garrett. I sang in choirs in my schools and remember singing She Walks In Beauty (Lord Byron) and loving it. It is a joy to hear Amy's words and your music for them. Choirs will love singing this, I'm sure. Looking forward to your book next week, Amy!

  6. How wonderful! What an honor to have your poem interpreted in this way, Amy. Garrett has a beautiful gift. I appreciated his explanation of something so difficult to explain, and his encouragement for the rest of us, as well.

  7. PS. I just watched the trailer for DREAMING OF YOU. SO sweet! Looks like a real treasure of a book—one that little ones will ask for again and again before bedtime. Congratulations, Amy! xo

  8. Congratulations to Garrett! The music is beautiful. How cool for you to see your poem grow into a song.

  9. What a beautiful way to combine poetry and music. As I listened to the song, it took me on a different journey-one of the many facing those with Alzheimer's disease. I picture someone speaking these words or having these thoughts as each stage robs them of their home, their memories, their life as they know it. Just a reminder that poetry and music can take us all to different places as we travel the path of life. Thank you for sharing.