WISS Today Article

Developing a signature

Following the visit of Andy Summers, five time Grammy award winner and guitar legend from The Police, WISS student musicians share with us how their “signature sound” is developing through IB DP Music.

andy-summer-feature-imageEvery breath you take

Every move you make

Every bond you break

Every step you take

I’ll be watching you

For those of us familiar with these words, you probably finished reading the lyrics with the melody of this classic song in your head.This song is iconic; a signature piece of one of the greatest rock bands in history, The Police.

While we all know and love the song, how many of us can say we actually got to perform the song with the man who helped make the song an international sensation?  For the 16 WISS DP Music students this rare opportunity became a reality as Andy Summers, a guitar legend and guitarist of The Police stopped through WISS and spent the morning jamming with students, and sharing his life experiences to the class.


A Signature Sound

The classic Police sound did not happen overnight. In fact, Mr. Summers shared that it was quite challenging for the band mates to agree on how to make the song and also the countless hours of practice and rehearsals to get it right. As he talked with our DP students, there were three things that he focused on, an obsession with music, technical ability, and making it (music) your own; combined together these are the catalysts to develop a signature sound.


IB Music at WISS-nurturing passion 

andy-summer-visit-01For WISS student musicians, the obsession and passion for music is already inside them.   For some, it has been a lifelong passion, while for others, the discovery for the love of music has just kicked in. IB Music, under the guidance of Ms. Anne Drouet, gives them the framework to develop their artistry in an environment that fosters creativity and imagination while also challenging their technical abilities through music composition and analysis. Victoria Shum has now discovered her passion for playing the drums as part of her musical journey into hard rock and metal despite being a classically trained pianist. Vicky Bela has a strong connection to writing songs that evoke emotions of “melancholy, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness and even heartbreak.” Cooper Vardy seeks to “utilize opposites, quick changes in tempo or dynamics, and pay homage to lesser known modes and scales,” through the influence of variety of genres, jazz, grunge, and ethnic music such as Bossa Nova and “modal scales from Turkey and Arabia to the Western Americas.”  Tor Eriksson’s composes neo-classical music and describes his work as “weird.”   The diverse and expansive range of interests speaks volumes to how DP music can nurture and develop a student’s musical interests.

In addition to supporting their unique sound, WISS DP students have also experienced andy-summer-visit-02progression and improvement in their technical skills abilities. Carla Hockl has been playing and listening to music “for what seems like my entire life.”  She has an eclectic musical background from Classical music to classic Rock. While she’s comfortable behind an instrument, she sometimes finds writing lyrics and performing challenging.  For her, “WISS is an incredibly creative school, and I can confidently say that the music teachers I’ve had in the my past 2 years are the reason I’ve gone on to improve greatly and also to gain confidence in areas that were (well, are still) a bit rusty; performing on stage.”  Similar for Judit Estivill Guamis, she shares, “I really improved my composition and analysis abilities at the same time that I got confident and more creative, which let me to make my own ideas and express my emotions in a song.” As a songwriter, Vicky Bela has gone back to songs she wrote years ago and rewrites the lyrics through a more mature lens.

andy-summer-visit-04A signature sound can only be nurtured given space and time and the freedom to create. “We are always encouraged to bring our own musical insights to class.   It is really interesting because we all own very different perspectives and when it comes to composition there are no boundaries to our creation,” says Vanessa Hsu. Students are stretched to think big and encouraged to dig deep to connect personally to their work. Cooper Vardy states, “Ms. Anne Drouet and Mr. Richard Smart, have allowed me, over the years I’ve been a student (luckily theirs), to develop whatever ideas I had, never claiming it did not fit the prompt, and encouraging exploration of whatever fields interested me, a truly open learning environment to hone any skills one desired.”

So when an artist like Andy Summers comes to share his experiences to the DP music class, our WISS musicians jump at the chance to interact and gain insight from this musical legend. After playing “Every Breath You Take” with Mr. Summers, the DP students presented an original piece written by Vicky Bela. Collaborating with Mr. Summers, the students worked on different arrangements to improve upon the song. Going through the creative process with Mr. Summers was truly a special moment. “I think one of the most important things I learned on Friday afternoon was how to collaborate with musicians. Though I’d often played music with the other students in the room, it was difficult to figure out how to play with a andy-summer-visit-03complete stranger, let alone one that had years of experience…playing with Andy Summers was a fantastic experience, but to me personally, it was just another jam session with friends.”  For songwriter Vicky Bela, she connected when Mr. Summers talked about continuously playing music and trying new things even if it is not good.  She’s inspired to “ignore the creative blocks in which I feel as though all my music is terrible, in order to continue composing until I make something that I am in love with.”  Kelly Huang sometimes feels “stuck with composing up with new ideas or melodies or melodies that all sound similar to each other,” found Mr. Summer’s process of composing, which he shared with the class, extremely helpful.

It’s exciting to see WISS musicians pushing the boundaries of their own artistry.  Through their DP experience, their signatures are starting to take shape; this is a trademark of an IB education.