Composer scores big with Mt. Hope students


When musician and composer, Roger Chichy, was asked to compose an original score for Mt. Hope High School’s Class of 2013, he not only wanted to choose a theme the students could connect to, he wanted the students to be included in the process.

After looking to Bristol Harbor and the waters surrounding the town for inspiration, Mr. Chichy returned to his Scituate, RI studio where he filled a blank manuscript with notes and bars and musical phrasing. Describing musical composition as ‘painting experiences and emotions on a canvas of sound’, the composer musically illustrated two sailors racing out in the harbor.

Once the “black and white” version of the piece was written, Mr. Chichy met with several students where they discussed adding “color” to the score.

“There’s a thousand ways to play a note,” Mr. Chichy explained to the class of 16 students. “You have to tell the players how to play the notes. Rhythm and notes don’t make musical sense” otherwise.

The students, who already had some classroom experience in musical composition, recognized the technical aspects such as the composition’s mixolydian modality in the key of F that keeps listeners off balance before reaching resolution.

The students studied the copy of the score spread out in front of them while Mr. Chichy pointed out the use of effects – accents, staccatos, fermatas – that, when placed on certain notes, gives emphasis and interpretation to music.

“It changes it up enough to make it interesting,” he said. “You have to create texture. You work on the picture now it’s the details.”

The experience gave the students exposure to writing a larger score, written with 28 parts for the 95 member band that will perform the piece. A much larger arrangement than the two or three piece compositions they write in class.

Six years ago, Mr. Chichy was commissioned to write a piece for Mt. Hope. That score, he said, was inspired by the Reliance, the America’s Cup racing yacht built in 1903 by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company. For this piece he looked to capture the essence of Bristol.

“I’ve always had an interest in Colt State Park. You’re on the ocean, you’ve got the beach,” he said.  “But sailing kept tugging at me. It’s almost like the piece writes itself.”

The Mt. Hope band will debut the yet untitled piece at the upcoming spring concert. Mr. Chichy will be the guest conductor. After that it will be played at commencement and become part of the school’s repertoire.

After participating in the workshop, student Justin Vincente, who plays the French horn, looked forward to seeing the final version.

“I’m framing the piece when it’s done,” he said.

CUT - Composer Roger Chichy, left, goes over the original score he wrote for Mt. Hope High School with music students, Elizabeth Cox, Justin Vincente and Rachel Majors. Teacher Bob Arsenault looks on.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.