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STOMP: Improvising Instruments & Making Music Out of Your Surroundings

Screenshot of the STOMP virtual class with each person pictured in their individual box; clockwise beginning in the upper left corner: Mark Palardy, Jen Barrett, Emily Tyler, Riley Brown, Josh Juaire, Emily Webster, and Ben Rosenthal.

Anything and everything can become an instrument in Music Therapy Internship Supervisor Ben Rosenthal’s STOMP class. Launched as part of BHMA’s fall semester of expanded virtual programming, STOMP, or corpophonics, is “the use of everyday objects and your body to create percussive sounds.” The course encourages group members to repurpose items they have around the house or use their own bodies as improvised instruments, and there is no one way to take part. From jars of coins and keychain holders, to empty cups and baking sheets, Rosenthal challenges students to find a new object to try each week; the only rule is “nothing super breakable,” he laughs. Together they experiment with varying timbres and pitches, incorporating corpophonics as they practice percussion techniques from around the world. Even in a virtual space, group members have a strong rapport and shared sense of enthusiasmfeeding off of each other as their different instrument sounds blend together and play through their computer speakers.

STOMP sessions combine interactive and movement-based activities with discussions of the drumming patterns the class is studying. Early in the semester Rosenthal covered the basics of what STOMP is and shared videos of famous ensembles to use as inspiration. As the weeks have passed, the group has delved more into percussion styles from other countries, namely the music of the Ewe people of Ghana, known as Gahu. Filled with distinct parts, Gahu music is dynamic, social, and recreationalfitting for a virtual setting where exact synchronization can be difficult. Rosenthal’s class expands on students’ experience with this type of music, as several individuals enrolled in STOMP previously participated in African Drumming Ensemble when it was offered at BHMA a few years ago. Instead of playing along with actual percussion instruments, the group listens to the different pieces of an arrangement, such as the axatse (shaker) or sogo (low-pitched drum), before replicating the pattern in their own way. Whether snapping fingers, or tapping tables, each member adds a unique sound to the virtual ensemble.

“Corpophonics isn’t just one thing, it’s a bunch of different things,” explains LIVE member Emily Webster. It is keeping the beat on your leg, singing a note, and matching pitch through a screen. With its emphasis on creativity and spontaneity, STOMP has quickly become a favorite among students. They overwhelmingly describe it as a fun experience, though a challenging one tooparticularly when the tempo increases. As group members try new objects and drumming patterns each week, they learn how to turn everyday sounds into something more. Together they make music out of their surroundings, whatever they may be. Webster notes that the principles of corpophonics can be applied to anything, anywherefrom being around the house, to walking down the street. Rosenthal’s aim in starting STOMP as a virtual class was “to offer something that everyone could participate in regardless of their belongings;” he has also demonstrated an enduring lesson about music’s universality.

Watch STOMP perform "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"


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