Distinguished Achievement Program

Music Example

Brian Davis had played the alto saxophone in his high school’s jazz band for his first three years of high school. His involvement in the music program and his family’s East Texas heritage inspired him to design a DAP project exploring the history of East Texas blues. Brian wanted to research and write a composition for a quartet. The first four weeks of his senior year, he wrote a detailed proposal that outlined the project for the entire school year.

The proposal included an explanation of the assessment criteria for the final performance and presentation. Brian, his mentor Beth Johnson, and his teacher Mr. Tatum determined the criteria. In order to receive a measure of distinguished achievement, Brian’s final product would have to be of professional or college-level quality. Brian understood that a panel of experts would assess the quality of his presentation and the merits of his original composition, using the pre-determined criteria as a guide. After the final performance, Mr. Tatum awarding his final grade.

Brian included the following components in his proposal:

  • Written intent of the original composition
  • Theme books that depict the development of form and melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, and textural complexities
  • An original composition of sufficient length to present, develop, and complete thematic material
  • A final form that others could replicate in additional performances (e.g., midi-file/written score and parts)
  • Tapes of rehearsals, rehearsal schedules, and a description of the composer’s role
  • Performance of the composition
  • An oral presentation on the composition’s development
  • Critique, response, justification, and recommendations after the final performance
  • Evaluation and assessment of the performance by a pre-designated panel of experts.

Working with his mentor Beth Johnson, a music historian and jazz pianist, Brian created a timeline to organize his project. Brian synthesized the information he gathered from music history books, old recordings, and interviews with East Texas residents and blues artists. Based on this research, he developed the conceptual basis for his composition. Throughout the year, Brian worked on his research and composition and regularly discussed and evaluated his progress with Beth and Mr. Tatum. Brian’s research included analyses of the stylistic and historical precedents of his piece and specific theoretical justifications for his harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, textural, and thematic choices.

In April, Brian prepared to perform his composition and present the project’s development. He discussed the influence of his research on his composition and the rationale behind his ideas and theoretical positions. He included recordings of early blues musicians, such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, in the presentation and discussed their influence on East Texas blues and on his own music. Finally a few weeks before the show, Brian took care of last minute details—preparing his presentation, writing program notes, inviting guests, and confirming the panel of experts.

On the night of the big performance, Brian, his family, friends, teachers, and fellow musicians assembled in a small hall near the school. Mr. Tatum, Beth, and the panel members took careful notes on Brian’s communication of intent, the depth of his reflections, and the clarity of his recommendations for future work. After the presentation, the panel questioned Brian on his plans for the future. Then everyone enjoyed a performance of the Brian Davis Quartet, a group of Brian’s peers from the school’s jazz band. The final response and evaluation, based on the pre-determined assessment criteria, included both Brian’s reflections and assessments and the panel’s critique. After a thorough investigation of Brian’s process and a careful evaluation of the quality of his final work, the panel recommended that Brian be awarded a measure of distinguished achievement; Mr. Tatum assigned Brian’s grade.