Flushing Town Hall Teaching Artist: Skip LaPlante



Skip LaPlante is a classically trained composer and bass violinist with a specialization in building his own non-standard musical instruments out of upcycled materials. He has over 200 compositions that have been performed professionally for alternative music ensembles and off-off Broadway dance and theater ensembles. . He has created instruments for use by the American Festival of Microtonal Music, The Blue Man Group, Paul Simon, and the beloved children’s show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. His instruments have been exhibited at various locations including The Smithsonian Institution, PS1, The Museum of Arts and Design, and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.


Since 1991 he has worked with Bash the Trash, an ensemble that specializes in elementary school programs which explore the physics of sound using homemade musical instruments. He also has worked in classroom situations under the auspices of Young Audiences NY, The Open Classroom Collaborative, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra. Combined, he has performed in approximately 1600 children’s shows and reached over 300,000 students and counting. He was also the co-founder of the composers’ collective, Music For Homemade Instruments (1975-2005).


The Science of Music Workshop:

When you think of the word “sound” what comes to mind? You may think of a particular thing that makes a sound like a piano. You may think of a particular sound that thing makes,  a song. You might also think about your ears and how one sound may be different from the other. For example, a sound can be louder or softer (volume) or higher or lower (pitch). Following an introduction to the concepts of vibration (sound waves), frequency (speed of sound), amplitude (size of sound) and timbre (quality of sound), students will have the opportunity to play a variety of homemade instruments that embody these ideas. Instruments will include a variety of percussion and string instruments made from an array of upcycled materials such as tubes, bottles, cones and even a garden hose. Following the demonstration, students will have the chance to create their own instruments from a collection of everyday materials. For grades PreK-2.


Using a Monochord to Explore Fractions Residency:


Around 580 BC, Greek philosopher and mathematician- Pythagoras- explored the fractional divisions of a vibrating string. He was astonished to find how changes of the pitch occurred when fractional units of the string were allowed to vibrate. It reminded him of the different sounds from a musical instrument- leading to the birth of the musical tuning system. In this residency, students will learn about the history of tuning  an instrument in which pitches are determined by calculating fractional distances along a vibrating string. Working on a monochord- a single stringed instrument, students will be introduced to the metric system and will be able to calculate and mark a series of fractional distances to make different notes to play different melodies and songs. Here, the instrument becomes a unique way to approach fractions in a physical way. For grades 4-6.