Workshops, training, collaboration
It’s been a busy week. I think they are all busy now, pretty much until I get on the plane to fly to Paris at the end of November. Here is what I have been working on:
Australian Youth Orchestra
Today I led an improvisation workshop for young musicians from the Australian Youth Orchestra as part of their collaborative Style Workshop with The Cat Empire. It’s a collaborative project that takes the AYO musicians quite a way out from the traditional orchestral musician role, into the realms of improvisation, devising and composition. They started the project with me, doing a workshop on the ideal mindset for improvisation and creativity, building an awareness of factors that can inhibit creative responses, and trying their hands at a number of different creative tasks. They created what I felt were some truly original pieces. They have raised the bar pretty high now, for other students with whom I do the same tasks! Later today they will work with Tony Gould, one of Melbourne’s great improv gurus. From tomorrow they start working with The Cat Empire guys. Then on Thursday night all the music created through the collaboration will be performed in concert.
One of the violinists was also present at my ANAM talk, and it was nice to see her again and follow up some of the discussion points that were raised on that day – in particular the distinction she (and one or two others) made between music listening and music making. We chatted in the break about ways of listening to music, and the difference in the way we listen to music we know well and have played, to the way we listen to something new.
One of my tactics as a listener is to try to listen with ‘new ears’, to hear every sound as new and unexpected, and to try to put myself into the composer’s imagination.
I have another project coming up with AYO in November – this time with the Young Australian Concert Artists (YACA) program, during their Regional Residency in Albury. We’ll work together on two projects with primary school children. Probably inspired by music of Shostakovich.
On Saturday we rehearsed one of the earlier large ensemble sequences, three of the duets, had costume fittings for all musicians, and then a music-only rehearsal, in which we planned to go through all the music in the show, talking through the cues and stage moves as we went.
It felt like a chaotic day, and in some ways less productive than I’d hoped. We (the musicians) ran overtime in our first task of the day, then costume fittings ran over into the music rehearsal. We didn’t get through all the music in that rehearsal and finished the day five minutes over. It was a lot to fit in.
In hindsight, I needed to be more assertive in pulling people from the costume fittings back into the rehearsal, as the designer and I had already agreed that we couldn’t steal time from the rehearsal – frustratingly, that is what happened anyway. (sigh). The music rehearsal suggested that we do need time to work on the music separately. There were lots of questions and things needing further clarification. There were also concerns that surprised me – adamance that we needed more precise timings for some of the improvisations or cues, and that the ensemble couldn’t take cues from the stage. However, the reality with this company is that there is always an element of unpredictability about the performers that necessitates a more flexible way of scoring and cueing. It is the only way that it works. (Cues like, “keep playing X until Y happens on-stage. At that point finish the phrase you are playing and come to a stop’).
On Saturday I was resisting a role of whip-cracker – I wanted us to be collaborators together. I didn’t want to step on the designer’s toes either – she knew we were anxious to rehearse and so surely would not keep people in fittings longer than necessary. However, I should have kept an eye on what was going on, and ensured a sense of haste. The fact that we didn’t get as much done on Saturday is my fault, ultimately. It’s hard, this project. It will be rewarding and satisfying, I feel sure of that, but it is also incredibly hard.
This week I am in at ArtPlay again working as Musical Director on a project called Note To Self. It is a creative development working with kids, exploring the narrative and visual potential of some of the symbols of music – instrument cases, staves, clefs, notes, printed music etc. There are ten child musicians and nine child puppeteers involved.
Creative Developments can be glorious fun, where there is time to explore ideas and be very open to the outcomes of the explorations. The directors need to be very tuned-in, always thinking on our feet, attuned to what is working, and how some of the explorations could be developed further. This project has a fairly hefty time commitment – the whole second week of the school holidays – but I am looking forward to the process.
Not much happening here. My friend P came by this afternoon for a cup of tea after the AYO project and she tried to get me stirred up about starting my Ethics Approval application. But my brain feels too full to start anything new. I feel disconnected from my proposed research topic, and unsure even of what it is! Maybe I’ll feel different tomorrow, when I finally have a day off and can gather myself together again. I’m feeling a bit fragmented.