‘Note to Self’ – final workshops
We finished ‘Note To Self’ last night, to an audience of about 80 people. It went beautifully, I think. There were some truly stunning images for the musicians to respond to, and performed at night-time, with dramatic lighting, as well as small lights on some of the equipment, it was quite a magical affair.
Day 4 was interesting. The music and puppet groups came back together after working separately on Day 3. First we put together the scene with the large elastic stave, and the music-notation rod puppets. The musicians and I had been given a scenario to work with for the music, so we put our music with their scenario. A couple of tweaks needed to be made, but it came together pretty quickly overall.
Then we looked at the scene called ‘Night’ that will be performed in darkness. The day before we had made some music for this. LL (director) had said she wanted lots of ‘noises… key taps, breathing, strange little sounds’, so we created a very improvised piece of random notes and small musical gestures, held together by a rules-based structure. However, at the time we made this piece, we hadn’t seen any of what LL was planning to do visually with the Imps.
We watched their work first. It was a series of quite beautiful, non-narrative images. Small children walking in the space with clipboards, which are holding a concertina of printed music. They placed these on the floor, and created a kind of mini-forest of swaying ‘trees’ of music, which then were turned into creatures that nipped and swooped at each other. A fencer launched himself onto the stage, jabbing his foil, with a page of music on the end of it. Smaller Imps wearing cleverly-designed harnesses with a long bouncing ‘tail’ at the end, behind them, with music attached to the tail, moved gracefully in the space, trying in vain to get hold of the pages of music at the end of the tails.
I turned to TP and the musicians and said, “I don’t think the music we made will work for this. This is so beautiful – it needs something flowing and graceful.” Everyone agreed, and so we decided there and then that we needed to make some new music, and to make it quickly, on the floor, with the performers.
Important motto – when in doubt, or in need of a quick music solution, you can’t beat the D-Dorian mode!
We learned the mode, quickly, note by note. Almost immediately our young double bassist started to improvise a simple bass line. This led to a smoky, laid-back, jazzy piece of writing. Smooth warm sustained notes on off-beats from the bass clarinet, evocative chords on the vibes, TP’s other hand playing a shaker, a bubbling ostinato on the xylophone – we were cooking within minutes.
I sent one of the violinists and the cellist off into another space to invent a melody to accompany the dance performed by the Imps in their harness-backpack-music-catching contraptions. (Hard to describe – just trust me that it is very graceful and eloquent in its execution.) They created a four-phrase haunting tune (again, I say it loud and clear – you can’t beat the Dorian mode. You simply can’t), accompanied by simple improvised cello pizzicato.
Woodwinds imitated birdsong to accompany the concertina creatures. Clarinets played whooshes of notes up and down the mode to accompany fluttering flags of music as they darted in and out of the space. The piece came together in less than ten minutes, and was perfect for the ‘Night’ scene.
These young people are recent graduates of the the MSO ArtPlay Ensemble program, and their quick, intuitive responses in the Note To Self project are testament to the way that program develops the musical imaginations and independence of young players. In that program, they had a year of workshops and intensive projects in which they devised and composed their own music, working with me and other MSO musicians. These days, they love inventing and improvising. They don’t turn a hair if asked to create a melody – most often they ask how long it should be! They are full of confidence in what is asked of them. They know how to look for cues. They remember directions. I watched them with pride as we set off on this unexpected task. It was absolutely the right response from us, to scrap what we had made because it wouldn’t suit the scene, to make something new on the spot.
I’d like to think this project can have a life beyond this creative development. Certainly much of what we made in this week felt like it could have a far broader appeal. Melbourne Festival? Fringe Festival? There’s something there, I think. But what we have explored so far has been emphatically non-narrative. LL has a whole narrative in mind. Part of me would be sad to lose the magic of the non-narrative seamless images we made for this project. I know they would still feature in the fully-realised performance, but would they have less of a spotlight?