Professional Development for orchestral musicians

This year we invited Melbourne-based composer, percussionist and performer Graeme Leak to run two days of workshops for the orchestral musicians. Our participant numbers were a bit low (as is often the case with these kinds of initiatives) but those of us that took part had an inspiring couple of days.

Graeme is the author of a very useful, insightful handbook on performance-making and much of what he did with us was drawn from this book.

It is such a nice opportunity for me to simply take part in one of these workshops; usually I lead them. Graeme has a clear, straightforward way of communicating and built trust very quickly with the players. For much of the first day we didn’t even take our instruments out of their cases. On the second day, Graeme brought a bunch of his instruments in for people to try, including his tin can string basses, wooden bowls floating in water,  a melodica, and a theremin. He treated us to a performance of “My Way” on the theremin. Pretty special.

Workshop ideas I particularly liked:

  • Breath impulse work/independent pulse – placing a sound of your choosing (initially vocal, later on instruments) at a point of your choosing in your own breath cycle, and maintaining this while others do the same. Quite a hypnotic, ever-phasing texture emerged. I could have listened to it all day.
  • Polyrhythmic textures, working with 3/4, 4/4 and 5/4. I have done these tasks before -led them and composed with them, as well as taken part in workshops where they have been a focus – but I never tire of the possibilities or the outcomes.
  • Playing with texture – a bed of constant muttering, with occasional voices emerging above or below the bed at different times. An exercise in how to work with texture in ensemble music. A practical example of how it works.
  • Vocal tasks involving random pitches that gradually become a unison. Great for the ears, and musically interesting.
  • A body percussion task using on- and off-beats. How we struggled! It was more a physical coordination and left/right brain issue than one of understanding the task.
  • A vocal task, working with major, minor, diminished and augmented triads. We worked in three groups, focusing on adjusting pitch by a semitone in order to change the triad being sung by the group. Each group had rules about when they could move and in which direction. Again, quite hypnotic. Interesting too, to observe how much more difficult it was to  hear the colour of the chord when the voicing and inversion of the triads was altered.

We also created some duets together, taking ideas from the different starting points we had been exploring for most of the first day.

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