Lots going on!

These last few weeks have been soooo full. School holidays means school holiday projects with the orchestra. Plus a visit to Brisbane to see family up there. Plus other nice distractions in town… here is a summary:

ArtPlay Ensemble

Last week, in the second week of the holidays, the 2008 ArtPlay Ensemble convened for its first project of the year. We spent two days composing pieces inspired by Debussy’s Three Nocturnes. Here’s some of the compositional starting points we used:

  • I chose two very similar 4-note chords from the Debussy score for Nuages (the first of the three Nocturnes) and asked each child to choose two notes from each chord. They then played an oscillating pattern that moved from one note to the next. This created a similar effect to Debussy’s aural images of clouds floating across the sky.
  • Debussy’s Nuages seems to set up cloud images that are then have a shaft of light superimposed on them (my interpretation) – a musical interjection or motif that contrasts in colour and temperament to the cloud movement. Debussy’s often feature tritones. I divided the Ensemble up into 4 small groups. Each group took 2 tritone intervals and developed 2 possible shards of light that featured one of the tritones.
  • The groups then created their own arrangements of Nuages that used their cloud mode music and their shards of light.
  • Individuals from the Ensemble also improvised solos using the notes of the pentatonic scale featured by Debussy in the B-section of Nuages. For many it was their first experience of improvisation in performance.
  • We moved onto Fetes, the second of Debussy’s Nocturnes. Here the Ensemble created a rocking bass line in 9/8, and a series of vibrant melodies, all using notes from the Mixolydian scale on g. (Fetes often has a mixolydian colour to it). As a B-section, we took inspiration from Debussy’s passing procession and created our own processional music that started off quietly, suggestive of being far away in the distance, and gradually increased in volume, as it got closer.

With this project, as with many around this time, I felt myself to be a little dry of ideas. It seems to be something I am battling a bit at the moment – induced by the intensity of last year’s projects, which I feel I am still probably recovering from, and exacerbated by the loss of the fulltime Education Program Manager at the Orchestra nearly 6 weeks ago, which has impacted hugely on my job, with many more essential administrative tasks being passed over to me, to be completed in the time I usually have set aside for project planning, development and composition.

But happily, it all came together, as indeed it always does.

Massed music-making

For the last couple of years, I have been developing a new, pretty out-there family music-making project format for the Orchestra called the Jam. People of all ages, all levels of musical ability, and all instruments (yes, including bagpipes, harmonicas, and kitchen utensils) come together for a one-hour workshop in a public space, that results in a new piece being created. They work alongside members of the Orchestra, it is fun, informal, and fast-paced, there are musical entry points and challenges for all levels of ability, and this includes those with no instrument at all.

It’s a great format. We had two Jams last weekend. I led one, and played in the other. Both drew starting points from Verdi Requiem, which the Orchestra was performing that night.

Again, I felt drained leading up to this project. I was happy with the plan I made – as ever, a little on the detailed side (I prefer to work with a detailed plan and then deviate from it as required on the day) , but with lots of satisfying quotes from the Verdi that I felt everyone would enjoy playing and being part of.

It was not ideal doing this project in the same week as the ArtPlay Ensemble project, but there you go. Next time I should look out for that kind of loading-up in my schedule. Despite this, it went really really well. I enjoyed myself a lot. These jams always get me a bit worked up as they are quite high-profile, they involve a lot of people who are new to the Orchestra’s community outreach program, and they involve a lot of people – usually between 80 and 100 people jamming at the same time.

But I love it when we do them. The atmosphere is superb – very energised, lively, dynamic, and fun. Orchestra at its most direct.

Prison workshops – families

The last creative project for this period has been the prison project. This week we worked not with the prisoners themselves but with families of prisoners – mostly children and partners. We ran two creative music workshops, where we composed a piece of music that links musically to one of the improvisations we did in the prison. We recorded everything, and the music from these family sessions will form part of our final recorded outcome from the whole project.

It was interesting to catch up with the researcher who is working on the project – she has been interviewing a lot of the prison participants and getting some fantastic feedback. The guys have talked a lot about how hard they work in the sessions, and how much they appreciate the challenges, because then when I achieve it, I know I have achieved something that I had to work at. (Or words to that effect. Not a direct quote.) They have also appreciated the racing hearts and sweat that this effort in the music sessions has caused them. Lots are coming down off drugs, or maybe stabilising a mental health condition. The researcher was concerned that the music, in its tendency to provoke a more highly-charged physiological response, was actually causing some kind of discomfort or additional stress, but the guys assured her that in fact this kind of extreme response was welcome for them. It sounded to me that it reminded them of being alive, and of the possibility of having these kinds of reactions to something that doesn’t involve drugs.

I’d love to write more on all of these projects. I am back in the prison again next week, so will hopefully have more to share. A funny side-story from this week involves the musicians who came to the workshop venue by cab. They come with quite a bit of luggage – musical equipment being somewhat cumbersome – and when they got out of the cab, in a bit of a hurry, they just cleared the boot of bags and came into the building.

“Good Lord, D”, said J the percussionist to the sound designer. “What have you got in this backpack?”

“Uh, no, that’s not my bag”, responded D. Everyone looked at the bag. No, not mine, they all said. Ooops. In their rush, they had come away with the cab driver’s bag. Terrible!

We called the cab company, who sent out a radio alert asking the the driver to contact the operator. We waited for a call back telling us the bag would be collected, or where we should leave it. But by the time the workshop finished this call hadn’t come, so the musicians decided to take the bag back to ABC and leave it with Security there, as they are there 24 hours a day.

Later today I got a text message from R the cellist, letting me know that the bag had been collected. Dear cab driver, we are are very sorry! Hopefully it didn’t cause too much inconvenience.

Next week the adventures continue…

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