Regional Teachers’ Forum
A couple of weeks ago, a group of music teachers from around Victoria came to the ABC Southbank Building to take part in a forum about what their needs are, as music teachers working outside city centres and well-resourced areas, and to hear about the kinds of things on offer from different arts organisations that are based in Melbourne but have regional programs.
I presented a short workshop for them, to give a demonstration of the way the Orchestra I work for creates music with participants who may have very little prior music-making experience (as well as those with lots).
We started with one of my favourite games – Zip-Bop, which I have described in a post a few weeks (read it here). This game is a good warm up, covering things like:
- loosening everyone up and encouraging a playful, non-judging energy
- Encouraging a range of vocal sounds
- Encouraging strong physical gestures
- Developing quick reactions, and fast decisions (demonstrating the kind of teamwork you get when everyone contributes to the whole flow of the game, rather than focusing on their own contribution).
After Zip-Bop we did Newspaper Compositions. There are a lot of variations on this game (you can do similar things with any printed text – books, rules, passenger charters! Anything!) but I like working with the variety that you get from a newspapers – classified ads mixing with hard news, letters and reviews.
Here is what we did:
- Put the newspaper in the centre of the circle. On a count of three, everyone goes to the paper and tears a piece off. (If you don’t trust your group with this kind of task, you can simply pass the paper around the circle. But the speed of everyone going in together is good, it makes sure people don’t have time to try to choose the ‘best’ bit of the paper).
- Choose a phrase or sentence, or group of words, that you can see on your piece of paper. Say these to yourself until you develop them into a rhythm. Pay attention to getting the rhythmic phrase exactly the same, each time you say it. Notice where you pause, and for how long. Notice which syllables fall exactly on the pulse beat, and which fall in between.
- Listen to each person’s phrase. There is often a lot of pleasure in hearing the words that have been chosen, and the way people have chosen to say them. We laughed a lot in our group.
- Then, number everyone off so that they are in groups of 4-6. In these small groups they will compose a vocal piece.
- I tend to give some guidance for the vocal composition. I ask them to consider the possible narrative that might be suggested by the phrases in their group. Does one follow another quite nicely? If they were put into a certain order, would that suggest a story, however ambiguous? Let this dictate the order that they present the different phrases in.
- Can you include a unison, as well as a number of concurrent layers?
- Can any of it be sung?
- Make clear decisions together about how you will start and finish, and what will happen in-between. (I like Graeme Leak’s maxim, that composing is ‘a way to start, a way to finish, and no fear of silence’! Hear, hear).
- After we had heard each of the small groups, I then wanted to find a way that the three separate pieces could be performed one after the other, in order to create one large piece in three main sections. Which one should go first, second, third? How can we transition form one to the next? Should we break up the sections of the pieces as they currently exist?
- All these things are possible. The benefits of working the separate pieces into one large piece are in encouraging the group to keep looking for compositional possibilities, to refine the music further so that we have tapped it for all its possibilities, and to encourage a whole-group sensibility.
After we had completed our composition, the teachers offered further suggestions of how they imagined a task like this could be used with students. Ideas included:
- Asking students to choose just 2 or 3 notes (possibly from a given mode or pitch group), and to play their word-rhythm on these notes, creating a melodic ostinato
- Using this as an aural task, where students need to echo what they hear another student play.
If any teachers who were at the forum are reading this post, please include further thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below!