Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Heroic metamorphosing creatures?

I have an interesting assignment that I’m working on today. I’m preparing projects for the first week of the school holidays, and one of them is a 2-day workshop exploring musical ideas in three pieces – Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings, Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony No. 3, and Beethoven’s overture to his ballet The Creatures of Prometheus.

Why these three pieces in a project for children? The group of participants will later go to hear a Melbourne Symphony Orchestra concert, and these are the pieces on the program. They’ll spend 2 days with me and a team of 4 MSO musicians first, exploring the musical themes and compositional ideas in the music, playing their own instruments, and experimenting with the composers’ ideas to make new compositions of their own.

The links between the pieces are interesting – it’s an elegant piece of concert programming! I’ve started my explorations in preparation for the workshops with the Strauss. This is a masterpiece of contrapuntal writing, composed in 1945 near the end of Strauss’ life (having said that, it was an Indian summer time for the composer, during which he also wrote masterworks like the Four Last Songs, and the oboe concerto), and it takes as one of its principal themes a motif from the funeral march which is the second movement of the Eroica Symphony. There’s the first link.

The Creatures of Prometheus is a creation myth from ancient Greece (I came across this blog where the author has taken the myth as the inspiration for his whole blog and gives a great synopsis of the tale – worth a read!) and Beethoven uses motivic material from it in the finale of the Eroica symphony. Continue reading

Collaboration – dance and music

A couple of weekends ago I was up in Sydney working with the Australian Chamber Orchestra [ACO] and Western Sydney Dance, and the Parramatta Youth Strings, and composer Matthew Hindson. A lot of collaborators, all contributing to a fabulous performance project developed by the ACO.

The idea was to create a new dance work, using music composed especially for it. But this was not to be a typical composer commission – Vicki, Education Manager at the ACO and the brains behind the project, wanted the players in the Parramatta Youth Strings (who would perform the work for the dancers alongside members of the ACO) to compose the music themselves.

There is huge value in young players composing the music that they will perform. If you use creative process that utilises improvisation as a way of developing ideas, they will invent things that are within their capacity to play. They will also have a strong sense of ownership of the music, and connection to the work, that will provide an additional incentive to realising it to the best of their abilities.

To see the descriptions of how we got ideas rolling, developed musical material, and structured the ideas into a graphic score… read on. Continue reading

Concert preparation – visual map

It’s been a short term and a fast one. Very busy for me too – since my last post I’ve been back up to Sydney for another project, and started my new job (training young musicians in teaching-artist approaches) at a Music Academy, and taught several one-off classes up at the University, and… got really stressed trying to fit it all in!

This post is about my Lower Primary students at the Language School. About 60% of the students are new arrivals this term, so not much English among them. They’ve been a very sweet class to work with, and, responding to their teacher’s ‘theme’ of the term on health and hygiene, we have composed a song about Germs.

Here are the lyrics:

If you touch something dirty you have to wash your hands

If you paint or your draw, you have to wash your hands

Touch a cat or a dog, you have to wash your hands

If you go to the toilet you have to WASH YOUR HANDS!

(Chorus) Germs can make you sick!

Germs can be Anywhere!

You have to put soap on your hands

And the germs will go away! Yeah!

(Vocal percussion bridge)

Scrubbing… and rubbing… and shaking… and drying….

They came up with the words, I hasten to add. Their teacher has clearly indoctrinated them well – they could think of heaps more occasions where it is necessary to wash your hands. It’s quite a folksy tune that we’ve written too – I sound a bit like Patsy Biscoe on the recording I made for them to listen to in the classroom.

We have a percussion section in the song, which they play sitting down. But they sing the verse and chorus, and bridge, standing up. In last week’s lesson we tried to introduce the concept of the end-of-term concert (performance to parents and other students), and I drew the following map to explain to them the order of the different song sections, and whether they are standing or sitting for them.

1= singing (verse & chorus)

2= instruments

3= singing (verse & chorus)

4= bridge (with hand-shaking actions).

I pointed to each number and they had to do the appropriate action (stand/sit/sing/play instruments/hand-shaking actions). I played around with the order of the numbers to encourage them to read the symbols on the board. It was like a game and they loved it.

As you can see, drawing is not my forte.