Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Pitch contours and other puzzles

I’ve been thinking a lot about how you build an understanding of pitch among young students. Regular readers will know that I teach a lot of students in primary (elementary) schools that don’t have a lot of English, or who speak English as a second language. Because of this, I put a lot of thought into ways of teaching and establishing musical concepts without resorting to verbal explanations.

With pitch I’ve tried lots of different things. Firstly, I should explain that all my classroom work has a compositional basis, so we rarely isolate pitch as a context. Mostly, it comes up because I want children to develop their aural and inner hearing skills so that they can learn, recall, and figure out melodic lines more easily. To do this they need to have an awareness of the way the pitches in a melody relate to each other – whether they are moving up or down to the next note, by step or by leap, etc. Continue reading

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A Big Jam

Work starts this week on The Big Jam, for the opening of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Battling volcanic-ash-laden skies, the wonderful Nico and Martin have arrived in Melbourne from Ireland. We have our first rehearsal on Tuesday.

It’s going to be a fast-paced jazzy journey through the history of jazz, with lot of opportunities for crowd participation. Nico has written the script, and together we will be fleshing out what our audience-participants can do to add to the musical textures.

It’s on at Federation Square this coming Saturday 1 May at 2pm, so if you are in Melbourne, you should grab an instrument and a pair of spoons, and get yourself down there. The Big Jam will be followed by a free concert – so you can make a full afternoon of it.

Teaching artists, teaching artistry

One of my current gigs (new this year) is as Program Director for a new program of outreach and community projects at an academy for “exceptional young musicians”. I’m going to avoid naming the place – let’s call it The Academy.

It’s been an interesting year so far there. Interesting, because I’ve had to completely revise the training and project plans I had made (which I’d made according to the brief I was given by the Academy senior staff), in response to a quite extraordinary display of resistance from the students I was to work with.

To set the context, this Academy offers a highly specialised, individually-tailored professional performance program for just a handful (~50) of extremely talented music students. The audition process is very competitive, and Academy alumni have a pretty good track record of success in orchestral auditions, overseas competitions, and so on. The outreach and community program that I direct is a new program this year, and is joined by other ‘non-playing’ professional development programs that seek to ensure Academy musicians are suitably skilled in a broader area of musical work than just orchestral, chamber and solo performance.

It became apparent soon after I started work there that there was a lot of resistance/resentment to involvement in the outreach and community program, from a significant number of students. Discussion with some of the more articulate members of the cohort shed further light on this – anxiety among the players that such studies took them away from their practice; frustration that it was a compulsory program, that the sessions were awkwardly timed within an already-busy schedule; that it made no allowance for the range of skills that students might already be bringing with them to the Academy, such as teaching qualifications or experience, or involvement in performance programs directed towards young audiences. Continue reading