Doorways in

Renowned music educator Jackie Wiggins (author of Teaching for Musical Understanding) talks about ‘doorways in’ in creative music work – the initial points of entry for young people that get them engaging and connecting with musical ideas.

Usually, when I build a project on a piece of orchestral repertoire, I select fragments or quotes from the score – melodies, rhythms, accompanying figures, chord progressions, structural characteristics – to act as ‘doorways in’. The groups take inspiration from these, and also aim to incorporate them in some way in their own pieces. They act as a creative starting point, but also give the children a kind of listening pathway, when they later hear the orchestral work in performance.

In planning this week’s workshop on Beggars and Angels, I decided to try two new ‘doorways in’. Rather than quotes from the musical material, I selected 28 performance directions from the score. Brett Dean is an Australian composer, so he writes his performance directions in English. Many of them are quite detailed. Each child in the group had one direction.

They divided into working groups of seven. “Think of your music as depicting a journey of some kind,” I asked them. “Dean’s music has been described by some as being like a journey. Consider all your performance directions, and decide the order they should be in, to best depict the kind of journey you are taking us on. Then create a piece with sections of music for each”

Things like:

Lively, insistent

Slightly slower, becoming increasingly vague and distant… slowing further, as if losing consciousness

Uncoordinated with other instruments

Restless, but very quiet.

The material that eventually developed was truly interesting, and quite beautiful in many places – evocative, somewhat timeless, and free, and with great use of chromaticism in the melodic and harmonic writing. The performance directions meant that they thought about their compositions in terms of sections, and this meant that later, we were able to juxtapose sections from different groups, in order to create some of the huge sudden contrasts of texture, dynamics, and tempi that so characterise the Beggars and Angels score.

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1 comment so far

  1. […] Saturday I led the MSO ArtPlay ensemble (27 children aged 8-13 and 7 MSO musicians) in a remount of their composition response to Brett Dean’s Beggars and Angels. Remounts can be enormous undertakings, especially when the music you are remounting was created […]


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