Screams around the space

On 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 (and memorised as we went along, not written down) over an intensive 2-day period, over 2 months ago! Lots of transcribing from the audio and video recording on my part… However, remounts are also an opportunity to develop the music further and to present it to a wider audience, and in this case, we also got to perform it in a much larger venue (Melbourne Town Hall) as part of MSO’s Education Week.

We did good. No, we did great! It was a long day, but well worth the effort, because our composition developed significantly from its original performance, and all the Ensemble members developed as a result.

In one section, the music required members of the ensemble to give sudden screams, shouts, and maniacal bursts of laughter. The performance in the Town Hall (a very broad and resonant space) I had the opportunity to play with spatial effects. I positioned 7 players behind the audience for this ‘screams section’ (mysterioso, the children called it), spread across the back of the hall.

When we got to this part of the performance I could see the Ensemble members really getting into it. A huge amount of energy was being generated by these screams – it was palpable, and I stretched the section out to spread that energy throughout the hall.

After the performance, as we walked back to the Green room along the backstage corridor, the children were buzzing with excitement.

“Gillian, there was the lady, and when we screamed she jumped!” one player told me excitedly. “And there was this baby, and when I screamed the first time, it just stared and stared at me, the whole time, until the music stopped! I just had to stare straight ahead…”

Parents and friends later told us that they hadn’t even seen the players leave their places on the stage, so engrossed had they been in the music (and so discretely had the musicians moved to their positions – nice work, 10-12 year-olds!) I think the scream section was most people’s favourite part of the piece. People from the orchestra who had heard the original performance back in April thought the screams were something we’d added for the remount – but no, they were there all along. It was the use of space that enhanced them and brought them to the fore.

Even though remounts create lots of challenges in re-memorising a piece, it also gives the children a chance to revisit and improve upon their composition work and to understand it better, with the benefit of a little distance. Our performance on Saturday was richer and far more polished than the one we gave in April at the end of our two-day project. We’d had an extra day with the same material. It makes an enormous difference to the children’s processing of the musical ideas. Two days will feel very short when we start our Bartok project in July.

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