Artists inviting possibility

I am often approached by young musicians who want to develop workshop skills and get some more experience working with groups of children. This year, I’ve got a formal mentoring relationship set up. Ryan, a young recorder soloist and highly creative individual (based on our conversations thus far!), approached me at the end of last year to see if I could work with him to develop a workshop program for children that he could deliver as part of a broader touring and performance program.

Good on him! So far, we’ve mapped out a plan of action that includes developing a 2-hour workshop for primary school children that gets them to create their own music and embed it within a larger, contemporary solo work for recorder. Ryan is also going to spend some time in other workshops with me throughout the year, shadowing me and developing a repertoire of approaches and strategies for developing compositions with children.

At our first meeting, we focused on WHAT  – what is Ryan’s main aim? Is it a workshop that lasts a day? A few hours? Is it a longer residency? Is it a tailored approach, or an ‘off-the-shelf’ framework that he can adapt as he goes? Is it something that can link to his performance skills and concert-giving?

Ryan emphasised the importance of ‘being able to leave something behind’. He was well-aware of the weaknesses of the ‘parachute’ model (where the glamorous, charismatic visiting artist parachutes in, does their arts project, then leaves just as swiftly, with little of substance left in their wake). At the same time, I countered, a visiting artist has to be realistic about what is possible. You are a visitor. You are only there for a short time – a matter of hours, usually. Anything sustainable is going to require the buy-in and efforts of the class teacher. You have no control over what they do or don’t do in the classroom with relation to your visit, no matter how valuable such input might be.

Perhaps therefore, the artist’s visit is about inviting possibility for individual participants, with tangible skills and tools being part of the outcomes for the participants, but also the intangibles of inspiration, example and possibility. The next steps that individuals may take after a workshop experience – such as re-producing and re-experiencing their workshop outcome with you without your guidance, or furthering their skills and concepts through independent research, or simply the motivation to seek out further opportunities – are essential to a sustained ‘legacy’ from a workshop, given that music itself doesn’t result in any kind of physical artefact. How to plant the strongest, most potent and robust seeds, then, is the next big challenge for the artist! We’ll start looking at content in our next meeting together; meanwhile, Ryan is going to get busy reading Keith Johnstone, Graeme Leak and others on inspiring creative outcomes in groups.

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2 comments so far

  1. Timothy Jones on

    Hi Gillian,
    Yes, the issue of continuity vs one-off is interesting. Do you ever get the feeling some arts administrators hire a big name a) because they want to associate themselves with famous types and share in their glory and b) because they don’t have the crtiteria to decide for themselves so they go by the idea of “if s/he’s good enough for the other place s/he’s good enough for us”.
    On the one hand, an experienced quality professional could provide several sessions for the price of a one-off star session.
    On the other hand, a session of great value can leave a lasting impression on young minds and hearts, and encourage them to look around to find more for themselves.
    I was fortunate to arrange for Sean Gregory to visit my school in Madrid a couple of times and for us to make return visits to the Guildhall, which I think is the best of all worlds, but it was really a luxury.
    I suppose the important thing is the quality of the provider, not the star name and price tag.

    • musicwork on

      Hi Tim,
      Oh yes! These are things I think about, and have thought about, a lot. Last year, when a visiting UK composer was invited to do a project with the MSO, I was bemused at the amount of time and resources (I won’t list these, it looks too bitter!) that could be afforded for that project, when it felt that the same was never considered for my own projects, or those led by other local artists. But at the same time, having them make that investment meant that they could see all that was possible when you pull out all the stops for a project and let it be all that it possibly can be.
      The danger is when the local administrators don’t acknowledge that all those additional resources make a significant impact on the project’s success, well in addition to the impact of the visiting artist themselves. I wrote a post about this at the time the project took place. https://musicwork.wordpress.com/2011/07/.
      But I also acknowledge that ANY visiting artist is probably afforded greater support and privileges than local artists. There are supports and money that are made available for me as a visiting artist in a school or community, for example, that are probably not available to local artists doing the same kind of work.


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