Archive for the ‘composition’ Tag

One more project to go

One last project to prepare for before I go off on my one-week holiday to Sandy Point (no mobile phone coverage, no landline, no internet). This weekend is the third gathering of the Signal Art Ensemble, a project I am directing with funds from the City of Melbourne and musicians from the Australian Art Orchestra.

With this project we are going to compose music to accompany some extraordinary visual images by the film artist Louise Curham, taking some initial guidance for our music from the compositional overview of SOAK by Alister Spence (being performed by the Art Orchestra later this year). The images are hypnotic – Super 8 film that has been treated and manipulated with imposed animations/scratches (?) over it, and very vivid, rich colours. Also some interesting superimposing of typeface. I think the young people will enjoy working with this material. (There’s a great sample of her work on You Tube, below).

It’s my last project at the end of a very full period of projects and performances, but fortunately it is also far less structured than the others. The focus in very much on improvisation and the young people taking part are full of ideas. Musically we might start off with some grounding work in improvisation (in particular ‘finding endings’ in free improvisations, playing in 10/8, and building up some ideas using a range of percussion instruments I shall bring in with me that are all made of metal – some gongs I bought in Cambodia, silver shakers that my mother brought back from Ethiopia for me, and a range of beautifully pitched bells that I bought years ago in Bulgaria.

Ideas for Term One, ELS

Tomorrow is my first day back at the Language School (ELS). I will have three classes again – Lower, Middle and Upper Primary. The age ranges roughly correspond to years P-2, 3-4, 5-6 respectively.

My plan this term is work again with books and text, and to develop music composition activities that support some of the oral language and literacy goals for the classes. We will try chants drawn from the text, song-writing, composed music that expresses the emotion or dramatic journey of the story, and other ideas.

But it is hard to find the ideal books for this kind of work. It is good if there is an element of repetition in the text; fairly simple vocabulary, as lots of new words will make it too challenging for the newest arrivals; but it is also important to find age-appropriate books if possible, that fit with these vocabulary restrictions. It is good too, if the books introduce useful new vocabulary – such as clothes, colours, foods, transport, and so on.

The books I have chosen for this term, in consultation with one of the teachers, are:

  • Shoes from Grandpa by Mem Fox (Lower Primary)
  • What’s that noise? What’s that sound? by Morris Lurie (Middle Primary)
  • ARANEA – A story about a spider by Jenny Wagner (Upper Primary)

Shoes from Grandpa is very light-hearted, and lists lots of different kinds of clothes, it has a rhyming scheme that is fairly regular, and is repetitive, adding a line to the repetition at a time. I first came across this book reading it to my 2-year-old nephew in Brisbane.

What’s that Noise? What’s that sound? has an excellent ‘chorus’ that rhymes and is repeated throughout the book. It starts with a feeling of scary noises in the night, and ends in fantasy world, so musically there are lots of jumping-off points for composing.

Aranea is in fact quite a wordy book, but the story, very simply, poignantly told, and the illustrations, are beautiful. This is a book I had as a child and I loved it, and loved my parents reading it to me. It has simple refrain that is repeated 3 or 4 times through the story, but more significantly for this age group, it has a level of emotional content that I think they will connect with. The story has parallels with a refugee or immigrant’s experience, of arriving in a new place and feeling unsafe and conspicuous.

However, despite liking things about each of these books, I also have some doubts. I will continue to search for books for ESL kids, that do not require the vocab of a native English speaker, that have ‘pathways’ into them via repetition, refrains and ‘choruses’ in the text, that have engaging, age-appropriate story lines, and musical properties! A tall order, I know, but probably someone out there has already written such books.

If you have any recommendations, please leave them as comments – thanks!

And now, because I am in a reflective mood, here are some photos of reflections on the River Arno, in Pisa, from my recent trip.

clouds on Arno, enhanced

cloudy water

Gothic sunset

Music projects from texts

Yesterday I was at the Language School, and got the three classes I am working with this term (Lower, Middle and Upper Primaries) going on their new project for this term – building compositions from books. I suggested to each teacher that they choose a book that has a lot of staying power with their class, that we could use as source material for composition work. I am imagining we will try:

  • Setting some of the text to music, or finding fun musical ways to ‘sing’ the book;
  • Building chants and rap from words or phrases from the text (not necessarily in order, or in context)
  • Creating music that responds in some way to the images in the books.

Many of the students who have had little prior schooling (due to growing up in war-torn countries or refugee camps) may struggle to remember the alphabet, but can remember whole songs word-perfectly (in English). I want to see if approaching a text through music, using different tactics including mnemonics, assists them in their reading, oral language, and word recognition. The three teachers have been wonderfully responsive to this idea and by the end of yesterday we had a book for each class. Each one offers some kind of vocabulary and emotional content that is appropriate for the age group.

Books chosen: The Very Hungry Caterpillar (with its wonderful vocab of days of the week, numbers and food); Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? which lists different colours and animals and has a gentle rhythmic repetition to it; and Whoever you are, by Mem Fox, which has a strong affirmative message of diversity and common humanity, as well as some phrases that are crying out to be sung!

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