Archive for the ‘djembes’ Tag

City Beats – kids making music in the city

Yesterday and today were the last days of the 2012 City Beats program, and all the children from the four disadvantaged schools we’ve worked with this year returned to ArtPlay to compose a final work with me and three Melbourne Symphony Orchestra musicians. In this year’s program we’ve been using the four classical elements (Earth, Fire, Water, and Air) to inspire our percussion and vocal compositions.

In each project, I’ve introduced the children to a particular technique for developing original material, and particular instruments that suit the character of the element we are focusing on. We started with Earth in Term 1, and worked with very grounded grooves and riffs, using djembes and xylophones. In Term 2, we shifted the focus to Water, and the children explored very resonant instruments, such as orchestral chimes and tam-tams. We also experimented with water as a percussion instrument, pouring, slapping, splashing, and striking metal instruments like bells before submerging them slowly into water and hearing the pitch change.

For Air, we introduced the children to harmonic whirlies, and wrote songs inspired by their stories of experiencing the air around them. Here is a clip of one such song – this song is a real ear-worm! But don’t let that put you off – press ‘play’ and listen as you read the rest of this article! The melody was created by listening for any fragments of tone patterns that emerged when several children played whirlies at the same time. You can also hear their 8-beat vocal patterns in the introduction.

(Go here to hear other songs created using this process).

In this week’s Fire workshop, we created short stories about ‘fire’ and decided collaboratively what should happen in the beginning, the middle and the end of the narrative. The children then divided into 3 groups, and created a short riff, basing it on a sentence or phrase that summarised their part of the story. They then arranged these riffs into short pieces. We performed these compositions to each other, and then finished the 2-hour workshop with a spontaneous jam, bring back material from the 3 previous workshops.

The beauty of the City Beats program is that the children come back every term, and we get to develop very solid relationships with them. We observe some beautiful learning journeys through the year – such as one girl, who in the first workshop was so self-conscious and resistant that she wouldn’t even say her own name during the warm-up activities. In today’s workshop she was a different person, completely relaxed, enthusiastic, contributing ideas, playing a range of instruments, and just having a great time. All the groups display a wonderful ease with creating their own music now, and are far more aware of the others in the group, many of them locking into grooves and harmonies with little assistance.

City Beats is a program for disadvantaged and under-served schools where the children are unlikely to be able to access any extra-curricular music opportunities. We hope that it serves as a starting point or a pathway for those children who want to do more music – bringing them into the city (for many this is a rarity in itself), introducing them to ArtPlay, to me, and to the MSO, and giving them confidence in their musical skills. We tell them about other workshop opportunities or scholarships that are coming up, and hope that the City Beats experience encourages them to take the next step.


Children’s voice – choosing new instruments

When the Pelican Primary School Choir sang at the Mayor’s Christmas event last week, we received a performance fee of $400, to put towards new instruments. There are lots of instruments I wanted to buy, and to have in the music room – and with the current excellent Christmas sales on at the moment, it seemed a perfect time to stock up on djembes for the school.

However, I was inspired by the half-day conference that I attended last Friday on Children’s Rights, and decided to let the Choir members decide how the money should be spent. These are not children who engage well in discussion (they tend to get fairly boisterous, fairly quickly), but I decided to give it a go.

Initially, I’d hoped to get a representative from the music shop to visit the school during choir time, with a van full of instruments for them to inspect and choose from. I’d imagined how I would prepare a kind of Preference Sheet for them, with pictures of the instruments, and price per unit, so that they could mark the ones they liked best and see if they could make their choices add up to $400. It would have been a nice integrated class for them, draing aupon an authentic task.

However, it was too close to the end of the year to organise something like this.

Part of me just wanted to order five djembes and be done with it. I know they will get used, I know the kids will like them…. I really had to wrestle with this side of myself, as I knew it was driven partly by convenience and simplicity.

In the end, I concocted the following plan:

  • I drew a list of 6 instrument options on the board (all things that I knew we didn’t have and could make great use of), and placed alongside each picture the instrument cost.
  • I told them they had $400 to spend.
  • We talked about how the small djembes were half the price of the big djembes, that the big ones might sound better, but that the small ones were a good size for the younger students and still sounded pretty good;
  • We talked about how we could buy a new xylophone or metallaphone, but that this would use up all of our money on one instrument (but that this was a very popular instrument for all the students).
  • We tried out some combinations of instruments and costs on the board as examples.
  • Then I gave each child a piece of paper, and asked them to list their three favourite instruments, numbered 1-3. They could propose how many of each instrument they would like to buy too.
  • I then placed a mark beside each instrument that was voted for. We looked at the most popular choices and worked out some possible combinations of instruments and quantities. We voted on our favourite and emerged with a clear winner.

The adding up proved too hard for most of them. But that didn’t matter. I am also not sure how many of them understood that they were being asked to choose the instruments because they had sung in a special concert and been paid. (Having said that some of them understood. They kept asking why they couldn’t just have the money).

In the end, they chose:

  • three small djembes
  • a vibraslap
  • a large cabassa
  • a pair of juju shakers (made from seed pods).

I think they were very money-conscious in their choices – most made a point of choosing the less expensive instruments. However, they all liked the idea of a new metallaphone – they just didn’t understand that this would use up all their budget.

It was a great exercise and I’m glad I asked for their input. It’s the right way to make these choices, I’m sure. Here are some examples of their ballot papers: