Archive for the ‘inventing’ Tag

Rich tasks

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking a group of Master of Teaching students through some music games and tasks that I’ve collected from different parts of the world. The idea was to start with games and activities, but to then extend and develop the games into composition outcomes.

I think of the games that I use in workshops as ‘rich tasks’. That is, they have content that can be superficially fun and enjoyable, but when you look below the surface there is a whole lot of skill development and learning going on. They are also ‘rich’ because despite seeming easy and playful, they require you to keep on your toes and maintain your presence and focus. Break your focus, and you will start to falter.

Take my favourite warm up, for example. We start by passing a clap sound around the circle, one by one. Swiftly! I remind the group, and encourage them to make eye contact with the person they are passing the sound to. Then I ask them to change directions whenever they want, sending the sound either to the left or to the right. Then we change sounds – I love to use a ssshh sound, because this adds a further playful element, as people start to get into character, and offer very communicative, expressive sshhh-s. Around this time, as the sounds and directions change unpredictably, the group is beginning to improvise. They are responding to the sounds that have come before their own, and start to respond to the tension, release and arcs that are being formed.

Later you can add a sound that is sent across the circle, which requires steely eye contact, and invites a new, energised sound to be made (zap, zip, whoosh and ping are frequent suggestions). If someone makes a ‘wrong’ sound, sending it either across the circle to their left or right, this too is embraced, and becomes part of the ‘sound vocabulary’ of the game. Following this rule, you can have different sounds coming from every person in turn – the variety adds to the delight that the group feels then, when one of those new ‘sound offers’ is repeated by someone else.

Groups  that are working well together, where everyone is participating fully in the game, can continue with just these rules for quite extended periods of time, often developing some very interesting musical outcomes. However, I also like to add what I think of as powerful ‘whole ensemble unison’ moments into the texture. These work as question-and-answer moments. The person whose turn it is makes and agreed call and gesture (one I am fond of is a martial arts-inspired Hi-YAH!), to which the rest of the group responds with a stern and resonant Huh!, stamping one foot to the floor like a member of the All Blacks.

The sound-passing game is my first ‘rich task’, and I know lots of people know it already. It surprises me sometimes, when colleagues say things like, “Yeah, but I only do it with primary students”, as if it is inappropriate for older students, or “We were doing that back in the seventies!”, as if it is old hat. I find this game so effective precisely because it is such a stayer, and because there are so many ways to you can add to it and extend it.

Another Academy community project

My, I have a had a busy couple of weeks! The week before I went to Armidale, I led a composition project for a small group of Academy musicians with the orchestra at Elwood Primary School, one of the primary schools that is in the Academy’s local area, and a school with a very interesting instrumental music program. The school orchestra includes drum kit, electric bass and saxophones, recorders, flutes, clarinets, and some truly gun trumpeters. Quite an eclectic mix of instruments for a primary school. Lots of the initial comments among the Academy students was, “what a fantastic music program they have here! What cool stuff they are getting to do!” Etc.

One of the pieces the primary students already knew was Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon, so I proposed to the Academy students that we use this piece as our compositional starting, and as a ‘way in’ to establish some playing alongside the kids.

We had 1 and a half days at the school. First we jammed on Chameleon, and got the kids working in sections and inventing new riffs to add to their arrangement. Then we split off into small groups, mixing all the instruments, and each group created a short piece that included a ‘chameleon-like transformation’ of some kind in the music. This was a deliberately ambiguous task. I choose these in order to set a task that is as open-ended as possible, so that we reduce the likelihood of students trying to ‘get it right’ and come up with the ‘right’ or ‘desired’ musical response. What does a chameleon-like transformation in a piece of music sound like? There are loads of possible answers.

Towards the end of the first day all the small groups came back together and played their pieces to each other. As we listened, we found various points in the pieces where we could include other instruments and players from other small groups. We developed each small-group piece in this way, and created a structure so that we could segue from one piece to the next without a gap, and arranged the pieces so that the whole ensemble played at critical points in each piece, adding tension, drama or complexity.

On our second morning, we focused again on Hancock’s Chameleon. We used my ‘paper-score’ method to arrange all the ideas we had explored in our jamming the previous day, and created a unique arrangement of the piece that included Hancock ideas, the music teacher’s ideas from his classroom arrangement, and the students’ riffs that they had invented the previous day. We laid the paper score out on the floor in front of the players and they read from this for the performance.

I only got one photo from the event as my camera ran out of battery. But if you look closely you can see pages from the paper score at my feet.

Happy Elwood students, happy Academy students. Lots of comments from the musicians I travelled with about the benefits to young players that come from inventing their own music and getting to participate in such a creative, open process.