Archive for the ‘participatory music’ Tag

A (musical) jam with hundreds and thousands

Gillian's jazz gig, Fed Square,  April 2010 065Last night I put the finishing touches on the score for this weekend’s ‘Gypsy Jam’ at the Myer Music Bowl with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra [MSO] and graduates from the MSO ArtPlay Ensemble. This participatory music jam will take place before a free outdoor orchestral concert, one of a series of four free concerts that the MSO puts on every year as part of Melbourne summer festivities.

This year I’ve created a ‘Gypsy Jam’ in order to tie into the concert program which features Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin Suite. Bartok = Hungarian = Gypsy… purists will know the link is somewhat tenuous, but for our purposes, it’s going to work very well indeed! The jam acts like a pre-concert ‘aperitif’ (after all, people bring a picnic with them to the free Myer Bowl concerts so if the concert proper is the main course then the pre-concert jam could be an aperitif or amuse-bouche), and people can elect to come down to the stage to join in (we’ll have lots of percussion instruments available for them to play, or they can bring their own instrument with them), or join in from their picnic spot on the grass.

Thousands of people attend these free Myer Bowl concerts, so that means there might end up being thousands of people jamming. Everyone is welcome, so if you are in Melbourne, pack your picnic basket, grab your horn of choice and head down to the Myer Music Bowl, ready for a 6pm jam start. Gates open at 4pm. Here’s what it looked like last year, when our theme was Mexican (to tie in with the concert performance of Copland’s El Salon Mexico). Olé!

 

 

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ISME Community Music Activity commission, Corfu Town

The location for the Community Music Activity [CMA] commission seminar was well-chosen, to say the least! Could we ask for a more beautiful backdrop to our week of inspiring, stimulating and provocative conversations than this?

This little cove was just around the corner from our conference venue, the Ionian University’s Reading Society building, a small museum with a meeting room at the top that we reached via a winding staircase (having already climbed one set of stairs to get to the front door).

We had nearly forty different presentations throughout the week, as well as a poster session and a Cafe Discussion in which new ideas for research and partnerships were explored. More on that later.

Looking back, there were a number of themes or strands that evolved through the presentations and subsequent discussions. I’ll offer very brief summaries here, taken from the notes I made in the sessions at the time. One emerging theme was about school-based music educators learning from community music practice, and vice versa. We were strongly urged towards greater awareness and commitment to ‘artistic citizenship’ within music education practice, with ‘citizenship’ referring to meaningful action for the betterment of society. While some community music models adopt this ethic (such as many of the ‘intervention’ models), perhaps others, working within pre-existing structures such as community orchestras, brass bands, perhaps choirs (though less so, as community choirs often have a social change or social response agenda and have less hierarchical structures) could consider their work through this artistic citizenship lens. Music education in schools and other formal settings could also reflect on the influence of (or lack thereof) such an ethic or commitment to social good and the betterment of society in their work. Indeed, what are the values that drive your work?

Also within this strand came the call for greater entrepreneurship, as a process of value-creation within music-learning settings in schools and communities. When teachers and community music leaders approach a new environment the way an entrepreneur might, with questions such as, “What are my values? Who or what is the market? What are the opportunities here?”,  rather than with a specific outcome in mind (such as the formation of an orchestra, or an instrumental-teaching program along familiar lines), new program models can emerge. The presenter Michelle Snow gave the example of the Sistema Fellows program running out of the New England Conservatoire that trains a small group of musicians each year to go into under-served communities and engage people in ensemble experiences. Exactly what those experiences will be evolves over time, as the Fellows approach their designated communities with this entrepreneurial spirit and develop their work in response to what they find.

Things took an interesting turn when it was proposed that, given the importance of participatory music-making to the Community Music field, and that this lies in uncomfortable contrast to the emphasis on presentational music-making that music and/or music education faculties have within higher education settings, a music faculty might not be the right place to site Community Music. Many people see participatory music-making as presentational music-making done badly – the core values of two are often at odds with each other, but it is the presentational model that occupies prestige and recognition in the professional field, with Music Education working as its wing man, often focused on preparing students for presentational outcomes (think school band curriculum) and on delivering music appreciation outcomes to ensure students become good audience members for professional musicians.

So where else could the Community Music discipline be sited? The suggestion was to look at the growing field of Leisure and Recreation (it took me a while to digest this – I struggled to think of any faculties of ‘leisure and recreation’ in Australia – but apparently it is an area of considerable growth). If education is a pursuit of the development of self, and leisure is about undertaking activities that also develop the self and bring happiness and satisfaction in life, then we can start to see where Community Music could fit. Community Music could theorise on what ought to be – a model of values of inclusion, enjoyment and self-growth, a model of “how life can and should be lived”.

That’s some thoughts from the first part of my notebook. More from the Moleskin soon.

Mexican Sunday

In preparation for next Saturday’s Jam on El Salon Mexico at the Myer Music Bowl (see the last paragraph of this post to read all about it), I’ve spent today working up a flexible arrangement of El Palo Verde, inspired by this fantastic version:

It’s wild! It reminds me a bit of brass bands from the Balkans – same kind of anarchic, high-velocity playing. I had fun transcribing the tuba part this afternoon. I don’t think we’ll be doing it quite this fast. Still developing ideas of how the crowd’s picnic utensils will come into it…

UPDATE:

Ole! The Jam was indeed a wild Mexican Saturday. I got the audience involved in all sorts of ways and a small number of children came down the front with their picnic paraphernalia in order to play solos. Here is some footage from the event:

Jamming

A number of years ago now, I developed the ‘jam’ large-scale workshop format. I wanted to create something that could take place in a public space (ie. open to the public), that could cater for all ages and all levels of playing ability, to which anyone could turn up on the day and participate. I particularly wanted it to be the kind of event that whole families – parents, teenagers and children learning to play an instrument, younger siblings who just loved banging things, grandparents – could take part in together rather than the instrument-learning child being dropped off while parents take the younger sibling(s) off for an hour.

Jams have continued to evolve since then and these days it is one of the workshop formats that new clients often ask me to create for them. It has also developed along some different strands – such as the massed music-making scale of the Big Jams I’ve created and co-led for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival the last two years. This clip is from the 2011 Big Jam, co-presented with Rusty Rich (purple suit) and Mal Webb (orange suit). The dress code was ‘colourful’, which I think we acquitted pretty well!

 

Another strand is the ‘Jam on a Classic’, which can involve hundreds (rather than thousands) of participants. This video shows the Jam on The Rite of Spring that I created in 2010. It’s a good example of the way I extract a few ideas and themes from a big orchestral work and use them as the basis for a large group improvisation.

 

The next big jam I’ll be leading is on February 18th at the Myer Music Bowl, a large covered amphitheatre surrounded by grass-covered slopes in the heart of Melbourne. Every February the MSO presents a series of free symphony orchestra concerts at the Bowl and Melburnians pack a picnic and attend in the thousands. This year, I’ve been asked to create a pre-concert jam that will entice the picnickers – parents and children – to examine their picnic baskets for possible soundmakers (cutlery? Salad bowls? Tupperware?) and join in a jam on themes from Aaron Copland’s El Salon Mexico (the first piece that will be performed in that evening’s concert). A team of MSO musicians and young players from the MSO ArtPlay Graduate Ensemble will be on hand to lend support and give us a solid musical foundation to lock into!

Myer Bowl Jam

Saturday 18 February, 5-5.30pm

Followed by a free orchestral concert at 7pm

All welcome!