Archive for the ‘performance’ Tag

‘Tis the season for… performances

I’ve just today come to the end of a six-week period of “creative project” performance outcomes, which was a pretty intense experience, but one that got me thinking about performances, projects and children – why we perform, who it is for, and what this tells us about the project.

Firstly, this was the period in which the year-long City Beats percussion composition projects drew to a close. A team of myself plus two musicians travelled to each of the schools, and the children performed the music they’d composed with us to an audience made up of their fellow students, their teachers, and on some occasions, their parents.

The performance outcomes for City Beats were an addition to the original program, and it changed the project focus. It meant that the children’s fourth and final visit to ArtPlay was spent revisiting all the music they’d composed – relearning and re-memorising it, essentially. For one group, made up of children from grades 3-6, their workshop was on a hot Thursday afternoon. They arrived at ArtPlay already quite hot and tired (some had already been swimming in the morning), and while they were all geared up to play some music, the last thing some of them felt like doing was applying themselves to the task of relearning and memorising music that was over and done with, in their minds.

“Is this the right thing to be doing?” I wondered to myself as I determinedly kept us on task, working our way through the music, and repeating sections until they were understood. “What they really want to be doing today is just hanging out and jamming.”

This group is already very free creatively – perhaps for them, jamming and making things up as they go along is already a strength and a preferred way of learning and working. Perhaps the discipline of working on one piece until it is “performance ready” is one that they resist. Repeating things feels counter-intuitive… the capacity to ‘delay gratification’ is one that doesn’t come easily.

Were there other reasons for the City Beats performances, other than celebrating the children’s achievements over the year and sharing them with their own school community? For the children from the bushfire-affected community, there were additional important benefits that the teachers shared with us over a post-performance cup of tea.

“For our children, the fires are their most recent big memory. They don’t remember much of their lives from before the day of the fires – it’s painful to do so. One of the things we are very focused on doing for the children at our school is helping them create new, good memories. This project, and this performance in particular, is one of these. They will remember the music, they’ll remember working with you and all the musicians, and they’ll remember this day when you came to their school and performed their music with them.”

Another project that took place recently was AccessFest, a festival of music performed by people with disabilities and professional musicians, held in Armidale New South Wales. AccessFest was a series of creative music workshops that culminated in a performance. Again, I felt concerned at times that the performance outcome could put undue pressure on the participants, and worked hard to ensure a playful and spontaneous approach in the workshops, allowing for unexpected things to take place within the workshop flow. This carried over into the performance as well.

The AccessFest performance was a chance for the participants to be in the limelight, to be applauded and have their work appreciated. But it was also a chance for their carers and families – whose lives are often very stressful, dealing with the challenges that disabilities can bring – to observe their loved one in a new environment, where different strengths would shine through, or aspects of their personalities or quirks or obsessions become integral parts of the performance. All the performers dressed up in their smartest, most colourful clothes for the performance. There was jewellery, make-up, and flash outfits – this was an event! There would have been many special memories for people to savour at the end of this performance.

Every project needs an outcome of some kind, a way to put a line under the work and declare that point in the process complete. It needn’t be a performance outcome (recorded outcomes in projects or informal ‘sharings’ are also effective). It’s a way of bringing all the creative energy together, channelling and focusing it into one ‘event’ that allows you to draw the project to a close.

End-of-year at Pelican Primary School

My final two performances for the year were with the children from Pelican Primary School. First, the choir performed at Federation Square, which was a wonderful chance for them to put their work in context with other primary school choirs from around Melbourne (I think they felt they fared pretty well in the comparison!). Then we held the end-of-year concert, in which every class performed.

I’ve really enjoyed my year at Pelican. I feel, after two years working there, I’ve now found an approach with these children that works well. Inspired by my reading of Lucy Green’s research, and the Musical Futures ideas that I learned about in the April workshop, I’ve been using a lot of popular music as the vehicles for developing musical understanding among the students. It’s resulted in huge student engagement, a real love for music classes and participation, and lots of creative ideas, being generated by the students themselves.

Some highlights:

Parents Rock! Band

This year I put together a small band of parents to accompany all the concert items. I had a guitarist, a violinist/pianist and a percussionist. I roped in Tony to play bass guitar. We got together a week before the concert to rehearse each of the songs. The Parents Rock! Band (as I called them) was a hit. I want this idea to grow. Hopefully we can draw more parents into it, particularly from the African communities that are so strong in our community.

Grade 2 pianist

Year 2/3 performed a version of K’naan’s Wavin’ Flag. One of the students learns piano and I’d given him a simple chart with the melody and harmonic accompaniment for the 2 sections of the song. This little boy is normally very quiet and reluctant to participate in his class’ music lessons (I suspect it all gets too noisy for him). I’ve never seen him smile so broadly, and look as proud as he did in the whole-school dress rehearsal the day of the concert, when he performed with his class and with the Parents Rock! Band.

Singing their hearts out again

The year 4/5, who earlier had had a hit with their rendition of California Dreamin’, sang Rolling in the Deep. Again, we sang in two parts, and had a number of soloists. In the staff room on the day of the concert, teachers raved about the different solo singers, expressing their delight in hearing how good the voices were – qualities they often hadn’t realised were there.

Taking ownership

The grade 5/6 students developed a dance routine for Party Rock Anthem. This was the concert finale. I found some choreography on Youtube, and we worked with that for 4 weeks, watching the video in class on the interactive whiteboard.

Lots of them watched it outside of school hours too. It became a real project – something that was challenging to learn but possible. “This is not just about learning to dance,” I told them. “It’s a chance to learn how you learn, how you can teach yourself new things by working on them consistently.” They were hugely motivated – the most motivated I’ve seen them all year – and took tremendous ownership of their concert item. They requested an edited version of the song (some of the sections needed to be doubled in length to fit their choreography), listened carefully when I explained the song’s structure, and developed a some good ensemble choreography.

Equally significant was the difference in their interpersonal relationships. This is a class that is often hard on each other – they are quick to laugh and jeer when one of the group makes a mistake in class – it’s quite alarming to witness sometimes. This meanness started to lessen during the dance project. When individuals moved into the centre of the space to perform short solos, the rest of the group whooped, cheered and clapped, supporting them on. We told them to do this initially, but again, they took it on and made it their own. There was so much pride and confidence spilling out of that class by the night of the concert – they were so excited to performed their dance!

The building of esteem in the school choir

The choir gave their best performance of the year at the end-of-year concert. We sang three songs – Vuma vuma ( a 2-part Zulu song that I learned from one of my students at NMIT), which we sang with dance actions; La Isla Bonita, taking our 2-part harmonies directly from the Madonna recording; and Firework, taking inspiration from the version performed by PS22 Chorus.

This has been such a successful year for the choir. I’ve had 34 consistent members throughout the year – that’s nearly 3 times the usual number. I’ve had equal numbers of boys and girls, and strong participation from students in older classes. I started the year by finding them tangible examples (‘models’) for them to look to in developing their voices and building ambition about what they could achieve in the choir. I developed a more formal structure for rehearsals to which they responded particularly well. With all of these initiatives, I wanted to help them put their work in context – to see their work as being authentic, with real-world value. The choice of popular songs helps with this, but we also sang several more traditional or varied songs, such as Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho, one of our main concert songs this year. Choir now has cachet in the school, I think.

Creative inspiration

All this performance work adds an additional element to the children’s imaginative lives. Children approach me in the yard to share the latest song they’ve just written, such as this little gem:

There’s a boy and girl, they really like each other

They’re holding hands, oh yeah

They really love each other, oh yeah

And now, they’re gonna get ma-a-a-a-arried

Or the latest dance routine they’ve made up. The lunchtime immediately after the younger years saw the year 5/6 shuffle dance, there were huddles of prep, grade 1 & 2 shufflers scattered all across the playground.

The students teach their siblings the songs they are learning in class. Something I loved about the whole-school dress rehearsal on the day of the concert was the way the children sang along with each others’ songs.

Screams around the space

On Saturday I led the MSO ArtPlay ensemble (27 children aged 8-13 and 7 MSO musicians) in a remount of their composition response to Brett Dean’s Beggars and Angels. Remounts can be enormous undertakings, especially when the music you are remounting was created (and memorised as we went along, not written down) over an intensive 2-day period, over 2 months ago! Lots of transcribing from the audio and video recording on my part… However, remounts are also an opportunity to develop the music further and to present it to a wider audience, and in this case, we also got to perform it in a much larger venue (Melbourne Town Hall) as part of MSO’s Education Week.

We did good. No, we did great! It was a long day, but well worth the effort, because our composition developed significantly from its original performance, and all the Ensemble members developed as a result.

In one section, the music required members of the ensemble to give sudden screams, shouts, and maniacal bursts of laughter. The performance in the Town Hall (a very broad and resonant space) I had the opportunity to play with spatial effects. I positioned 7 players behind the audience for this ‘screams section’ (mysterioso, the children called it), spread across the back of the hall.

When we got to this part of the performance I could see the Ensemble members really getting into it. A huge amount of energy was being generated by these screams – it was palpable, and I stretched the section out to spread that energy throughout the hall.

After the performance, as we walked back to the Green room along the backstage corridor, the children were buzzing with excitement.

“Gillian, there was the lady, and when we screamed she jumped!” one player told me excitedly. “And there was this baby, and when I screamed the first time, it just stared and stared at me, the whole time, until the music stopped! I just had to stare straight ahead…”

Parents and friends later told us that they hadn’t even seen the players leave their places on the stage, so engrossed had they been in the music (and so discretely had the musicians moved to their positions – nice work, 10-12 year-olds!) I think the scream section was most people’s favourite part of the piece. People from the orchestra who had heard the original performance back in April thought the screams were something we’d added for the remount – but no, they were there all along. It was the use of space that enhanced them and brought them to the fore.

Even though remounts create lots of challenges in re-memorising a piece, it also gives the children a chance to revisit and improve upon their composition work and to understand it better, with the benefit of a little distance. Our performance on Saturday was richer and far more polished than the one we gave in April at the end of our two-day project. We’d had an extra day with the same material. It makes an enormous difference to the children’s processing of the musical ideas. Two days will feel very short when we start our Bartok project in July.

Last day of The Right To Play

Sunday (day 59), was a long day, but a fruitful one. We had our last workshop with the children in the morning. We put together The Right to Play, completing the musical ideas we’d come up with the day before with two verses of a laidback blues that declared great summing-up statements such as, “All children have the right to play, the right to an education, to seek freedom in their lives, to have good health” which our performers sang with great gusto. We inserted the Bingo-inspired numbers calling as verses, and this Bingo-Right to Play Blues became the musical framing for that section – an ‘A’ section for the beginning and end – with the other games chants taking place in the ‘B’ section. How I love ternary form, it works so beautifully in a workshop setting!

We finished the last workshop at lunchtime and went home to rest awhile. I could feel myself coming down with something, with a whole series of aches and pains occurring in various limbs. Lorraine massaged them for me, and we talked through different aspects of the project as it had come to pass, including the apparent disinterest of the project coordinator, and the wonderful support we’d been receiving from his team of colleagues. We certainly weren’t suffering from a lack of support, just some mixed or ambiguous messages on occasion.

The concert that evening was scheduled for 6pm, and we’d arranged for the children to come back at 5pm, all dressed in their shiny new orange Human Rights t-shirts (we’d apparently had word that it was now okay for them to have the t-shirts rather than the t-shirts be used as quiz prizes). They looked great. All the leaders had blue t-shirts in the same design. The two journalists I’d booked from the local Media House to film and photograph the project were also there, grabbing interesting ‘setting-up’ footage.

The women from the Feto Haburas Choir that I’d worked with on my first visit to Baucau also arrived – they were to sing the song they’d written with me, as well as two other traditional songs. Chairs were set out and we were all ready to go, except…. there was no audience!

Apparently our concert clashed with Sunday evening Mass. (Timor-Leste is a very Catholic country). We decided it might be best if we were in no rush to start, so everyone hung out and we crossed our fingers that the children wouldn’t lose their energy or focus. After awhile, Tony took a group of them outside to sing their ‘Children Have Rights’ Blues to try and drum up a bit of interest among the church-leavers, and little by little a few more people started to arrive.

Once we’d gathered our audience, we opened with the women’s choir singing the song they’d composed with me, Feto Haburas [Women Growing], accompanied by me on the clarinet. They swayed as they sang, and sang beautifully. It was a geat opener. Then the children performed their three songs. They did an excellent job, very focused and enthusiastic, and slick in their transitions from one song to the next. The women’s choir performed next, presenting one of their traditional songs and dances. Then Marqy and a representative from the UN gave out all the certificates. All the children, all the women, and all the Afalyca staff got certificates. Certificates are very important here – I don’t think the TImorese get many opportunities to see their names in print, so everybody was adamant that they wanted one. Ditto for the t-shirts – even the 2 journalists I’d employed to document the project were expecting a t-shirt! At the end of the night I gave them mine.

We closed the concert with a reprise of one of the children’s songs – the energetic, effervescent Right to Education song with its percussion introduction and between=verse interludes. By the end of the night I was ready to collapse. By now we all knew I was pretty sick, and I think I got through the day thanks to a combination of performance adrenaline, the massage from Lorraine, and three paracetamol. Someone offered me and Tony a lift home with all our gear and we gratefully accepted. My capacity to hold a conversation held out long enough to direct the driver and thank our kind benefactors, but pretty much shut down the moment I walked into the house.

The UN representative from the Human Rights section in Baucau was delayed getting to the performance which was a shame, as he missed the children’s first performance of their three songs. However, he was there for the rousing reprise The Right To Education though, and gave us some very positive feedback. We invited him to give out the certificates. Oh, and the proposed quiz on human rights? It didn’t happen! Never mind, I think lots was learned through the project anyway, by all of us.

End of term performances

Last week was the last week of term 2, and also Refugee Week. I took all the Language School students to Federation Square to perform in a special children’s concert for Refugee Week.

The Lower Primary children sang their Germs Song. We dressed them up in white men’s shirts (to look like lab coats), and bought face masks and toy stethoscopes from the local Two Dollar Shop. They marched onstage with the face masks on, then on my cue pushed them down so that they could sing. They performed their actions with aplomb (such as pointing vigorously one finger into the palm of the other hand, while singing “Germs can make you sick. Germs can be anywhere. You have to put soap on your hands and the germs will go away. Yeah!”

Upper Primary performed very well. They had two instrumental pieces related to stories of leaving countries and making a new home here. I was particularly proud of them – their music was quite complicated, with lots of structures and riffs to be memorised. They did very well.

Middle Primary had the most complex instrumental piece of all to perform. They have been ready for performance for a while now – I wondered in fact if we had peaked too early and had been trying not to over-rehearse the piece, which was a series of riffs and melodies gleaned from a Somali pop song that one of the students brought into class.

At Federation Square that week, we had a bit of a moment, and it all started to fall apart. The moment occurred when I went to cue the drummer children who were sitting in the back row. They weren’t looking at me (they were looking out the window in fact! Federation Square is right by the river and the view is admittedly very appealing…). One of the drummers saw just the end of my cue, and panicked and started playing (if she hadn’t seen me, I could have waited to get their attention and do the cue again). So the drums started, then the clave dancers started and unfortunately they all started in the wrong place, in their panic. This got the glockenspiel players in the next row all confused, although they valiantly kept going. The panic meant that nobody was looking at me anymore, so I couldn’t have stopped them (in order to just start again, nice and calmly) even if I’d wanted to – not without making it a very messy stop.

However, what I found really interesting about this whole experience for them was their reaction. It seems odd to say it, but they knew they were out, knew that they had lost the beat and were no longer playing in time with the others. There was a time, earlier this term, where each section would quite happily get the cue to start playing, and put their heads down and play as loudly and quickly as possible, with no clue about how their part needed to fit into the bigger texture. This musical shambles we found ourselves in the middle of, was wonderfully revealing in showing how much they had come to understand the music, even if they weren’t quite ready yet to find their way back when something went wrong.

As we left the stage, the drummer girl who had caught the end of my cue came over to me and said, with great concern in her voice, “We weren’t looking. So we didn’t…do… good.” I was impressed by this firstly for the determination she had to speak to me about the performance, despite having very little English, and being a very shy, quiet girl, and secondly because she knew exactly what had happened.This child has only been in the country about 8 weeks. She arrived at the Language School halfway through the term when much of the music had already been learned. It’s quite full-on to come into a creative music environment with no language, expecially when you are quiet and kind of anxious by nature. She worked incredibly hard in music.

Incidentally, her mother came to that performance at Federation Square and we spoke afterwards. “Selina has done so well,” I told her. “She has worked so hard to learn that drumming part, and she does it very, very well.”

Her mother said, “You know, in Chile she was always so shy, so very quiet. And now, to see her hear on the stage, playing the drum, and after such a short time… it’s incredible. I was crying, I had tears in my eyes watching her. So thank you.”

The following day they performed the same piece again, to a different audience. This time, it came together beautifully. I was very proud of them, and very happy for them.

That was my last day at the Language School, at least for a while. I’m not teaching there these next two terms as I am away too much (China, then Sydney, then East Timor… more on those plans later). I’ve been there five years. Very happy years. It’s strange to think I won’t be there next term, and strange to think they won’t feature in this blog. As I write these words that is only just occurring to me. I started this blog to write about the Language School. I will miss it in many ways, I expect. I’ve been privileged to work there.

What to do when you make a mistake

I think one of the hardest – but most important – things to learn when playing in an ensemble is what to do when you make a mistake. The natural response tends to be that you correct the mistake on the spot, which gets you out of time with the others in the group. Teaching people to keep going, to listen to where the others are up to, and drop back into the music is essential, but the confusion that a lot of young people feel about what it is you’re asking for, and how to do it, can bog them down with anxiousness. Trying to establish this concept at the Language School, where verbal explanations aren’t always helpful, is even more challenging.

Today one of my students had just taken on a new xylophone ostinato. It was quite a complicated riff but he was mastering it well. However, once we added it to the other ostinati being played, his focus sometimes wavered and he would miss a beat, or hesitate over a note for a moment, before playing on. I wanted to find a way to demonstrate to him, or explain to him, that he needed to forget about the note that he’d missed, and keep going with the music.

Inner hearing. Continuous pulse. These are concepts that are hard to explain in just a few words, especially when you don’t have notation to act as a visual aid. But I’ve been thinking about what took place in the class and think I have some ideas about what I could have done better.

Firstly, this riff only ever needs to be played four times in a row, but I was getting him to loop it many more times than that (as a way of locking into it). He tended to get the first four (even more) repetitions out fine, without any problems. So keep it to this. Why complicate matters?

Secondly, I tried to explain to him what I wanted him to do. This wasn’t the best solution because he probably couldn’t understand what I wanted him to do anyway, and was feeling stressed, and because my efforts were also making me feel anxious  (because I sensed how awkward and clumsy they were). It was the afternoon and no one was at their freshest for dealing with a whole lotta words.

I know that my students at this school learn musical concepts most effectively in context, through an implicit environment. How can I create this implicit learning environment? By keeping the number of repetitions of ostinati down to an amount that the students can manage successfully, they will build confidence and security in their own part first, and after that they will start to absorb what is going on in other parts, and instinctively start to anchor themselves to certain points in these. There are always one or two students in the class who understand and do this already. The others just need more time.

Explanations make me tense, as well as the children, because I become so aware of the limitations of them. We are all much happier, and much more relaxed – and therefore more likely to play to our best – when we let the music be our focus, and put our energy into playing, rather than talking.

Signal Art Ensemble in the Jazz Festival

On Saturday the Signal Art Ensemble gave its first public performance, as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. We performed two pieces that the group had composed themselves, taking inspiration from the Australian Art Orchestra’s Miles Davis: Prince of Darkness concert. Here are  couple of photos from our rehearsals, on the day of the performance:

For one of the pieces we created, each person had to devise their own graphic score, organising their ideas according to time durations on a stopwatch, rather than bars and a conductor. Here are a couple of examples:

These are photos that I took with my little camera. However, the official photographer for the project was the young and talented Tarrant Kwok, and some of his images will be up later on the Australian Art Orchestra’s website, and on my website, once I get it going.

Sax and the City

One hundred and forty saxophonists.

Lining the rooftops and balconies of central Sydney.

Playing toe-tappin’, finger-clickin’ tunes.

Pretty damn good fun.

I took part in the Sax and The City event as part of Sydney Festival’s First Night event, last Saturday night. I’m really a clarinet player, but played sax when I was at school… and anyway, it is not that hard to play the sax (as I like to tell Tony).

The event was directed/composed by Sydney saxophonist Sandy Evans – legend. Tony was invited to be one of the group leaders. I was in his group, and held my own most adequately :-). Look carefully in the group performance shot, taken when we were on the balcony of the Mint Building. You’ll see me there playing the alto sax, looking like a pro.

Last one here shows Tony in walking action, heading up Martin Place.

Things the Pelican Primary School Choir learned at their concert

Last night the Pelican Primary School Choir gave their first public performance under my direction. They were invited to sing at a special Mayor’s Community Function, for the local city hall. They were the only child performers (no other schools were there), and they were the only performance item  – the other musical performers were roving jazz musicians.

They performed beautifully, and were incredibly chuffed with themselves. The entire experience was a positive one, in which lots was learned. I rely on these kinds of experiences to make sense of music learning for the children. They provide context for everything they do with me in class, and provide a strong motivation for working hard in music classes. Here are some of the things I think were learned or revealed last night.

1. This was an authentic performance experience.

They performed to an audience of adults. A sympathetic audience, yes, but not made up of parents or teachers or other members of the school community. These were strangers giving the Pelicans their full attention, who responded with delight to the performance. This was not something just for kids, playing at being a performance. This was a real, serious, important, formal event, at which they were the stars.

2. They have to place their trust in the conductor

Before we performed I gave them the little pep talk I give all the child performers I work with. “Once we are on the stage,” I told them, “I want you to give me your whole focus. Look at me. Other people might be taking photos, or smiling, and you might think it is polite to look at them. But I want you to look at me. After we have finished performing, there will be lots of time for smiling and photos. But while we are singing, I want you to only think about the songs, and to keep your eyes on me.”

I think children need to hear this. They need to be reminded that a performance space is a precious, ephemeral space, that they are in control of. They need permission to look away from the eagerly supportive parent who is urging them to smile for the camera.

They also need to trust me, that I will support them and help them give the best possible performance. I reassure them that if they get out there and feel strange or nervous or unsure, all they need to do is look at me, and I will be able to help them. I will be able to mouth the words, to show them where we are up to. I will be able to smile at them, and help them relax. I will not take my eyes away from them for a second.

3. They learned that I can cover any mistakes, so that this is not a burden or stress they need to carry

One girl had an additional role – she played the metalophone at the start of one of the songs. She was very nervous when the time came, and only looked at me for a second before looking down at her instrument. She started to play before I had counted her in, so I joined in with her. She got confused about the number of repetitions in the chord structure, so began to change chords at random.

I could tell she was confused. I accompanied her, following her irregular changes, but all the while, whenever she got back to the first chord in the progression, whispering the repetition numbers to her (as we had practised them) until she got back on track. Then we repeated the progression a few more times, so that she could hear it was indeed solid and steady and fine.

She also learned that she had to keep going, until she found her way through the confusion. I could help her with this, but she also found the confidence to keep going, rather than to falter and stop. That instrumental section returned three times throughout the piece, and every other time she performed it perfectly. At the end she gave me a tiny smile of relief and, I think, pride.

4. They learned the importance of presenting themselves with poise

We organised ourselves into a line to walk out in. We planned how the children playing instruments would leave their places in the formation, and how they would return to them at the end of the song. We talked about standing with two feet evenly on the ground, hands by sides, looking towards me. They did all of this so beautifully, I think the two teachers from the school who’d come with us were quite taken aback.

I think most people in the audience fell a little bit in love with my soloist on the night. This was a little Grade Two boy, with a bright and confident manner, who sang the opening verse to our final song before being joined by the rest of the choir. I asked him to stand in front of the choir when he sang his solo, and to step back into the line when his solo was finished. I never needed to remind him of this, he did it exactly as I had asked, each time. Very professional!

As he sang, he sang out. He sang in a confident voice. He smiled as he stepped back into line. Hearts melted (although I expect his parents’ hearts swelled with pride).

On reflection, he was the perfect choice as a soloist (and to be honest, I am still new enough in the school that I don’t always know how individuals will react when I pose a challenge for them). He took it seriously, and he never once doubted himself. He never giggled or got self-conscious. He never let himself get distracted by other children in rehearsals trying to distract him. And thus, he created the perfect template for the choir of what it means to do a solo, and what it requires of you.

And of course, when we present ourselves with poise and confidence, we enhance our feelings of confidence. Perhaps, even if only on a subtle level, the students also learned this.

5. They learned what they have to offer

This is a school where many students struggle. They may struggle with life skills, or academically, or socially, or because they are under-nourished, or because they don’t get much attention in their big chaotic families. Taking part in this concert, and being applauded, showed them that they have much to offer, especially when they work together. The music for this concert – four songs, all with actions or arrangements to be memorised – was worked on over many weeks. I fervently, strenuously hope that they might now recognise how all of those weeks was a progression towards this kind of outcome, and how great outcomes like this are completely within their reach, when they put in the work.

6. They learned that I have expectations of them…

… and that I won’t accept less. That this is what being in an ensemble means, and that we are only going to do it in an authentic, meaningful way. That the fun comes while you’re working hard. And that I am very proud of them.

They also will soon learn that these kinds of performances bring further rewards. The local council paid us a performance fee and we are going to put that towards some new instruments. Today I talked with one of the local music stores about bringing a selection of instruments up to the school during choir time so that the choir people can help select what we buy with that money. This way, they will get to enjoy the material contribution they have made to the school through their hard word too. I’m planning to put together a price check-list for them, and let them circle the instruments they think we should buy (up to the maximum money we have to spend). I’ll then make the final decision.


Performance and motivation

This post is inspired by some recent observations at Pelican Primary School. One of my first big realisations at Pelican was the limited ability to concentrate and focus among the students. I know that this is a common occurrence in primary schools, but it is perhaps particularly prevalent at schools with a similar demographic to Pelican. Therefore, my first big question to myself was, “How can I get them to increase their focus?”

Music is an incredibly disciplined undertaking. I always warn students that “there is lots of waiting in music” – they must wait to play at the right time, to stop and then wait again, to keep their attention on the music even when they are not playing, etc.

However, it seemed to me that the Pelicans didn’t really see the point in waiting. Their focus was so scattered that it was hard to deliver those kinds of lightbulb moments of understanding in the warm-up tasks (which is my usual strategy) – they just weren’t sticking at anything long enough for it to work its magic. Without this understanding of what we are aiming for, they have no particular motivation to stick with it. A vicious circle ensues.

Then, because those moments of success that yield understanding are so fleeting, there are few opportunities to demonstrate to them how well they are doing, and begin to build on their pride and confidence.

This is where class performances have begun to be a real solution and important part of the music curriculum. “The students need to see another class perform,” I decided. It needs to be a strong performance, so that it sets a standard and can act as a reference point for all the other classes.

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