Archive for the ‘project development’ Tag

Evolving a new work – Beethoven’s Big Day Out

I’ve just got home from leading family workshops for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s Beethoven Festival. I led two projects – Beethoven’s Big Day Out, and a Jam on the Ode to Joy.

Jams for families on big orchestral works are a core part of my creative work and musical direction, but I was particularly thrilled to get to present Beethoven’s Big Day Out for WASO. It’s a project that has developed through a number of other projects, and it’s interesting to reflect how it evolved through these influences.

Preparing the participants for Beethoven's Big Day Out

Preparing the participants for Beethoven’s Big Day Out

Beethoven’s Big Day Out has its origins in a Jam for Juniors I led for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2011, but that project employed ideas that I’d begun exploring in response to the very beautiful, detailed, and insightful work for pre-school children by Pocketfool Productions, and in particular a project that Jennifer Anderson from Pocketfool and I developed together for ArtPlay earlier in 2011 – the Camel Caravan (read about it here).

Working with Jen really changed my thinking about approaches to creative music work with under-5s. When we were developing our workshop, Jen talked about how she wanted to try and create language and opportunities around listening, and deliberate choices about sounds. We discussed how transformative that shift from a very self-focused, blocking-out-others way of playing to a more alert, aware, connected experience could be, even for very young players.

It was a beautiful project, with a big range of musical experiences for the children. In one lovely activity, children could “buy” sounds in a musical market place. They had to think about what kind of sound (a big sound, a shiny sound, etc) that they wanted, and then, after paying their money, they would play an instrument that made that sound.

This idea of careful, considered listening and choices then became central to the planning for the first Jam for Juniors with the MSO. I was a bit skeptical about the whole Jams for Juniors concept at first. There would be 50 little children, with their parents, in a large open space, with instruments. How could we get them all creating as well as playing, while ensuring musical integrity and variety, and not have everyone leave at the end of the 30 minute jam feeling assaulted by the cacophony?

The idea of a “journey”, which we’d used in the Camel Caravan, was a useful frame, so I utilised it here. Journeys require us to undertake different tasks. There is a sense of adventure and imperative about the different stages of the journey too. A journey through an imaginary environment gets the children’s creativity firing from the outset.

That first Jam for Juniors was strong. It involved way too many props to be practical (we changed multiple instruments and props five times in the half-hour workshop), but it offered a big variety of ways of engaging with music and instruments, all while introducing the music of Beethoven to the children and their parents, using themes from Symphony No. 6, the Pastoral Symphony.

Two further projects grew out of that Jam for Juniors experience, and both have become ‘flagship” projects for me in my stable of projects to offer to orchestras and arts centres around Australia and internationally. One is Nests (which I’ve written about here) and the other is Beethoven’s Big Day Out.

So what has changed in this most recent evolutionary phase? The bones of the original Jam for Juniors are still there. It is still a jam for under-5s, although we’ve narrowed it to an age range of 2-5 years. I’ve incorporated more opportunities for the children to get “up close” to the musicians from the orchestra and their instruments, so that they can feel the physicality and voice of the instruments, and the air vibrating in response. I’ve adjusted the language I use to introduce the different stages of the journey (adjusting and refining language is an ongoing process. It’s an aspect of workshop leading and facilitating that constantly fascinates me). And I removed quite a lot of the props! (Now we only have three changeovers).

The next thing I’d like to create is a ‘travelling’ version of Beethoven’s Big Day Out, where the participant group moves through different sites (such as a series of foyer spaces in a large performing arts centre) as part of the journey. If that sounds like something you’d like to present, let me know! But regardless of the site, Beethoven’s Big Day Out is a very imaginative, movement-filled, multi-sensory experience of a symphony orchestra, its music, and its sounds, that involves all of the children as participants in the music-making in many different, creative, and exhilarating ways. The singing, chattering voices, and bouncing little bodies in the foyer afterwards, and the smiles on parents’ and musicians’ faces, were testament to that.

A stumbling block a day…

Wednesday, day 70

I am now getting used to the small stumbling blocks that my project and best-laid plans come up against on a regular basis. The first of the week was on Monday, when we went to meet with a local representative of the Ministry of Culture who, the first time I met him, smiled constantly and happily agreed to work with us in creating a music project for children here. He would gather the children for us, make the Ministry of Culture workshop venue available to us, and yes, he was even happy for me to participate in his traditional music group that meets three times a week, to indulge my interest in Timorese traditional music. The second time we met with him, he told m sadly that I would need to write a letter of permission to his boss if I wanted to learn any Timorese traditional music. I did this, and I know that he got a reply from his boss giving him the go-ahead. When I met with him this week, he told me I couldn’t learn any traditional music because I wasn’t here for long enough, and it wasn’t worth it. And he didn’t think he could gather any children because, didn’t I know it was school holidays? (a fact which he’d thought would make it easier to gather them, the first time we met). Lastly, he didn’t think we could use his venue. Well, we could, but we’d have to pay for it. “But Senor,” said N, the person assisting us. “You have already promised Mana Gillian she can use the venue at no cost!”  Ah yes, well, that was then. The situation is different now.

At that stage, there seemed little point in continuing. In anyone’s culture, this person had zero interest in seeing this project come together through any help of his.

“Don’t worry,” N reassured us as we walked away, incredulous. “He is not the only culture person in Lospalos. We can talk to other people about all these things.”

“He’s just a public servant,” said Tony. “He doesn’t want to do anything more than he needs to do. It’s the week before Christmas, he gets paid regardless, there’s nothing in it for him, he just wants a quiet week sitting behind his desk, looking important.”

The second stumbling block came in the form of a text message for me first thing this morning from the woman who has had the role of assisting me in this project from the beginning. She was invaluable in Baucau, translating, kid-wrangling, keeping everything running smoothly, and having umpteen ideas about how she’d like to do it differently in Lospalos in January. Her text message today told me that she would no longer be working with me because she has taken a job somewhere else. But not to worry, because she has replaced me with her sister, who speaks English “even better than me” and who is “just the same as me”. She just hasn’t got the benefit of all those earlier experiences. I’m not saying the swap won’t work out – it may. But it is certainly quite a surprise.

My third stumbling block has been developing an unexpected allergy to fish. This came up last week, and I thought it was part of the Chikungunya virus symptoms. But when I ate fish from a stall on the way to Lospalos from Dili last Friday, I came out in a horrible rash (worse than the Chikungunya rash of the week before), all over my limbs, and accompanied by itchy, swollen hands and feet. It’s taken all the protein out of my diet – I was eating fish nearly every day here before this allergy decided to emerge! So today I asked Valda if she could find me a chicken. “Sure,” she said. “You can buy a chicken.” (There are certainly plenty running around). “But do you know how to prepare it?” I asked her. (Because I certainly don’t!) She just laughed reassuringly. Sure enough, she came home this afternoon carrying a chicken, still alive. But not for long. We had barbecued chicken for dinner, rubbed in a marinade made with onions, fresh turmeric, ginger, and limes. I’m happy to have had a protein hit in my diet tonight. Apologies to all the vegetarians who would prefer I stay on my music education topic.