Monday, 23 March 2015

Mixed Percussion at YAM March 2015, and why a little career change is a good thing

I made possibly a rash decision about a decade ago. I had been seconded, three days a week, to be Acting Head of Music at my kids' school, City of Leeds School in order to get them through a rough patch [which also included an Ofsted inspection, whose team, I am pleased to note never spotted that I had only been in place two weeks at the time of their visit!]. At the end of my short tenure I was very tempted to stay on; but, as I said, it was my kids' school, so I said no, but I did leave two days a week open in case I was needed again.

Ten years later it's been skating on a lot of thin financial ice, but the I will never regret the opportunities offered and taken, from South Wales to Bradford, York, Manchester, Sheffield, other Leeds schools, and eventually primary liaison for City of Leeds, working alongside the new Head of Music at COLS, whom my own children adored. Phew!

Anyway, these two free-ish days mean that whenever Mavis and Sue would like a YAM workshop I can be there. This time I have pans, glocks, djembes, shakers; we are in four groups; I find I am singing Camptown Races and Coming Round the Mountain  to various different instrumental groups, with Joanna, Mavis, Pat and Eileen leading each mixed group.

Last times I used only steel pans, and in either two or four separate sessions, but today we were all in the same room, and besides not having sixty pans available, it would not have sounded great. This however did. It would not have been possible without the four leaders, and can I particularly mention Joanna, who can knock off a tune on her namesake at the drop of a hat! [I would also like to thank Diane for taking these lovely action pics for me.]

To conclude, not only did two free days give me the freedom to do other types of work, but it taught me a load of new skills.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Rest of the Best Rocking Around Leeds February 2015

One way of teaching music is to play it, and to play it without explanation or dissection or introduction or discussion or worksheets afterwards. Without jokes, apologies or pictures.  

And such is our philosophy behind Rest of the Best. We choose about ten pieces of music from just about as many genres and we play them on as many instruments as the players we can can play. We combine usual and unusual instruments; we don't make any of them stars; we play the familiar and unfamiliar. We change the textures, the tempo, the dynamics; we invite movement and dancing, and then we invite a respectful silence. Tunes are short; the concerts are short; we leave them wanting more, not wondering when it's going to end.

And what the audiences take from what we play is in their heads and their hearts and their bodies. It's not for us to tell them how to feel or respond. We know that music education has had a chequered history; and we know that staff can be very nervous in and of music lessons, so we want them too to respond and hopefully enjoy..

If we have a message, it is that music is music, and that all instruments can play just about everything. 
Our pannists play classical; our recorders play folk, the accordion plays French, the saxes play everything, the kit plays softly. You get the idea.

We are also privileged to include in our band, Bart, who is a wheel-chair user; we didn't pick him because he is a wheel-chair user; we picked him because he is a drummer, and because he is a member of the ArtForms staff. But we do perform in special schools and we perform to other wheelchair users; we don't say, yes, anyone can play kit; we just wheel out Bart; well actually Bart wheels himself out, and we pile up instruments on top of him to carry to and from the van.

Bart is inspiring by just being himself; and the music is inspiring by just being [carefully selected] music.

This year Mike the guitarist was having his knees operated on [eek!]; all the other guitar specialists were unavailable, so violinist, Fiona, and saxophonist, Cathy did the honours. Yi Bai and I shared bass guitar. Mary played a selection of woodwind from tin whistle to clarinet; Diane brought out keyboards, accordion, ocarina and her latest discovery the ukele. Yi Bai did bass, kit and steel pan, Melvin, Natalie and I played steelpans, Janet was everything woodwind, Tim did pans and clarinet, Joanna does anything we put in front of her; I also sang. We were lucky also to have Yi Bai and Pyusha-the-cellist on work experience with us. We also never had the same ensemble from one day to the next, or even one school to the next!

All our staff also play [semi-]professionally. And we get to know each other and develop a good sense of ensemble over the three days. [At a Westminster briefing recently I heard various panel members informing us that, for good music education we needed musicians. Well we have those musicians but they are also, and sometimes primarily, trained teachers]

This year our schools were Allerton C of E, Beechwood, Richmond Hill, West Oaks, Oakwood PRU, City of Leeds, Stonegate, Lighthouse, in inclusive and separate spaces, to mainstream children and to those with additional needs.

Our repertoire this year included Grieg's Morning, Five Hundred Miles, Redemption Song, Bach's Minuet in G [to which we got dancers up], The Locomotion, Wavin' Flag; the instrumentalists brought their own tunes.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Steel Pan Workshop at the Beamsley Project, near Skipton

setting up the pans
I love that moment during workshops where the I Can light bulb switches on. Sadly it inevitably preceded by the I must load this van moment, aka I wonder if Rick will help me load this van moment.

four jams
In short, in order to achieve the I Can moment, you must put in years of thought and testing things out, persuade your local music service to buy lots of steel pans, persuade your friend and pan-tuner to create lots of new single pans [and double basses], convince the general public that you can open up the wonderful world of steel pan to them, and only then are you ready to to fill the van with tons of heavy delicate metal.

Sheelagh holding up colours

at ease
 . . . .and drive to the Dales when Diane, Pat and Tom are giving the Leeds Schools Choir a residential. Filling in the risk assessment forms has cost Diane several working days and quite possibly risked her mental health. I know what this feels like and that is why I have not taken any students away since 2009 [sad really as, at Foxwood School I used to do at least two residentials a year; I even went to Lille with 60 Seacroft kids and several youth workers . .  now that was beyond the call of duty, and totally unsuitable for this blog!].

I digress.

The secret of any good musical event is the in detail. One detail was provided by Pat - the food, commented upon most favourably by children and adults alike. Above is a pic of toast with four different types of Pat's home-made jam.

soprano pannists eyes down

However this a steelpan blog so I will leave the choir activities to it, and say that the workshop was ace; at least one person has since joined the Music Centre Beginners' class; we played mini In the Hall of the Mountain King [arranged by Paula, not the version the Sparrows went on to wow Harrogate with, arranged by myself and Dave Gudgeon years ago] and You Raise Me Up.

After that, they all helped me re-load the van, and I went back to Ilkley and then home.
Pat and Izzy loading in da food

pans stashed away the night before

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Sparrows Take-over 2015

February 6 2015. It's Takeover Two for Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows. Here's where we see who can count to four and make it count, and who can't count!

It's mostly Chloe, making buns and counting to four.There seems to be as much chatting as usual; Bex and I play a bit more than usual and Chloe holds up colours. Sparrows are Chloe, Millie, Millie, Ash, Georgia, Claudia, Naomi with new Sparrows: Kirsten and Lucy. We are rehearsing our five tunes for Music For Youth.

What is good about Music For Youth is that it makes you refine and polish a small set. You concentrate for a while on the same numbers, and let go of the casual play-with-feeling and conviction. What's bad is that you can get bored of these five tunes, and boredom is never the point of running a band.

Anyway I am all for a bit of refined polishing every so spring, and Bex and I are playing with and listening to some of the greatest players. Just the greatest. Sparrows. And |I have been playing for 34 years and listening to other bands for 25 years. I know a good one when I hear it! And Sparrows is it!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Workshop at Leeds College of Music for teaching Music to children with Additional Needs

If it's January it must the College of Music for Diane and me. We meet at 9 for a ten o'clock start, and start at ten fifteen. We met Christine at a NAME meeting years ago and she invited us to give this workshop to her students who were about to embark on their school and community placements.

Our brief is to demonstrate what techniques and what instruments you might use in order to fully include all students in your music class - from those with obvious additional [eg using a wheelchair] to hidden ones [eg shyness]. A wheelchair user may need nothing more than a wide enough door, and a teacher not leaning over her or him; a shy person might need including in the lesson by stealth, and, for example, careful use of eye-contact and never being asked to do a solo.

Diane last year at Music College
Recently the tamboo bamboo people gave a demonstration at an ArtForms training day; we were all converted to their plastic coloured poles [not wooden now] and Diane bought a set. Like pans, they can be as easy or as difficult as you care to make it. [Can't find any pics from this yr so here's some from last]

Diane last yr with frog

My angle is as ever that children's individual needs must be sought out and recognised, and with genuine full-blooded support, you can take your students to the limitless skies. I always open up with the video of the Sparrows at the Royal Albert Hall and describe the various difficulties that would have stopped any of them in their tracks if myself and my support team of teachers and volunteers hadn't done those extra miles.

That's it: my metaphors are as mixed as they can be!

Victoria last yr Leeds Trinity
Victoria last yr at Leeds Trinity
So, for example, at the Old Albert: one boy had  lost his mother just 3 months previously; one had such challenging behaviour that I only brought him if his mother came was well, two of them had had babies when they were 17, one girl now at Uni thought she wouldn't be able to learn the new songs [so I went to Sheffield Uni with 3 pans and another player and taught them again], one was two weeks out of an appendectomy bed; one Moroccan boy's parents had absolutely no idea what was on offer, so I went out to the other side of Leeds and we conversed in French, with some Italian [they'd had an itinerant life], with boy translating the bits I couldn't do in French. One girl was so shy she only agreed to play if she wasn't on the front row; it was endless. They had all played well enough to deserve winning the M4Youth World Music Award, but without massive pastoral support it would have been twelve players on stage and not twenty-three.
Yet another pic of Sparrows at Albert

Our book Including SEN in the Curriculum:Music is available to buy online from David Fulton's.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Oulton Steel Band play Trinity and Allerton CE Steel Band play St John's

Well, two primary school steelbands tread the boards on the same day. I go first as audience to see Wanda weave her magic wand over Leeds Trinity Centre with the wonderful Oultonettes. The sound carries, and I hear them before I see them. Trinity is suitably seasonal with reindeer and snowflakes.

Besides panning they also sing some seasonal songs. I have to leave before the lunchtime rush starts, but not before Oulton have made their mark.

In the afternoon it is over to St John's at Moortown for Allerton CE's debut outside gig. The school has already transported the pans and glocks over already. All I have to do is count to 4 and find the B flats.

Each class payed one tune, and everybody from each class was included. That makes nearly one hundred children from years 5 and 6 . Mr Moore's class even managed Silent Night, which has 6 beats to the bar] We also played African Noel, Jingle Bells [not the whole song, but a nice two-chord 16 bar version of the chorus] and Winter Wonderland.

Our tunes were interspersed between readings, and the whole event proceeded at a fine pace. I will upload the pictures once permissions are established.