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Easy Music Games For Parents With Young Children

If you’re looking for some fresh ideas to engage your children with music as lockdown continues, there are hundreds of wonderful free and paid resources online. We’ve already explored some of our favourites. This month, we thought it would be fun to share some ideas from our own Early Years Resources. 

These games are aimed at young children, and are for parents who may be struggling to keep their toddlers busy. They can also be used with primary-age children, and even played with the whole family. We hope you enjoy them!

The first thing to remember is that music making with little children is simple and should be fun. You don’t have to be a ‘good’ singer or a professional musician, or even know very much about music. You just need to have a little confidence and enjoy yourself.

Why make time for music?

Music games help to develop communication skills, physical coordination, confidence and expression. Music can provide a way for your child to learn new skills using play. And it can help you to relax about your own responsibilities, knowing that your child is learning without stress. 

How to get started

Music activities don’t need to be complicated. One of the easiest things you can do together is to put on a recording of nursery rhymes or children’s songs and to clap along.

You can use this idea to create other “body percussion” – stamping, clicking fingers, tapping knees, or using musical instruments such as shakers. This could also be a fun way to explore the sounds of everyday household objects. 

You could use this game to introduce the concepts of loud and quiet, using hand signals to show when the percussion is quiet and when it is loud. 

Your child will have ideas about which pieces should be loud and quiet. You can also encourage your child to have a go at “conducting” loud and quiet. We use the word ‘quiet’ instead of ‘soft’ to avoid confusion with the meaning in terms of texture. 

Developing songs

You don’t have to stick with the traditional version of a song – you can adapt it to make a game. For example, the song, “If you’re happy and you know it” traditionally incorporates different types of body percussion like “clap your hands”, “nod your head”, “stamp your feet”. This can be developed in a number of ways:

  • You can include different instruments – play the bells, play the shaker
  • You might introduce loud and quiet – play loudly, play quietly
  • You could change the speed – play quickly, play slowly

Once the children understand these concepts, they can be combined – play fast and loud, play fast and quiet.

Action songs

Action songs are a great way to develop co-ordination and musical skills. Popular favourites are The Wheels on the Bus, The Farmer’s in his Den, Ring A Ring A Roses, Incy Wincy Spider, Row, Row, Row your Boat and In and Out the Dusty Bluebells. Use your imagination or check out YouTube for inspiration.

Movement activities

Musical Statues is a fun game that is easy to set up and takes little preparation. All you need is a device that plays music. The leader plays the music and the players move around the room and stop, becoming a ‘statue’ when the music stops. Encourage them to find interesting ‘statue’ poses to add to the fun. 

This can be developed into moving in time to the music – a marching tune such as the Grand Old Duke of York, being a floating star for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

Another game you can use is to ‘copy the leader’ in time to the music.  The leader (you) begins by clapping in time to a piece of music so that the children can copy. You could use a signal like a foot stamp to make the game more complicated – when you stamp your foot, the children should remain silent – just like Simon Says but without words.

Rhythm activities

Use a ‘name game’ to introduce rhythm. This uses several concepts including keeping time, keeping a regular beat and filling a gap in the music.

Sit in a circle, or opposite your child if there are only two of you, and clap a simple rhythm – clap clap rest rest, clap clap rest rest (When Maria uses this activity in workshops, she uses  clap clap knees knees or clap clap nod nod – as trying to keep the rests full length is tricky.

Once this has been established each person takes it in turn to say their name in the rest.

To introduce this activity, you could say a name in the first rest and ask the child to copy it in the second rest. If the game is a bit limited because there are too few of you, you could make a circle of toys or other familiar objects such as pieces of fruit, and get your child to name them in the rests. 

Listening games

The simplest way to approach listening is to play the children a piece of music then discuss what they think the music was about. Ballet music like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is good for this. Another approach is to engage the children by asking them to draw pictures of what they are hearing.

For an interactive listening activity you need a selection of instruments with 2 of each – such as bells, shakers and castanets. You could prepare these together, making shakers from kitchen items or using some ideas from our blog. Use your imagination! 

The leader (you or the child) hides behind a home made screen and plays an instrument. The other players have to guess which instrument made the sound. In the initial stages the children could match the sound with the instrument, as they become more familiar with the instruments they can match the sound to the name of instrument. You can develop this game by playing two instruments together.

Composition

Don’t be put off by the idea of composition. It’s easy to make a start and allow the children to explore their creativity. You don’t need to be a composer!

The easiest way to start this game is to choose a story that the children know and to create a sound track to the story. This can incorporate voices, body percussion and musical instruments. 

You can create sounds:

  • To set the scene – a forest, the sea
  • For each character – a giant would have a loud slow sound, a fairy would have a fast quiet sound
  • Imitating the sounds within the story – animals, cars, trains

We hope you enjoy trying some of these games with your children!


Images by: Alireza AttariKristina Paparo, Alexander Dummer and Victoria Priessnitz on UnSplash

EMERGE(NCY) PARTY

This month’s guest blog is from a new initiative called EMERGE(NCY) PARTY which launches at the beginning of May. The initiative is aimed at asking young people how the world could change for the better after the Covid-19 crisis. It gives young people a voice in the crisis, to protest, to share and to celebrate – an opportunity to imagine and explore a better future through art.

EMERGE(NCY) PARTY

The project is open to young people aged between 12 and 18, who are interested in making art/theatre/music/film, community organising, forms of protest or simply have something to say in the midst of the current crisis.

EMERGE(NCY) PARTY part 1 will take place over 15 weeks from the beginning of May to the beginning of August with weekly online Zoom sessions for participants. These sessions will take the form of discussion and making workshops, including a check-in about how participants are individually coping, a discussion around ideas for positive community action and a practical workshop on a particular art form leading to that week’s creative assignment.

Themes of these workshops will include:

Personal Storytelling, Creative Limitations, Interviewing Techniques, Portraiture, Art as a Form of Protest, and Community Art

Creative assignments will include:

Photography, soundscapes and field recordings, making and editing short films, writing, theatre making, song writing, painting and drawing

The participants will be offered a creative mentor in an area of the arts that interests them, in order to help guide their creative responses to the tasks.

The young artist’s responses to assignments will be hosted online, at WWW.EMERGENCYPARTY.ORG which will archive their collective journeys.

Part 2 of EMERGE(NCY) PARTY will move offline once social distancing policies are being relaxed. This will offer young people the opportunity to organise celebratory community gatherings where they will showcase or exhibit their creative journeys. These events will be a chance for the young people to bring their local communities together again after isolation, reflect on their experiences and share their ideas for positive local initiatives moving forwards. They may involve, for example, a shared meal, hosted talks, performed readings or songs.

Sixty-five young people are already participating all over the country from Aberdeen to Coventry to London and the project hopes to engage 60 more in the coming two weeks.

The project is FREE to sign up to. There is a suggested donation for those who can afford it. All donations will go towards the running of the project and all profits will be donated to YOUNGMiNDS: https://youngminds.org.uk/

The Team

The team behind EMERGE(NCY) PARTY are Bethany West and Barney McElholm (Assistant Directors, Shakespeare’s Globe 2019), Emma Stones (NZ Fringe & RA Lates) and Jude Shapiro (British Red Cross). The project was inspired by Rebecca Solnit’s impassioned challenge to the social meaning of disasters in her book, A Paradise Built in Hell, which explores the social meaning of disasters.

The current crisis has radically and abruptly flipped the world for young people. They are being asked to make sense of cancelled exams, to accept that their teachers’ opinions will determine their futures, to cope with being separated from peer groups at a time in life when this is so fundamental, to live in close proximity to family at an age when independence is so important. And this is all a mere backdrop to the terrifying global battle between life and death; where their parents’ fears for their livelihoods and vulnerable relatives might, understandably, take precedence over the teenager’s stresses and anxieties

Bethany West, Co-Director EMERGE(NCY) PARTY

For too long our society has been built around supporting the voices of an aging voting population; making multigenerational decisions on Europe, the climate crisis and state debt. Triple lock pension increases holding hands with the cancellation of free school dinners. Young people have either been excluded from political discourse or worse, vilified by our leaders. We are giving young people a voice. It will be a voice of intelligence, ingenuity and hope.

Barney McElholm, Co-Director EMERGE(NCY) PARTY

Get Happy

Music is a great leveller. It expresses emotion and helps us to connect. According to psychologists, we listen to music in order to regulate our mood, to achieve self-awareness, and as an expression of social relatedness.

These are challenging times. Concert halls have fallen silent and we are all under pressure as work and home life is disrupted. For this reason, we decided to share some happy music with you!

Let’s start with an obvious one. Here’s Pharrell Williams, Happy.

And wonderful Judy Garland singing Get Happy…

How about Shania Twain’s Up!

A piece that always makes our Artistic Director, Maria smile; the energetic Festive Overture by Shostakovich

A beautiful piece of ballet music by Tchaikovsky, the Dance of the Little Swans…

Here are some silly songs to make you smile:

The perfect silly song, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from Mary Poppins

Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Aretha Franklin – Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive

As we appreciate nature more, Feeling Good sung by Nina Simone:

And of course, family and friends who will get us through this …

The Late, Great Bill Withers singing Lovely Day:

Friendship sung by Red Skelton and Lucille Ball:

And to end with, the song that has come to be the anthem for this time – Somewhere Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz, sung by Judy Garland… There’s no place like home!

Images with thanks to Andre Hunter and  Lidya Nada on Unsplash.

Our Favourite Home Learning Resources

At a time when more families are engaged in home learning, the MWC team wanted to share online resources that might be useful over the coming months…

General advice on Home Learning

Home Learning UK are sharing their expertise – https://homelearninguk.weebly.com/

MWC’s Maria loves opera for so to find out the best places for streamed opera check out BachTrack’s list – https://bachtrack.com/search-opera/medium=2,3

Explore Folk Music from around the World with https://folkcloud.com


Singing

Need inspiration for some new songs? Check out Sing Up who are currently offering free resources – https://www.singup.org/home-schooling

For families who have budding instrumentalists here is some advice on specific instrument challenges:

Oboists – Parents guide to an oboists reed crisis! https://www.rachelbroadbent.co.uk/post/parents-guide-to-an-oboists-reed-crisis?fbclid=IwAR0b9FMcX8mnibH84EK3ARmwHEtxUmXslao0K2sQ1sPhqlFyUXTGrVe6WGk

Ever wondered how to tune a violin? ViolinSchool have a handy resource to help you https://www.violinschool.com/how-to-tune-a-violin/


Creative Activities

Keeping It Creative with Miss Hodgson – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC04w15zk1qpp1wMVxIUN_BQ/videos?app=desktop

The Roald Dahl Museum has great resources to help children develop their creative writing skills – https://www.roalddahl.com/museum/make-stories

Creative Boom have put together links to lots of fun creative activities at –https://www.creativeboom.com/resources/fun-activities-to-do-at-home-brought-to-you-by-the-wonderful-creative-community/

Felt Tip Pen gives lots of suggestions for Art activities – http://felt-tip-pen.com/art-teaching-resources-you-can-access-anywhere/

Get free ballet Lessons with the English National Ballet – https://www.youtube.com/user/enballet

If you are looking for inspiration for theming activities, visit Teaching Ideas for festivals and celebrations from around the World – https://www.teachingideas.co.uk/events/march

London Bubble have created a free Speech Bubbles resource full of activities for drama at https://www.londonbubble.org.uk/parent_project/speech-bubbles/

64 Million Artists are sharing a daily creative challenge, sign up at https://64millionartists.com/


Exploring Art

Have a virtual day out at the National Gallery – https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/visiting/virtual-tours

Explore Tate Modern with Nick Grimshaw and Francis Morris – https://www.tate.org.uk/art/360-video/grimshaw

Visit the Vatican including the Sistine Chapel – http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/tour-virtuali-elenco.html


General Home-Learning Activities

BBC Bitesize includes resources and activities for children and young people from age 3 up – https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize

TTS are offering free downloadable resources for Early Years, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 –https://www.tts-group.co.uk/home+learning+activities.html

Robin Hood Multi Academy Trust has free projects for Early Years, Key Stage 1, Years 3/4  and Years 5/6 on their website. These are broken into weekly tasks. Visit their site – https://www.robinhoodmat.co.uk/learning-projects/

NASA kids club has lots of activities for children – https://www.nasa.gov/kidsclub/index.html


Languages

Duolingo is a free app that supports learning a wide range of languages – https://www.duolingo.com/

Rosetta Stone is offering free access to their resources for the next 3 months – https://www.rosettastone.com/freeforstudents/


MWC’s Artistic Director, Maria loves Reading and History, so here are some recommendations in these areas…

Reading

Audible Stories now has free classic children’s stories – https://stories.audible.com/discovery

The World of David Walliams is offering free audio stories –https://www.worldofdavidwalliams.com/elevenses/

Literary Shed + has free resources for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 – https://www.literacyshedplus.com/en-gb/browse/free-resources

Ok, it’s not quite summer yet, but the Summer Reading Challenge has lots of great resources – https://summerreadingchallenge.org.uk/

The Stay-at-Home! Literary Festival is an international online literature festival running from 27th March until 11th April 2020  – https://stayathomefest.wordpress.com/

And the British Library have great resources and activities linked to children’s books – https://www.bl.uk/childrens-books


History

Did you know you can do virtual visits to museums such as the British Museum? Read their top tips on how to access their amazing collection – https://blog.britishmuseum.org/how-to-explore-the-british-museum-from-home/

The Chester Beatty Museum in Dublin is one of Maria’s favourite museums, visit their virtual museum at https://chesterbeatty.ie/exhibitions/gift-of-a-lifetime/

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has more than 103,500 objects in its online collection – https://www.ashmolean.org/


Mental Health

And of course, supporting children, young people and their families with mental health.

We need to talk about Children’s Mental Health – https://weneedtotalkaboutchildrensmentalhealth.wordpress.com/2020/03/27/tips-to-share-with-children-to-help-them-cope-with-the-new-normal/


N.B. MWC is not affiliated with any of these websites. This list should not be taken as a recommendation for any products or services (and those featured should not claim any recommendation). All data and GDPR rules – and terms and conditions – should be closely scrutinised by schools and parents.

The images used in this post courtesy of Unsplash, by Goetz Heinen, Sharon McCutcheon, Dragos GontariuToa Heftier, Kelly Sikkema, Annie Spratt, Brett JordanNational Cancer Institute

Poetry and the Joy of Human Expression

World Poetry Day falls on March 21st 2020. The annual celebration, which was adopted by UNESCO in 1999, is an opportunity to revive oral traditions, promote the reading, writing and teaching of poetry, and foster the convergence between poetry and other arts, including music. Poetry can act as a uniting force, expressing common human experiences – a vital force for connection in difficult times – and so UNESCO extends the invitation to everyone to take part.

In celebrating World Poetry Day, March 21, UNESCO recognizes the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures.

UNESCO

Music and poetry are compatible – rhythmically, expressively and emotionally. Song lyrics have elements of poetry – some are even poems set to music – and many works of classical music are based on poems. There are even pieces called ‘poems’. Tone poems or symphonic poems are single-movement orchestral works, normally from the Romantic period, that illustrate or evoke the content of a poem or other non-musical source. Their descriptive power is clear from the use of tone poems like Also Sprach Zarathustra and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in pop culture. The awe in the opening notes of Strauss’s tone poem hold a common human experience that speaks of the vast emptiness of space in Kubrick’s 2001 and the rising of the sun in its original context.

In popular music, some of the most notable songwriters have either been celebrated as poets or published books of poetry. Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

In his acceptance speech, Dylan explained:

If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important. I don’t have to know what a song means. I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs. And I’m not going to worry about it – what it all means.

Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, “Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.

Bob Dylan

Leonard Cohen, a contemporary of Dylan’s was a poet first and a songwriter second. A post on BBC 6 Music’s social media asking people to list their favourite Cohen lyrics attracted hundreds of varied replies. Such was his command of language and the extraordinary feelings he could evoke with a simple twist of words. Cohen had his opinions on fellow artists. After Bob Dylan was awarded with his Nobel Prize, Cohen commented,

To me,” he said, “[the award] is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain.

Leonard Cohen

In March 2015, Cohen wrote a poem in reply to comments made by rapper Kanye West in a talk at Oxford University. In the talk, West had expressed a wish that he’d studied art, saying:

My goal, if I was going to do art, fine art, would have been to become Picasso or greater. That always sounds so funny to people, comparing yourself to someone who has done so much, and that’s a mentality that suppresses humanity.

Kanye West

In response, Cohen wrote this poem:

Kanye West is not Picasso

I am Picasso

Kanye West is not Edison

I am Edison

I am Tesla

Jay-Z is not the Dylan of Anything

I am the Dylan of anything

I am the Kanye West of Kanye West

The Kanye West

Of the great bogus shift of bull**** culture

From one boutique to another

I am Tesla

I am his coil

The coil that made electricity soft as a bed

I am the Kanye West Kanye West thinks he is

When he shoves your ass off the stage

I am the real Kanye West

I don’t get around much anymore

I never have

I only come alive after a war

And we have not had it yet

For many, poetry may seem irrelevant, romantic, difficult and inaccessible. But Dylan wrote about war, politics, ecological concerns and protest, and Cohen penned lyrics full of irony, love, joy and intense agony.

In difficult and conflicting times, perhaps it’s time to delve deeper, to explore the incredible wealth of poetry that exists within the world of musical compositions and song writing and to express our anger with poems as well as placards.

Featured Image by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash

BBC Young Composer 2020

The BBC have launched this year’s BBC Young Composer competition. Previously known as the BBC Proms Inspire Competition and the BBC Young Composer of the Year, the annual competition is open to composers aged between 12 and 18 from across the UK. Winners take part in a development programme and work with a mentor composer on a composition for the BBC Concert Orchestra, to be performed at the BBC Proms in 2021 in a special young composers concert. The closing date for entries to the competition is 5pm on Thursday 11 June 2020.

Former winners

The competition boasts an illustrious list of former winners including Shiva Feshareki, Kate Whitley, Tom Harrold, Alissa Firsova, Mark Simpson, Toby Young, Lloyd Coleman and Duncan Ward. 

Shiva Feshareki won the BBC Young Composer Award in 2004 and has since been honoured with the 2017 Ivor Novello Award for Innovation (formerly known as British Composer Award) and The Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize (2009). She achieved her doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music and her research has contributed to the rediscovery of some of the early innovators of electronic music such as Pauline Oliveros, Daphne Oram and Éliane Radigue. In the 2018 BBC Proms, Feshareki performed Oram’s Still Point for turntables, double orchestra and five microphones with the sound artist and curator James Bulley and the LCO. This performance took place in the Royal Albert Hall; the venue for which the work was written.

Kate Whitley runs The Multi-Story Orchestra with conductor Christopher Stark. Her composition Speak Out, which uses the words of Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, was commissioned by the BBC for International Women’s Day 2017, in support of the campaign for better education for girls. Whitley won a Critics Circle Award in 2018.

Tom Harrold’s recent projects include Nightfires, a commission from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra , a Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra for Emma McPhilemy and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, A Brief Nostalgia for Birmingham Royal Ballet and Queensland Ballet companies, and Unchained, a mini-concerto for percussionist Colin Currie.

Alissa Firsova won the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer competition in 2001. She has since received two world premieres at the BBC Proms: Bach Allegro in 2010 and Bergen Bonfire in 2015. Alongside her work as a composer, Firova is also a pianist and conductor and her triple-debut with the English Chamber Orchestra at the Cadogan Hall in 2013 as director, composer and conductor.

Mark Simpson won the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year competitions in 2006. In the same year he won the BBC Young Musician of the Year – he was the first (and to date the only) musician to win both. Some of Simpson’s composing highlights include the premiere of his first opera, Pleasure, with a libretto by Melanie Challenger, commissioned by Opera North, the Royal Opera House and Aldeburgh Music with performances in Leeds, Liverpool, Aldeburgh and London. He also gave the online premiere of Darkness Moves for solo clarinet, commissioned by the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.

Toby Young won the Guardian/BBC Proms Young Composer of the Year in 2006 and 2008, going on to win the International ABRSM Composition Competition in 2009. Young’s works have been performed by orchestras such as London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Academy of Ancient Music, and choirs such as Westminster Abbey, the Joyful Company of Singers, and the BBC Singers. He is currently Composer-in-Residence with the Armonico Consort, following past residencies with the London Oriana Choir and Reverie and being the featured composer at the Kings Lynn and Stratford Festivals.

Lloyd Coleman works closely with conductor Charles Hazlewood and the British Paraorchestra, the first professional ensemble in the world comprised of disabled musicians. In 2017 Coleman was appointed as their first Associate Music Director and he wrote Towards Harmony for the ensemble. Alongside his composing and performing work, Coleman is also a presenter on TV and Radio including for the BBC Proms.

Duncan Ward won the BBC Young Composer of the Year in 2005 and now spends time both as a composer and conductor. Ward’s recent commissions include an encore for the Bamberger Symphoniker, premiered under Rafael Payare in March 2019 and Rainbow Beats, a work for orchestra for the South African organisation MIAGI (Music Is A Great Investment) was premiered on a major tour of Europe in Summer 2018 in celebration of Nelson Mandela’s centenary including performances at the Elbphilharmonie, Concertgebouw, Berlin Konzerthaus and Verbier Festival.

The competition is a springboard for up and coming composers. Winners and highly commended composers are invited to join the BBC Young Composer Ambassadors, giving an opportunity to develop an ongoing relationship with the BBC Proms. Past winners have received additional commissions from the BBC such as:

  • Tom Harold’s Raze for BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Last Night of the Proms in 2016
  • Grace Mason’s River for Proms At…Stage@TheDock in 2017 which was commissioned by BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ programme and the BBC Proms to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Handel’s Water Music.
  • In 2018, Alex Woolf’s The NHS Symphony which is a half-hour portrait in music and sound of the National Health Service as it celebrated its 70th anniversary. The work was nominated for an ARIAS Award (the BAFTAs of UK Radio) in the Factual Storytelling category in October 2018.
  • Sarah Jenkins, the 2017 winner was commissioned to write And the Sun Stood Still for the BBC Concert Orchestra
  • Alexia Sloane’s Brink was written for BBC Concert Orchestra and will be premiered on Thursday 19thMarch at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre, London. Details at https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ezhn5v
  • The BBC Singers’ commission for International Women’s Day 2020 entitled Seven Ages of Woman features 7 composers including Helena Paish and Electra Perivolaris
  • Mark Simpson is currently Composer in Association with the BBC Philharmonic, works include The Immortal and his Clarinet Concerto

The competition

Each year the compositions are judged by a panel of leading composers and music industry professionals who have a keen interested in finding and developing young talent. This year the judges include Errollyn Wallen, Shiva Feshareki (former winner), Matthew Kaner and the Director of the Proms, David Pickard. More judges will be announced soon.

The judges will assess the submissions based on compositional idea, originality and creativity and entries are judged in three categories:

Junior Category aged 12-14

Junior Category aged 15-16.

Senior Category aged 17-18

(Note: age category is determined by age on the closing date)

To enter, compositions should be uploaded to www.bbc.co.uk/youngcomposer where the applicants have a form to complete alongside submitting the audio composition file. Compositions can include any instrumentation such as voices, acoustic instruments, electronic instruments and computer-generated sounds.

Past participants have highlighted benefits of taking part in the competition such as meeting people with similar interests, having the opportunity to collaborate, working with established composers and hearing their works performed by professional musicians.

So why not enter the competition this year? The closing date for entries to the competition is 5pm on Thursday 11 June 2020.

For more inspiration, listen to works by former winners at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p030pblf

Featured images source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_W.Bubbles%27_Music_Writing_Pen(32869862850).jpg

Stravinsky & Diaghilev – Anniversary of a Collaboration

1920 was a busy year for Stravinsky and Diaghilev with the premiere of the ballet Le Chant du Roissignol on 2nd February and the premiere of Pulcinella on 15th May.

Stravinsky first worked with Diaghilev on L’Oiseau de Feu (The Firebird) in 1910. The work is of interest both as Stravinsky’s breakthrough piece and as the beginning of one of the most well known collaborations in the ballet world.

Le Chant du roissignol

Le Chant du Roissignol ballet premiered on 2nd February but had it’s origins in Stravinsky’s opera Le Rossignol (The Nightingale), based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, which he began working on in 1908. In 1917, Stravinsky adapted the music into a Symphonic Poem.

The first act of the opera was written in 1908, with acts two and three written between 1913 and 1914. Stravinsky put the work on the opera on hold while he worked with Diaghilev on L’Oiseau de Feu (The Firebird), Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring. An original costume design from The Rite of Spring is pictured above.

Stravinsky’s commented on his decision to adapt the work into a Symphonic Poem:

I reached the conclusion—very regretfully, since I was the author of many works for the theatre—that a perfect rendering can be achieved only in the concert hall, because the stage presents a combination of several elements upon which the music has often to depend, so that it cannot rely upon the exclusive consideration which it receives at a concert.

The Symphonic Poem was premiered in 1919 in Geneva and greeted with criticism due to the non-traditional use of dissonance and instruments. This may have influenced Stravinsky’s decision to adapt the piece once again, this time into a ballet for Diaghilev.

The ballet was choreographed by Léonide Massine with décor by Henri Matisse and danced by Tamara Karsavina, Lydia Sokolova and Stanislas Idzikowski. The ballet is also divided into three parts. The ballet begins with the Nightingale delighting the Emperor of China. In the second scene, the Emperor receives a mechanical nightingale which fascinates the court, leading to the Nightingale flying away. In the final scene, the Emperor becomes ill and meets Death. The Nightingale appears outside the Emperor’s window, and persuades Death to let the Emperor recover. The Nightingale leaves, returning to nature.

After the initial run in 1920, the ballet was revived in 1925 with new choreography by George Balanchine, at the time one of Diaghilev’s students. This was the beginning of another great collaboration for Stravinsky. Balanchine and Stravinsky shared a similar taste in music, art and movement and both had a passion for creation. Stravinsky commented:

I do not see how one can be a choreographer unless, like Balanchine, one is a musician first.

Balanchine was immediately willing to take the challenge of choreographing the ballet, saying:

I learned the music well, and so … when Diaghilev asked me to stage Stravinsky’s ballet Le Chant du Rossignol, I was able to do it quickly.

Pulcinella

Pulcinella was based on an 18th Century play Quatre Polichinelles Semblables (“Four identical Pulcinellas”). The character of Pulcinella orginated in the 17th Century Italian commedia dell’arte.

The work was commissioned by Diaghilev who wanted a new ballet based on a piece which at the time was believed to have been composed by Pergolesi. This idea was inspired by Vincenzo Tommassini’s The Good-Humoured Ladies written in 1917, which adapted sontatas by Domenico Scarlatti. Conductor Ernest Ansermet approached Stravinsky about adapting the music, but this did not initially appeal to the composer. After Stravinsky spent time studying the scores Diaghilev had discovered in Naples and London, he changed his mind and re-wrote the music, taking themes and textures and adding modern rhythms, cadences and harmonies.

This work marked the beginning of Stravinsky’s second period as a composer, his “neo-classical” period which included works such as his octet for winds, the “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, the Concerto in D for string orchestra, the Symphony of PsalmsSymphony in C, and Symphony in Three Movements, the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex and the ballets Apollo and Orpheus. Stravinsky stated that:

Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible. It was a backward look, of course—the first of many love affairs in that direction—but it was a look in the mirror, too.

The ballet’s creative team again featured Léonide Massine who wrote the libretto, created the choreography and danced the title role alongside Tamara Karsavina, Vera Mentchinova, Lubov Tchernicheva, Enrico Cecchetti, Stanislas Idzikowski, Sigmund Novak and Nicholas Zverev. The costumes and sets were designed by Pablo Picasso. The premiere was conducted by Ernest Ansermet.

Stravinsky

The orchestration, as is often the case with Stravinsky’s work is not a standard ensemble. Pulcinella calls for Solo Soprano, Solo Tenor, Solo Bass voices, plus 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in F, 1 trumpet in C, 1 trombone plus strings which, inspired by Baroque ensembles, are grouped into Concertino – string quartet (2 violins, viola, cello) plus double bass and Ripieno of 8 violins, 4 violas, 3 celli and 3 double basses.

The ballet is in one act and features the title character of Pulcinella along with his girlfriend Pimpinella and their friends. The story starts with Florindo and Cloviello serenading Prudenza and Rosetta. The women are unimpressed and shower the suitors with water before Prudenza’s father, a doctor, chases them away.

The next section begins with Rosetta and her father. Rosetta dances for Pulcinella leading to a kiss which is interrupted by Pimpinella, Pulcinella’s girlfriend. Florindo and Cloviello arrive and being jealous of Pulcinella, beat him up. It seems that Pulcinella has been stabbed, but this is ruse to get Pimpinella to forgive him. Furbo, arrives dressed as magician and brings Pulcinella back to life. Pimpinella forgives Pulcinella, Florindo and Cloviello successfully woo Prudenza and Rosetta and the ballet ends with the marriage of the three couples.

Stravinsky’s Pulcinella’s notebook is part of the British’s Library’s collection and can be viewed at https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/stravinsky-pulcinella

Image source, Rite of Spring Costume: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lélue_(Sacre_du_printemps,ballets_russes)(4557057918).jpg

The National Trust at 125 – Honouring British Composers

The National Trust was founded on the 12th January 1895 by Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley. As the Trust reaches its 125th birthday, we share its celebration of famous British composers and the work it does to inspire a new generation.

Octavia Hill

Leith Hill Place – Ralph Vaughan Williams

Leith Hill Place in Surrey was the home of Ralph Vaughan Williams from the age of two until he was 20, when he went to study at Cambridge. He arrived at Leith Hill Place with his mother after the death of his father, when they moved to live with his mother’s parents. His early music education came from his aunt Sophy who taught him piano. He also learnt violin, viola and organ. After schooling at Charterhouse, he went to the Royal College of Music and then to the University of Cambridge.

Ralph had a passion for bringing music into people’s lives. In 1905 he helped his sister, Margaret Vaughan Williams and Lady Evangeline Farrer to start the Leith Hill Music Festival, an annual competition for amateur choirs. He remained as Festival Conductor for nearly fifty years and the Festival continues to thrive.

Leith Hill Place has been in the hands of the National Trust since 1945. Set in beautiful countryside, the house celebrates the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams with a timeline of his life. At the house you can also see Ralph’s piano on which he composed works such as Lark Ascending and his Symphonies 1-9. The piano, which remained in the family, has now been restrung and fitted with a new tuning plank so it can be played. On the second floor of the house is an audio guided tour of Ralph’s life and music.

Leith Hill Place is also notable for it’s links to other members of Ralph’s family. His grandfather was Josiah Wedgwood III (of the ceramics company) and his grandmother was Caroline Darwin, sister of Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin conducted experiments in the grounds of the house.

The Firs – Edward Elgar

Edward Elgar was born on 2nd June 1857 in The Firs in Broadheath, an early 19th Century Worcestershire cottage. At the time, his father, a musician, was a piano tuner, church organist and amateur violinist, his mother was a farmer’s daughter who wanted her children to grow up in the country.

Although Elgar was only two years’ old when the family left The Firs, his mother often sent him and his siblings back to Broadheath for summer holidays, when they would stay on a farm. This developed Elgar’s lifelong love of the area which led to his request on receiving his Baronetcy for the title ‘Baron Elgar of Broadheath’.

In 1934, before his death, Elgar confided to his daughter Carice that he wanted to be remembered in Broadheath, and so in 1935, Carice with the help of Alderman Hubert Leicester, persuaded the corporation of Worcester to purchase the cottage. She also requested that all memorabilia relating to Elgar be returned to the cottage.

The Firs continues to celebrate the life and work of Elgar through maintaining artefacts, talks and concerts. A key part of the National Trust’s work is to help visitors to appreciate the area that so influenced Elgar with a series of walks around the Worcestershire countryside.

575 Wandsworth Road – Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian

In 2015, the National Trust and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) developed a composer in residence project. Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, an LSO Soundhub associate, created works inspired by 575 Wandsworth Road, London. The house was owned by late Kenyan-born poet, novelist, philosopher of mathematics and British civil servant, Khadambi Asalache, and was acquired by the National Trust in 2010.

Asalache bought the house in 1981 and turned it into a work of art. The project started when he fixed pine floorboards to a damp wall and he went on embellish walls, ceilings and doors with handcarved fretwork patterns and motifs .

Horrocks-Hopayian took part in a two year residency, working with LSO musicians to interpret the history of the house and the work of Asalche. Her first composition from the projects combined a recording of Khadambi Asalache’s thumb piano with extracts from his poems.

Alongside her composition work, Horrocks-Hopayian work with the local community such as the Festival Chorus Wandsworth, work which further inspired her compositions.

Michael Price – Tender Symmetry

In 2018, Michael Price released his work Tender Symmetry, in answer to National Trust locations across England. The works were both informed by and recorded in spaces such as of Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire to the Fan Bay World War II shelter, in the chalk cliffs of Dover.

Michael Price explains: “For Tender Symmetry, I stopped admiring and started participating in these buildings. This began as an exploration of writing and recording out in the world beyond the studio. I am interested in where we build our homes in an increasingly virtual world and the spirit of place we feel as we walk our local streets, our schools, temples and public spaces…Taking inspiration from a place, and the stories it told, then going back to that place to record, sometimes in less than ideal conditions, made the two-year adventure much more like shooting a film than making a record.”

Fountains Abbey

The locations for Tender Symmetry are:

  • Speke Hall, Liverpool, Merseyside – a Tudor manor house on the banks of the Mersey, restored in the 19th century, so combining both Tudor and Arts and Crafts features
  • Quarry Bank, Cheshire – a great industrial heritage site, containing an 18th century working mill and the homes of a complete working community
  • Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire – the largest monastic ruins in the country, founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York
  • 2 Willow Road, London – an innovative and influential Modernist home, designed in 1939 by architect Ernö Goldfinger for himself and his family
  • Sandham Memorial Chapel, Hampshire – a world famous chapel which houses an epic series of large-scale paintings, by acclaimed war artist Sir Stanley Spencer
  • Fan Bay Deep Shelter, Kent – a tunnel complex constructed inside the White Cliffs of Dover in  1940/41 as accommodation for the gun battery above
  • All Hallows, Gospel Oak – the only location not owned by the National Trust, where Shade Of Dreams was recorded.

2020 – the year of Beethoven?

December 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

The event seems to have split the Classical Music community. Some individuals and organisations see the occasion as an opportunity to celebrate Beethoven’s musical achievements. Others suggest that Beethoven’s music is popular enough and performances and recordings of it are already so plentiful that audiences should be exploring new repertoire and lesser known composers, and particularly work by underrepresented groups.

Beethoven is one of a group of composers from the Western Classical tradition who is often given the title ‘genius’. He was a prolific composer, writing 722 works, including 9 Symphonies, 16 overtures and incidental pieces, 16 string quartets, 32 piano sonatas, 20 sets of variations for piano, 10 works for chorus and orchestra, hundreds of songs, operas, piano trios, works for wind ensembles and concertos for violin, piano and a lost work for oboe. His development of musical forms such as the symphony, string quartet and piano sonata are seen as revolutionary, and his influence on later composers is often cited.

If you want to take 2020 as the year to explore Beethoven’s works further, check out #TheCompleteBeethoven on Twitter for advice from The Symphonist or follow the hashtag #Beethoven2020.

Beethoven led an interesting life. His father was abusive, he struggled with his health, he lived in politically turbulent times, his romantic life was complicated and he suffered hearing loss. However there are stories of his bad temper and of his poor treatment of his sister-in-law and nephew. All these elements add to the image of a tortured genius, a persona that has appealed to audiences and, it could be argued, has helped keep his music popular over the past 200 years. 

As Beethoven’s work is frequently performed, recorded and broadcast on radio, should we take his 250th anniversary as an opportunity to enjoy ever popular works such as his 9th Symphony and 5th Piano Concerto, or should we explore some of his lesser known works, such as his works for military band…

or his songs…

Or should we be exploring more obscure composers? As William Gibbons states on Twitter:

Every time I listen to Beethoven, I’m not listening to something else.

Inspired by some of the discussion around exploring a wider range of composers, Musicology Duck’s blog influenced by Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, has suggested a hashtag of #ListenWider. Rather than recommending specific books or pieces, both challenges give categories, allowing readers and listeners to find works that appeal to them. Musicology Duck gives 30 categories of pieces to listen to including a composition of 60 minutes or more in length by a woman or non-binary composer, a miniature composition under 90 seconds long, a top hit from the year you were born or from a country other than your own, and a concerto for tuba, bassoon or double bass. 

You could take the opportunity to explore works by other composers and performers who have key anniversaries in 2020, such as:

Dave Brubeck – 100th anniversary of his birth

Dorothea Anne Franchi – 100th anniversary of her birth

Ravi Shankar – 100th anniversary of his birth

Del Woods – 100th anniversary of her birth

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) – 100th anniversary

John Rutter – 75th Birthday

Of course, there is a happy medium for those who love Beethoven’s music but still want to discover new repertoire. Ensembles such as the English Symphony Orchestra are taking the opportunity to partner Beethoven’s works with lesser known composers such as Ruth Gipps and Adrian Williams.

So how will you approach your year of listening to music? Let us know what you think in the comments!

The Nutcracker

On 18th December 1892, Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker was premiered at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Although the ballet is now popular throughout the world, the premiere was not well received, with popularity only coming after Tchaikovsky worked the music into a Suite.

Following the success of Sleeping Beauty, Tchaikovsky was looking for inspiration for his next ballet and a gift of a new Russian translation of E.T.A Hoffmann’s story Nussknacker und Mausekönig gave him a story he could work with. It has been suggested that his love of the ballet Coppelia by Delibes, premiered in 1870, which was also based on two Hoffmann stories, Der Sandmann (The Sandman) and Die Puppe (The Doll) may have influenced his decision. Hoffmann’s Nussknacker und Mausekönig mixes reality and fantasy and there is some debate as to whether it was written as a children’s story or not due to the philosophical content and allusions unlikely to have been understood by children.

Tchaikovsky had collaborated with Marius Petipa on Sleeping Beauty, and so they set out to work together on The Nutcracker. Petipa took Hoffmann’s story and provided a scenario with detailed notes on action and dance plan with some suggestions for the music. However Petipa fell ill and passed the task to Lev Ivanov who had worked with him on Sleeping Beauty. Ivanov had previous devised the dances for Borodin’s Prince Igor and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada.

The ballet is now a firm family favourite, and tells the story of a Christmas gathering where Drosselmeyer, a local councilman, toymaker and magician appears. He brings dancing dolls to entertain the children, then gives Clara and Fritz a toy for them: A wooden nutcracker which is carved in the shape of a man. Clara immediately takes a liking to it however Fritz breaks it, leaving Clara upset. Once everyone is in bed, Clara creeps downstairs to check on the broken Nutcracker and as the clock strikes midnight she sees Drosselmeyer on top of the Christmas tree which begins to grow as does the nutcracker. Mice appear, led by their King and begin to fight with an army of gingerbread soldiers.

The nutcracker leads the army of gingerbread soldiers and tin soldiers, as the Mouse King advances on the still-wounded nutcracker, Clara throws her slipper at him, distracting him long enough for the nutcracker to stab him.

As the mice retreat, in true fairy tale style, the nutcracker transforms into a handsome price, leading Clara to his Kingdom through a pine forest in the snow.

The second act begins in the Land of Sweets which is being ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Prince’s absence. When Clara and the Prince arrive, he tells how Clara saved him from the Mouse King and returned him to his human form. To celebrate his return and to honour Clara, a celebration is staged with dances from around the world, ending with a performance by the Sugar Plum Fairy.

A final dance is performed by all the sweets, before the Sugar Plum Fairy ushers Clara and the Prince down from their throne. He bows to her, she kisses Clara goodbye, and leads them to a reindeer drawn sleigh. It takes off as they wave goodbye to all the subjects who wave back.

For the full ballet, watch the Mariinsky Theatre’s performance here:

Having been influenced by Haydn’s Toy Symphony and Bernhard Romberg’s Kinder-Symphonie, Tchaikovsky includes some unusual instruments in the scoring of The Nutcracker including toy trumpet, rattle and bird calls. He also included a celeste. He wrote in a letter:

I have discovered a new orchestral instrument in Paris, something between a small piano and a Glockenspeil, which a divinely beautiful tone… I want to ask you to order one of these instruments… have it sent direct to Petersburg; but no-one there must know about it. I am afraid that Rimsky-Korsakov or Glazunov might hear of it and make use of the new effect before I can.

After the premier of the ballet, Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother

The staging … was splendid … even too splendid – one’s eyes grew tired of this luxuriance.

There were mixed reviews of the first performance, The St Petersburg Gazette stated:

A more tedious work was never seen…

However, the St Petersburg News-sheet declared

Concerning the music of this ballet, it is hard to say which number is best, for everything from beginning to end is beautiful, melodious, original and individual.

It is this view that seems to resonate with audiences of the ballet and the suite today.

For a sneaky peek at how the Royal Ballet create the wonder and spectacle of The Nutcracker at The Royal Opera House, watch this video:

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