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MWC at the Expo – Maria’s Story

The Music Workshop Company Artistic Director and Founder Maria Thomas and the MWC team enjoyed a productive and inspiring time at the 2015 Rhinegold Music Education Expo. The Expo, which was held at London’s Barbican Centre on March 12th and 13th, gives music educators, teachers, workshop leaders, musicians and practitioners and all those involved in music education a chance to come together and share ideas and information.

Here’s Maria’s account of the Expo…

The time we spent at the Expo was brilliant. We had a fabulous time chatting to current clients, friends and colleagues as well as meeting new people.

Adelia and Jewande2

Our stand was placed right at the top of the stairs on the way in, directly opposite the Rhinegold Theatre where lots of talks and workshops are held, so we were often the first people the delegates met on their way in. We often found ourselves pointing out directions to the cloakroom and the seminar rooms, but this gave us a great opportunity talk to people and to find out what they do. It was so exciting to hear about the various projects being run in schools, music hubs and music centres, with community groups and other organisations.

One of the highlights for us were hearing the Friday morning warm up session in the Rhinegold Theatre led by Sing for Pleasure’s Catherine Beddison. It was a great start to the day!

We had set up Top Tips Live sessions, consultations for clients, and these led to some interesting discussions including giving advice on finding tutors to run drumming workshops, advice on how to get started as a workshop leader and top tips on setting up an Arts Festival.

Jo and Alson7Several of of our workshop leaders were there too. Ollie, who contributed to our January blog about Body Percussion, stopped by to say hello, and Jo, our spoons expert gave Alison, our Projects Manager an impromptu introductory lesson how to play the spoons [add photo]. To get a taste of Jo’s work, check out the video at the end of this post…

1_ISM_logoIt was lovely to see our friends at the ISM and to hear about their important work. If you are not aware of the ISM, they protect and support their members by providing them with expert advice, insurance and specialists services as well as offering access to a community of like-minded professionals and the status that comes with being a member of a professional body.

We caught up with Matt Parry, writer, director and producer of The Opus Pocus. We first met Matt at the 2013 Music Education Expo when he was launching his Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to turn his version of Sheherazade into a graphic novel. He had recorded the music of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade with characters voiced by actors including Brian Blessed and Rory Bremner and was looking to raise money to commission a graphic novel to go with the recording. The Kickstarter campaign was successful and the graphic novel is now available from the Opus Pocus shop. The Opus Pocus went on to win the Intuit StartUp Britain Competition which has enabled Matt and his team to develop the website. Matt has exciting plans for the future including an Opus Pocus app and live shows!

All in all, the Music Education Expo is a great opportunity for us to meet face to face with current and potential clients and to find out what they want from workshop providers. This enables us to tailor our offering to suit their needs. It creates a space for us to sit down and have a really in depth conversation about their requirements and past experiences. It’s also great for networking; to find new workshop leaders, develop new partnerships and to keep up to date with changes to music education; for example, the forthcoming changes to GSCE, AS and A-Level.

Since the Expo we have been talking to several organisations about contributing to our blog, and are really looking forward to being able to share their expertise with you. Watch this space!

English Folk Music – Understanding Our Roots

Here at the Music Workshop Company we thrive on introducing participants to an enjoyment and understanding of music. But all our workshops have a deeper purpose and significance too. We look at music from World cultures, and support curriculum topics with team building work, communication skills and experiential learning which builds confidence and facilitates creativity.

In looking at everything that music can bring to education, it is interesting to think about the value of studying the historic culture of the country where we live. Awareness and understanding of British tradition is an important part of relating across cultural lines, as well as direct way to link to your local area and community.

In the first of our series on music from Britain, we celebrate St. George’s Day with an exploration of English folk music.

Our English Song workshops introduce students to the traditional music of England. English folk music is a particularly rich genre that can be really pertinent to a particular local identity as its regional traditions are strong – for example, the music of Northumberland is very different to that of the West Country. Although there has been some interchange with the music of Ireland and Scotland, the regional distinctiveness of this music remains strong, linked to local history, folk tails, industry, instrumentation and even landscape.

Robin_shoots_with_sir_Guy_by_Louis_Rhead_1912Folk music is historically the music of the people; the lower orders of society. It is very different from the Court music that gave rise to what we know as classical music. Its earliest record in English history is about 400CE. This music was passed on aurally from one generation to the next, taught by ear not written down. These days, tunes or songs might be learned from books or recordings, but often the practice of learning by ear continues. Its main form is in music for dancing and in songs and ballads. Ballads are songs that tell stories – often of heroic deeds and local heroes such as Robin Hood. The songs, like those of Ireland and Scotland, have their roots in ancient ballads, popular songs, songs from music halls and songs composed by the person who sang them. There are many rural songs that are of unknown authorship and are considered traditional, but English folk song is drawn from many sources.

English folk music has its own set of instruments too. There are the common traditional instruments such as the fiddle and accordion, but instruments specific to England also exist. The English Concertina, a small, hand-held, bellows-driven reed instrument, was patented by the scientist and inventor Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1829. It has a light, flute-like sound and is a common accompanying instrument in English folk dancing.

Northumberland has its own pipes, the Northumbrian smallpipes, which are driven by bellows held under the right elbow. The pipes have a completely closed end and a tight, keyed fingering style. They have a melancholy and beautiful sound, which is extremely evocative of the wild hills of the area. One traditional band in Northumberland was a group called The Three Shepherds. They were, as you would expect, three shepherds. One played smallpipes, one harmonica and the other fiddle. The fiddle player, Willie Taylor had lost the top joint of his left index finger in a turnip-chopping machine as a boy. The Shepherds often performed Taylor’s own compositions, reels and rants which were all written so it is possible to play them on the fiddle with only three fingers.

Tickell_2004Today the Northumbrian smallpipes are the instrument of Kathryn Tickell, who was artistic director of the Folkworks programme at the Sage, Gateshead until 2013. She has carried on the tradition, extending the range and complexity of the instrument and its repertoire and adding the unique sound to recordings with Sting.

The relevance of English traditional music to understanding our past is clear. Much of the music came from industrial, agricultural, community and even military settings, each of which differs from region to region.

The music has been preserved by various avid collectors, the most prolific of whom was Cecil Sharpe, whose collections are kept by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) at Cecil Sharpe House in London. The society has been working to build a huge digital archive of tunes and songs which is available for free on their website, along with a resource bank of free online materials for teachers.

There are strong connections in the music and history with related traditions in the rest of the British Isles, Europe, America and even further afield. Understanding the music also gives a window into some of the most popular works of English classical composers. The composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger were also keen collectors. Vaughan-Williams’ compositions include many references to traditional tunes, including an English Folk-Song Suite, and Grainger, who made wax recordings of traditional singers, used their songs for choral settings. Frederick Delius used the same songs, having been inspired by Grainger’s arrangements.

If you would like to discover your regional culture and history, learn about English folk music, or explore the potential of using traditional music in composition, contact the Music Workshop Company about a bespoke workshop.


What to Look for in a Music Workshop Leader and other FAQs

Booking a music workshop can be tricky if you aren’t a music expert. Many of us have a vague feeling left over from our own schooldays that music “isn’t our thing,” or we can be confused by the range of options. We want to book a workshop that will deliver an educational, skill-building, fun experience; one which justifies its chunk of the budget and more; but it’s not always easy to feel confident what to expect.

Here at the Music Workshop Company (MWC), all our workshops are led by professional musicians who are experienced workshop leaders, and have the relevant DBS (formerly CRB) checks.Samba

We thought it would be helpful to share our ideas about what to look for in a workshop leader, based on the qualities we seek ourselves. We also wanted to answer a few simple questions about what to expect when booking a workshop with us.

MWC’s Maria explains, “The most important things I look for in a workshop leader are passion and the ability to communicate that to the participants. Most of our projects are just one day, so the workshop leader needs to go in and get all the participants excited about the music and encourage everyone to join in at whatever level they can.”

A really good workshop leader need to be a good musician, able to demonstrate the skills, knowledge and experience to undertake the tasks expected from the workshop participants. A good workshop leader is also a facilitator; someone who can take the talents and energy of any group and help them to build something special, whether through a composition project, a drumming circle or a ceilidh dance workshop. The workshop leader needs excellent communication skills and an ability to inspire. He or she will provide a strong creative input but also nurture and draw out creativity in others. This involves good listening skills and an ability to perceive and work with the strengths, weaknesses and needs of every participant, no matter how big the group. Ultimately, the role of the workshop leader is to encourage everyone participating in the workshop to reach his or her highest potential.

As well as offering experienced workshop leaders to guide you through your project, MWC workshops have several other helpful features. We give flexible choices of topic or subject matter, and we do our best to organise our planning sessions and timetabling around your calendar. We always offer the participants at our workshops the opportunity to perform at the end of the project, and you can photograph and record the workshops in both audio and video formats so you have a record of the experience.

Soham080105 drum kit_1We are often asked about the best way to timetable the day. In primary schools one of the challenges of timetabling is that we are usually based in school hall, which is also used for lunch, so we work around that. We can also organise the day’s schedule to fit around breaks and assemblies.  We run sessions of different lengths depending on what’s suitable for the participants, so shorter sessions for younger people and longer sessions for adults.

Another question we regularly get asked when we are planning a workshop for children or young people, is whether all the participants will be able to join in; whether they will each have an instrument to play. Yes; all of our workshops are fully interactive and every participant is encouraged to have an active role.

So now you know a little more about what to expect from MWC, here are a couple of simple things which we would ask you on booking a workshop to make things a little easier.

Please make sure the school office knows that the workshop leader is coming. It is tough to get off to a good start if your workshop leader is standing in reception looking lost when you want to be getting ready to start the workshop.

It’s also really great if you’ve booked a workshop where we are bringing instruments, if you can arrange for someone to help unload the instruments and get them to the workshop space.

And our workshop leaders are fantastic, experienced musicians, but they really appreciate knowing where they can find the loo and where they can relax and get a cup of tea in the break.

We hope this post has helped answer some of your questions about what to expect from one of our workshops. If you have any further questions or would like to book a workshop, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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