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A Year in Music Education

The Music Workshop Company has had a positive and exciting time in 2014. We’ve worked with participants we’d not met before, designed brand new workshops, revisited some of our previous clients and thoroughly enjoyed facilitating a whole bunch of creativity and music making.Family

Much of the recent emphasis on music and music education in the media falls on the lack of funding faced by professional musicians and music educators, and the failure to make space in the curriculum for this valuable educational area. MWC is passionate about music education, and determined to have a positive impact through music workshops.

In order to give a sense of exactly what the Music Workshop Company is about, we’ve put together a round-up of some of our 2014 highlights: Our year in music education.

We got off to a flying start in January with a Rock School Workshop at Thomas Deacon School where we’ve worked before, and our first visit to Clarendon Fan Court Preparatory School for a Composition “Rock ‘n’ Roll” workshop.

“I was really pleased with the way the workshop leader got the children working as an ensemble from the start. Even as a whole year group, it made them focus on working together for the rest of the day. The material and songs chosen to demonstrate the points the workshop leader was making was relevant to the children, and he made sure everyone was included and involved at every stage of the day. I would most definitely recommend The Music Workshop Company to colleagues.” Claremont Fan Court Prep, Esher, Surrey, January 2014

We also had the opportunity to work with Ealing Mencap Group.

“The musician (Sarah) was very organised, well prepared, and had a very pleasant manner which our young people with learning disabilities seemed to appreciate. She was able to engage some people who find this very difficult and ran the session to meet their varying needs. I was impressed with her.” Kathryn White, Ealing Mencap, January 2014

photo-15In February, we enjoyed meeting past, present and future clients at the Rhinegold Music Education Expo at the Barbican. You can read all about the Expo in our blog post. We’ll be there again in March 2015 and look forward to seeing you if you can make it.

Our projects for March included a Music Composition project based on “Differences” at Milton Court Primary School.

“The children were thoroughly engaged in the workshops …a fun day was had by all … overall a very enjoyable experience.” J Pearn, Milton Court Primary, Sittingbourne, March 2014

We also led our first Community Orchestra project with Yardarm Folk Orchestra & Sussex Orchestra.

“The experience was seamless from the start and the workshop itself was brilliant. The Music Workshop Company immediately understood our problems at our initial enquiry … booking the workshop was simple and everything ran like clockwork. The workshop identified and dealt with the main problems which are faced by the two orchestras that participated. The pace and style of presentation were very appropriate and they were delivered in a capable and confident manner which held everyone’s attention throughout. This is definitely the most valuable activity that our orchestra has done since its formation.” Malcolm (Yardarm) and Eileen (Sussex) Orchestras, Benfleet, Essex, March 2014

Also in March we had our first of two visits to one of our longest standing clients, Newstead Wood School, with a West African Drumming Workshop. African Drumming is one of our most popular workshops for both adults and children, and it brings a surprising number of benefits. Read about the impact of drumming on confidence and well-being in our blog post.

In April, we got involved in the ISM’s Protect Music Campaign, and had a brilliant time at Clarendon Ongoing Opportunities, a group we have been working with for several years.

“High levels of engagement and listening with a group involving some with severe learning disabilities, young people were given ownership and variety” Thomas Hillman, Clarendon Ongoing Opportunities, April 2014

In May we visited our good friends at the Harpenden Gateway Club. We have run workshops for the group since 2007!

Harpenden Gateway Mencap May 2014 025-300x225“Thank you so much for your wonderful music workshop at Gateway last week.   Our members thoroughly enjoy your visits, as indeed the turnout that evening showed!” Natalie Chaston, Harpenden Gateway, May 2014

We returned to Newstead Wood School in June for their annual Composition Workshop leading to a performance at their school concert. You can read about this project in more depth here.

We also had a fabulous time at Story Wood School with a Samba Workshop.

“Enjoyed the range of instruments and putting them together as a Samba band- it sounded great! Very positive and enjoyable!” Rachel Marsh, Story Wood School, June 2014

Then we had another amazing day with West Mercia Brownies. It was great to be invited back!

July was a busy month with school workshops, holiday club projects and a corporate project, including a fun day at the Oak Tree Centre in the Lightmoor Village Centre for the Bournville Village Trust working with participants from aged 3 to 13.

photo-14During the school holiday in August, we spent a hot, sunny day in Fairlands Valley Park, Stevenage taking part in a music day. We worked with participants of all ages in our family workshops.

And as the new school year began we worked with children and parents at Lostock Gralam Church of England School, to write a new school song, which you can listen to on our audio page.

“A very enjoyable experience for both adults and children in school. The finale where we shared the song was fantastic!” Lostock Gralam Church of England School, September 2014

We got more great feedback from one our October workshops:

“The children were introduced to new instruments and had the chance to play them…. All the children enjoyed the interactive style of the workshop.” Laura Burton, Moseley Church of England School, October 2014

And in the October half-term, we were lucky enough to spend a day at the Elgar Birthplace Museum working with families to create new pieces of music. It was a real privilege for the workshop leaders to work in the home of one of England’s greatest composers, and the workshop was brilliant fun. The pieces we created there are also available to listen to on our audio page.

“A big thank you for the lovely event you ran last week.” Lily Dean, Elgar Birthplace Museum, October 2014 

Body percussionIn November we visited Wyvil Primary School to celebrate their Latin American Day, and as the end of term approaches we have a whole host of workshops to look forward to, and plenty of creative ideas for next year.

Thank you to all our clients and participants for making 2014 a truly memorable year.

We are always open to receiving last-minute enquiries if we are available to run a workshop for you, and we are taking bookings for the New Year. Contact us to arrange your custom-built workshop today. We are looking forward to making music with you!

Junk Percussion: Recycling, Design and Music

Our junk percussion workshops create a space for learning all sorts of skills. Participants use every-day objects, many of which would otherwise end up in the rubbish or recycling bin, to build their own instruments, experiment with sound, compose music and prepare for a performance.

The workshop develops a range of activities across the curriculum. In inventing, building and playing the instruments, students explore aspects of music, design, science, geography and World cultures.

Junk percussion isn’t a new idea. Centuries ago, people made drums and other instruments from objects they found, including bones, wood and hard-shelled fruit called gourds. African slaves who weren’t allowed to play their own drums would make instruments in secret from shipping boxes and dresser drawers. Orchestral instruments have been made from rubbish recovered from landfill sites too. In Paraguay, The Orchestra of Instruments Recycled From Cateura, is a youth orchestra for deprived children with even violins and cellos made from scrap material.


Instruments can be made from almost anything, from ‘ready made’ drums such as plastic dustbins, pots and pans and plastic or metal buckets to plastic bottles, chopsticks, pencils, boxes and metal bottle tops.

Make Your Own Instruments

First, decide what kind of instrument you want to make. There are lots of different percussion instruments, some you hit, some you shake, others with rough surfaces that are played with a stick, some that ring or clash and some that are tuned. In fact, the piano is even classed as a percussion instrument because it works by a series of hammers, activated by the fingers on the keyboard, which strike strings inside the instrument.

Think about the way a drum works. It has a hollow body through which the sound vibrates, and some kind of skin that can be struck with the hands or with drum sticks. Any hollow object could form the basis of a drum – an ice cream box, a bucket, an old tin or anything you can think of. Similarly, the drum skin could be made from all sorts of materials; plastic sheeting, paper, fabric, balloons or cling film. The skin needs to be stretched across the top of the container and fixed firmly in place. You can try using pencils, sticks of wood or chopsticks as beaters. Different materials will produce very different sounds.

Likewise, a shaker can be made from any hollow container that can be sealed, and can contain all sorts of things to shake inside it. Dried beans perhaps don’t count as junk, because you could always eat them, but how about lost buttons, nutshells, bottle tops, coins or even pebbles cleared from your garden.

Different materials will have different qualities. Metal rings, cardboard thuds, harder substances will make clearer, louder sounds than soft materials. Plan your instrument with a sound in mind. For a deep sound, the instrument must be bigger, so a dustbin could make a great bass drum. Have a look at some pictures of orchestral percussion instruments to see the variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Can you imagine what each would sound like? If you can listen to some percussion music, that will help stir your imagination.

Once you’ve made and decorated your instruments, it’s time to learn some rhythms, compose your own pieces and practice playing together to build up to your performance. World music contains many rhythms that work together to create fantastic sounds. You can explore these using the instruments you have invented to make a truly unique piece of music.

If you would like to read more about the workshop contact the Music Workshop Company for a Junk Percussion Education Pack.

Music Workshops for Black History Month

A music workshop is the perfect way to approach the emotive and valuable subject of Black History Month, which is coming up in October.

Here at the Music Workshop Company (MWC) we have been busy creating some brand new workshops designed to explore the culture and history of the African people through the universal, recognisable medium of music.

The African Songs and South African Songs workshops will include newly sourced songs, many of which we have collected in the time honored oral tradition by sharing material between our workshop leaders, each of whom has a huge and unique musical repertoire. MWC’s Maria ThomasBooks 2a also particularly loves hunting through second hand bookshops for unusual music to add to the workshops.

As well as these brand new workshops, MWC provides a wide variety of African music workshops, all of which can be tailored to the students to ensure that they get the most relevant and enjoyable experience of the music and the culture in which it developed.

Our West African Drumming workshop teaches djembe drumming in a traditional West African Drumming circle. In North African Percussion, students learn about the instruments and rhythms from North Africa, such as the Darabuka drum and the Riq, which is a traditional Arabic tambourine. Afro-American Songs explores the melodies and lyrics of the African musical tradition as it has developed in the USA, in which we include songs sung on the cotton fields of the deep South, and the Blues workshop teaches students about the tradition of Blues music and gives them the chance to write their own songs.

It is important to find an approachable and informative way to help students explore Black History Month, as it can be a difficult subject. The origins of Black History Month go back to 1926 when black historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the son of two black slaves, began what he called “Negro History Week” in the USA. In 1926 the word “negro” was not thought to be an offensive word; it just means “black” in Spanish; but since the 1960s, it has fallen out of common use. Many people objected to the word because of its associations with the slave trade, and with terms of abuse.

Woodson’s goal was to educate Americans about the cultural backgrounds and achievements of people of African descent.  In 1969, the week’s celebration was expanded to a month and in 1976, Black History Month in February was endorsed by the US government. In the United Kingdom, Black History Month has been celebrated every October since 1987.Books 3a

Alongside the benefits of studying this pertinent history, learning about African and African-American music is a tremendous way for students to learn about the history of Classical, Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Soul and Rock and Roll music, and to see its influences on modern Pop music. MWC is also devising a workshop which will cover the influence of African music in the 20th Century, how the music has developed in the Twentieth Century and its relevance to the development of Classical and Pop music.

African music brought many familiar rhythmical and harmonic features to Western music, including call and response, improvisation, syncopation, percussion, blue notes and the complex multi-part harmony of the spiritual. The music and folk dance of England as far as the Medieval period was also strongly influenced by the music of particularly North Africa.

MWC is looking forward to October’s workshops and exploring all of this music and history with lots of young people.

African Drumming – Culture, Confidence and Communication

DrummingAfrican Drumming is one of our most popular workshops here at Music Workshop Company.  Workshops are based on traditional drumming circles creating a positive, inclusive space in which to explore the music and culture of Africa, boost self-confidence and develop key skills. Our workshops are suitable for everyone, from school children to big business. African drumming is a fantastic, fun, team building exercise and sessions can be structured specifically to develop communication and performance skills, or to focus on African culture, rhythms and music.

The cultural history…

The djembe drums, which we use in our African Drumming workshops, originate from West Africa, from countries such as Ghana and Guinea. They are goblet-shaped; carved from a single piece of hardwood and covered with a goat skin. Played with the hands, the djembe produces three distinct tones or notes and is valued for its versatile, expressive voice.  African Drums

Traditionally the djembe was used by storytellers and healers, as an instrument of reconciliation in disputes within the community and for dancing for social occasions such as births, marriages, rites of passage, funerals and even the planting and harvesting of crops, all of which ceremonies have their own songs, dances and rhythms.

According to the Bamana people of Mali, the djembe gets its name from the saying, “Anke dje, anke be,” which translates as, “Everyone gather together in peace.” Dje translates to gather, and be translates to peace.

Learning and playing the djembe is a direct link to the ancient cultural traditions of West Africa. It is also very beneficial in ways which may not be immediately obvious.

Drumming increases wellbeing…

Playing the djembe is known to increase heart rate and blood flow. Apart from the physical effort of hitting the drum and the sense of the vibrations pulsating through the body, there is a certain tempo at which the heart rate accelerates. This happens once the beat is faster than 120bpm (two beats per second). The increased heart rate means that blood flows around the body faster, giving you a great internal workout.  Slower rhythms create a calming effect and can help relieve stress.

Drumming is great for teamwork…

When people drum together, forming one unified sound, they form an energy greater than the sum of the individual players. Everybody’s contribution is important as the group works together towards a common goal. This can be useful in balancing a team or a class dynamic. Those less used to taking charge gain a sense of empowerment, and the more confident members or those in managerial roles learn to take a step back and see the value of everyone in the group.

Drumming teaches you to listen…

All of our workshops are taught by listening, in the same way music and storytelling have been passed on for centuries. There is no music reading. Learning any music in this way teaches you to listen in a much deeper way than we normally do, particularly within a group. If you observe yourself in conversation you may find you’re simply waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can say what you want to say, rather than really listening to them and responding to what they think. Drumming helps develop the ability to listen to more than one thing at once, and to listen to other people rather than focusing on your own sound.

Drumming builds confidence…

Trying something new where you are able to create music right from the start is deeply satisfying and great for self-esteem. Drumming uses the same parts of the brain which we use to compose speech. It is in itself an extrovert, joyous activity and can therefore be a liberating experience for anyone who is usually shy in a group situation. It can even help with skills such as public speaking. As the workshop progresses and you find yourself enjoying a new skill, confidence grows.

If you would like to enquire about booking one of our African Drumming Workshops please get in touch. We look forward to drumming with you soon.

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