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Finding the magic in classical music through storytelling

The Music Workshop chats to Matt Parry, creator of The Opus Pocus on how to get kids to discover the magic of classical music…

“What is out there to help kids discover classical music? Especially at the moment with dedicated performances, workshops and group lessons so frustratingly put on hold?  

Of course you can just play this music to children, but getting them to listen to an entire symphony, for example, can be a bit tricky given its length and complexity.  This was actually the driving motivation behind creating The Opus Pocus.

We have had Disney’s Fantasia (1940), Peter and the Wolf (1936), Carnival of the Animals (1886!), Fantasia 2000 (2000…obviously, but yes 20 years old now!) and not forgetting Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945) but to my mind there isn’t a modern, fun series dedicated to helping children discover the magic of classical music: a bit like how Horrible Histories has so brilliantly – and hilariously – introduced a generation of children to history.  (I should also mention BBC Ten Pieces – which is great – but I think falls more into the ‘education resource’ bracket rather than ‘fun series with a sneaky educational aim’ like Horrible Histories does.)

So that was why I created The Opus Pocus.  However there is one question we need to also address: do kids actually like classical music?  

We know that some kids do, having been introduced to this music through learning an instrument, going to concerts, listening at home and so on.  But all of them..?  Well here’s a bold claim: ALL KIDS DEFINITELY LOVE CLASSICAL MUSIC!  It’s even printed in bold so it must be true…

How do we know this?  Well it’s easy to demonstrate: just play them the main theme from Star Wars or Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings and you always get an excited and delighted response.  I’ve done this hundreds of times in primary schools and it never fails.  In fact I’ve never seen a child dislike these epic orchestral scores and brilliant tunes!

Okay but is this definitely classical music or just some poor imitation?  I’m sure there are some classical snobs out there who would argue that these film scores don’t qualify as real classical music for some reason, but I honestly can’t see why this is the case. The music of John Williams, Bernard Hermann, Ennio Morricone is as beautiful, powerful and deeply moving as a classic opera or ballet score (which is probably their nearest equivalent of the traditional classical music genres) and indeed unquestionably established classical composers such as Shostakovitch, Prokofiev and Korngold themselves wrote film scores (for The GadflyAlexander Nevsky and Robin Hood being my favourite respectively!).

So I think that’s settled!  Great film scores qualify as real classical music, and kids love them… so yes kids love classical music – phew!     

Next question: why do kids love the classical music they hear as part of film scores like Star Wars and Harry Potter etc?  Sure, the music is great in itself but I would suggest the key thing here is how it is presented: as part of a story.  Humans LOVE stories, whether it’s a bit of local gossip or the multi-billion dollar film industry, we humans can’t get enough of them: I would suggest because they are key to our evolution as a social animal, providing so much ‘useful information’ about how to survive and thrive, or indeed warnings of how to avoid the opposite of this!

So the connection this music has to a story that the child is captivated by – and the associated emotions they experience – I would suggest is why children are so captivated by the classical music score too.  It certainly helps too that the story is presented as images alongside the audio. 

And I think that’s an important thing to remember too when trying to introduce a child to classical music.  It’s not always easy to retain their attention with an entirely audio experience but something with images can really help, which I think is the genius of Disney’s Fantasia: there were only images with the classical music, no voices (pretty much), but it was a brilliant piece of storytelling and very successful in introducing a generation to classical music, as many adults will testify now.  So it’s worth exploring both audio and audiovisual stories to help children discover this music – don’t just give up if they’re not in the right mood for just listening to something!

But of course, depending on a child’s mood, just listening might be perfect: bedtime, long journeys or just some screen downtime spring to mind.  We all need a bit of eye-resting audio time: think podcasts with a nice cup of tea… Not that I’m advocating giving children tea, but yes I am definitely advocating helping them discover the magic of classical music!”

Matt Parry, Creator of The Opus Pocus  


The first release from The Opus Pocus is out now: 1001 Arabian Nights starring Brian Blessed & Rory Bremner:  www.TheOpusPocus.com



Additional images,

Jonas mohamadi and Mpumelelo Macu

The Power of Music in an Isolated World

In this unusual time, during which every one of us is facing a new set of personal challenges, people are finding many ways to cope and to thrive. This week, the Arts in the UK received an unprecedented package of Government support, underlining the importance of music in our lives. As if we didn’t already know it, scientists say that music is helping carry us through the crisis.

In a blog for the University of Oxford, Professor Eric Clarke, an expert in the psychology of music, discussed how music has been a big support for communities. Clarke explained: “It’s very striking that, from early on in this serious phase, people have felt moved or motivated make music. Music is a collective experience which can overcome physical distance, since one of the advantages of the auditory domain is that physical distance doesn’t necessarily impede social togetherness.”

A 2011 Harvard Medical School article explored the various benefits of music including how “a 2006 study of 60 adults with chronic pain found that music was able to reduce pain, depression, and disability. And a 2009 meta-analysis found that music-assisted relaxation can improve the quality of sleep in patients with sleep disorders.”

In 2017 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, issued the Inquiry Report “Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing”. Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of Arts Council England, said:

There is growing evidence that engagement in activities like dance, music, drama, painting and reading help ease our minds and heal our bodies. This timely report sets out a clear policy framework for the cultural sector to continue its impressive work in improving people’s health and wellbeing

The 2017 report highlights work across Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, led by Breathe Arts Health Research which brings music, dance and poetry into clinical spaces. This work has been found to reduce anxiety. The report also highlights that, “Children with additional needs are able to express themselves through music. The connection between music therapy and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been explored since the 1970s.”

Music, Children and Young People

Back in February 2017, our guest blogger, Dawn Rose discussed the various benefits of music participation for children.

But even just listening to music can help with anxiety or depression as well as helping you to study, as discussed here.

Music is an integral part of life for many young people. It can help them express themselves and helps develop bonds between friends. As this article from the TES states, “There is nothing like music and art for sparking creativity, tapping into emotions and helping young people understand and develop their own life while navigating that of others.”

Music Departments in Schools can also be a key safe space for pupils to meet – summed up in this video 

So what?

Understanding the value of music can get us through challenging times. Here are some ways you can engage with your family or pupils using music.

  • Share your favourite music. Discuss why you like the piece of music, perhaps share why it is special. When did you first hear it? Did you listen to it at particular point in your life? How does the music make you feel?
  • Create playlists of your favourite music to go along with other activities eg hand washing in school, long journeys, chores at home.
  • Listen out for music on tv, in films or in computer games – how does that music make you feel? How does the music reflect what is happening on screen?
  • Pick a song and write some new verses

Images:Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash, Lorenzo Spoleti on Unsplash Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The MWC Playlists – Listening Resources for You

Listening to music is beneficial for many reasons. It can be a relaxing pastime in itself, inspiring, soothing and uplifting, or it can be a focused learning activity that has many positive influences on social and academic development. The benefits of music have been widely reported for years, marketed by companies selling the concept that a baby who listens to Mozart will grow up to be more intelligent. There’s some truth in behind this belief: Research indicates that music lessons change the course of brain development and are likely to influence children’s success in other, non-musical tasks (read our guest blog from Dawn Rose to find out more).

Last term MWC launched our new Spotify playlists. We will be adding more throughout the year but wanted to introduce you to some of the new listening resources that we have recently shared and offer you the chance to contribute ideas and requests.

As discussed in our blog, A Focus on Listening, there is still debate as to whether young people should be exposed to full symphonies, suites or operas.

But for our playlists we have put together a series of short pieces or movements of larger works to create selections of music on specific themes, or to showcase the work of particular composers and artists.

The idea behind all of our MWC resources is to make teachers’ lives easier. While some music teachers’ knowledge is encyclopaedic, covering a range of genres and styles, others come to take on responsibility for music in a school based purely on enthusiasm or having learnt an instrument when they were younger.

All of MWC’s free resources aim to support novices and experts alike. Check out our free online resources on our website to see the full range.

Our playlists have been developed to help in a range of ways. Perhaps some of these suggestions might inspire you:

  1. Play music as students enter and leave assembly or another school gatherings. This gives them something to focus on, discourages talking and can be used as a starting point for assembly topics or classroom activities
  2. Use music listening as a starting point for a number of subjects, particularly for Early Years and Primary children, for example:
  • Maths – counting beats in a bar
  • Literacy – using music as the inspiration for writing a story,
  • Nature – exploring how composers have characterised animals, birds and weather through music
  • Geography – listen to music from around the world
  • History – make a timeline of music influenced by historic events, or compare how music styles fit with historic culture, fashion and politics
  • Science – looking at the phenomena of sound and acoustics
  • Social skills – discovering how making a simple piece of music together requires teamwork and empathy
  1. Playlists can also be useful when the children arrive or leave for the school day. The MWC team are great believers in “send them out singing!”

The Playlists

Our most recent listening selection is based on the seasons of the year, a topic that has inspired composers for centuries. One of the most famous depictions of the changing weathers is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons written in the 1720s. Vivaldi’s work is a series of four violin concerti, representing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, each of which is preceded by a sonnet describing the piece. This is thought to be one of the first examples of “programme music” – music that has a narrative.

The playlist takes us through the year, beginning with the popular Largo from Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The sonnet preceding the movement is:

Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento.

Our favourite translation of this is:

To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.

We move on to Spring as portrayed by Leroy Anderson, Delius, Coates, Vivaldi and Piazzolla.

Summer is represented by works by Gershwin, Coates and Autumn by Delius and Grieg.

The Seasons Playlist – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6FStRJ6u06zfSCbI3dsiAG

In anticipation of our forthcoming February blog about Welsh music, we have put together a playlist of traditional Welsh songs to help you celebrate St David’s Day on 1st March. Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!

Welsh Traditional Songs – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6kH5uBKNh84AsmLGqHPdLI

Our March blog will celebrate Debussy, commemorating 100 years since his death. We’ve put together two Debussy playlists, one showcasing his orchestral music, and the other featuring his piano music. Debussy is one of the composers most associated with Impressionist music and his work has been extremely influential.

Debussy Orchestral Music – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6nLvshf8FJpAXYvlKXRlHz

Debussy Piano Music – https://open.spotify.com/user/mariamwc/playlist/6URpyG6ZqZLmI8fMQwFR8P

Check out these and other playlists on our website

If you would like a playlist on a particular theme or genre, email your request to Maria at music-workshop.co.uk…

 

 

65 Years of Pop Music Charts

This month marks the 65th Anniversary of the UK music charts. As teenagers, many of us would anxiously await the chart radio shows, hovering over the cassette recorder to capture our favourite songs. Today, the charts give a fascinating insight into the changes in the Music Industry since 1952, both in terms of musical styles and tastes, and in the way music is ‘consumed’.

The move from records -45s and albums- to cassette tapes and CDs through to downloads and streaming have impacted the way the charts are calculated. Over its history the UK Official Charts have developed and adapted to changing music demands. In fact, interest in the history of music production has brought many music fans full circle, with LPs and cassettes seeing a resurgence in popularity – a backlash against the culture of obsolescence and ‘mainstream’.

The ‘top of the pops’ charts all began with Percy Dickins, the publisher of the New Music Express (NME). Dickins wanted to find a way to persuade people to advertise in his magazine. He telephoned his contacts in music retail to find out what was the best selling record. The result of his basic survey was that Here In My Heart by Al Martino was the first No.1. Dickins’ first chart was published as a Top 12, even though it comprises 15 singles, because there were ties at Number 7, Number 8 and Number 11.

In 1954 the standard singles chart was extended to the Top Twenty with NME introducing a Top Thirty in April 1956. In response, Record Mirror launched the UK’s first Albums Chart with a Top 5 from on July 28 that year. The first Number 1 Album was Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers.

1955 – Billy Haley & His Comets’ Rock Around the Clock becomes a hit for the first time, it enters the Top Twenty on five separate occasions – twice in 1955, plus in 1956, 1968 and 1974.

In 1957, the charts moved from print to broadcast as the BBC’s Light Programme host Alan Freeman started commenting on the Top Ten Charts published by the various music papers, Melody Maker, NME, Disc and Record Mirror. The following year an averaged Top Ten was introduced.

1957 – Elvis Presley scores his first Number 1 single with All Shook Up. He later sets the record for the most Number 1 singles – 22.

In 1960 the battle for pre-eminence for charts across the music print media was concluded with the UK trade magazine Record Retailer’s singles and album charts being recognised as the “official” charts. The Top Fifty singles and Top Twenty Albums were compiled by Record Retailer from a panel of 30 shops. In 1963, an independent auditor was brought in to compile the charts.

1963 – She Loves You becomes The Beatles’ first million-seller. To date, The Beatles have six titles in the all-time UK Million Sellers list- (She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, I Feel Fine, We Can Work It Out/Daytripper and Hey Jude.

In 1969 the BBC and Record Retailer commissioned the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) to compile the UK charts on their behalf. These were the first industry-wide recognised charts, and were called the UK’s “official” charts for the first time. The charts were initially created from a panel of 250 record shops. The shops logged their sales by hand and submitted their totals by post. Over the years, the panel grew to 750 stores, with 250 used every week for the Tuesday singles chart and 450 for the Wednesday albums chart.

While the singles chart continued as a Top 50 rundown, the length of the albums moved a number of times, varying in length from 15 to 77, before stabilising as a Top 50 in January 1971. The lengths changed again in 1978, with the Official Singles Chart is extended from Top 50 to Top 75 in May and the Official Album Charts increasing from Top 60 to Top 75 in December.

1978 – Paul McCartney & Wings’ single Mull Of Kintyre became the first single to pass 2 million singles sales in the UK. It remains one of only four singles to sell 2 million copies – the others are Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas and Elton John’s Candle In The Wind ’97.

In 1983 Gallup took over the compilation of the Official Singles Chart and Official Albums Chart. This change led to the end of hand-written diaries, motorcycle courier collection and manually-checked charts, implementing a new computerised system which involved collection of data via telephone and digital monitoring of sales to minimise hyping. The new system introduced Top 200 singles and albums charts every week (only the Top 100 is available publically at that point via Music Week). Cassette sales were also incorporated into the albums charts, while separate cassette albums and 12-inch singles charts were produced.

1984 – Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas sets new sales records, selling 600,000 in its first week, another 810,000 in its second week and becoming the first single to Top 3 million sales. 1991 – Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You has 16 consecutive weeks at Number 1, breaking the 1955 record set by Slim Whitman’s 11-week chart-topper Rose Marie. Everything I do is also the biggest selling cassette single of all time.

Major changes in how people accessed music led to changes in 2004 with the launch of the UK’s Official Download Chart following the launch of iTunes 3 months previously. In July 2005 downloads are counted toward the Official Singles Chart for the first time, initially only the week before the physical release is available. The Charts further adapt to the digital revolution in 2007 in January, when the chart rules were changed to fully embrace downloads, which meant artists could chart for the first time without requiring a physical release. In 2008 MTV began broadcasting the Official Singles Chart every week for the first time, as part of a new partnership that made it the TV home of the Official Charts. The Official UK Top 40 is broadcast several times a week, following a first broadcast on Monday afternoon.

2002 – Following success on TV’s Pop Idol, Will Young’s Anything Is Possible/Evergreen scores the biggest first day (403,000 copies) and first week (1.1m copies) sales for a non-charity record.

Changes to charts again took place in 2012, when in May, the UK’s first Official Streaming Chart was launched. This reflected the change to music consumption from owning music to accessing music and included from services including Spotify, Napster and We7. Further changes were made the following year when streaming was added to the Singles Chart. This was calculated as 100 streams being equal to 1 single/download sale. Contributors to this data included Spotify, Deezer, Napster, O2 Tracks and many others. In 2015, streamed albums were counted towards the Official Album Charts.

2013 – Daft Punk’s Get Lucky sells a million copies in just 69 days, and the first track to be streamed one million times in a single week.


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