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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

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

Aiming High with the Opera North Orchestra Academy

Acclaimed for the high quality of its operatic performances, Opera North also boasts one of the country’s finest orchestras. The Orchestra of Opera North plays at each of the Company’s operas and regularly performs at concerts in the region. An important, and enjoyable, additional strand of its work however, is ensuring that the next generation of young musicians are given valuable support, guidance and inspiration as they build on their playing expertise.

This month, the team at Opera North share their vision with MWC…

Opera North Orchestra Academy is the latest in a series of Opera North Education initiatives. It is an orchestral training programme for outstanding instrumentalists aged 14-19 years and studying at Grade 7 or above. During a week-long residential course in Leeds, which will take place between Tuesday 28 August and Saturday 1 September 2018, participants will be encouraged to take their playing and performance skills to the next level, whilst also getting the chance to meet like-minded young people and forge some life-long friendships along the way.

Throughout the week, the Academy musicians will rehearse exciting orchestral repertoire alongside the full Orchestra of Opera North and benefit from sectional coaching with the orchestra’s players in a bid to develop excellence in ensemble skills and orchestral performance. Guided by the players from the Orchestra of Opera North, the Academy musicians will also be given the opportunity to rehearse and perform chamber music, enhancing their overall music-making experience.

This video gives some idea of the community-centric focus held by Opera North. Here, the musicians of the orchestra create a surprise performance for shoppers in Leeds…

The Academy residential will culminate in a public concert under the baton of an internationally-renowned conductor, giving the Academy players a glimpse into what it takes to stage a professional orchestral performance and the excitement of the event itself. Subsequently, the participants will be invited to take part in ‘keeping in touch’ weekends during the October and February half terms and to join collaborative projects as part of the Opera North Youth Company.

Opera North’s Education Director, Jacqui Cameron, explains the idea behind the project:

The Orchestra Academy Summer Residency week aims to give everyone who takes part a valuable insight into working and rehearsing with a professional orchestra in an exciting and supportive environment. We decided to make entry by audition only to ensure that all participants are at the best stage in their playing to take advantage of this opportunity and for us to tailor the learning precisely to their needs.

It’s perfect for those who are already members of their local youth orchestra, as well as for students looking for an immersive musical experience during the summer. We hope that, having been given this glimpse of what it could be like, it will encourage many talented young players to consider pursuing a career in music with all the rewards that can bring.

The Company is well aware that some young people can be deterred by the idea of an audition so the process will be made as fun and friendly as possible to try and keep nerves to a minimum. The audition day will be split into two parts with an informal workshop in the morning where the young musicians will play some orchestral excerpts and learn about ensemble playing, followed by an opportunity to impress in the afternoon. The latter will be with the same players from the Orchestra of Opera North who have worked with the young people in the morning, so the auditionees will be playing their prepared solos in front of a friendly face. Whether successful or not, everyone will benefit from feedback on their playing and will hopefully leave the audition day having found it a positive learning experience.

The Orchestra Academy joins Opera North’s acclaimed portfolio of youth ensembles for both young instrumentalists and singers of all ages and abilities, including Opera North Junior Strings, Opera North Children’s Chorus, Opera North Young Voices and Opera North Youth Chorus. The Company also runs an open-access Orchestra Camp in the summer for which there is no need to audition.

More information and applications (by Monday 9 April) for the Opera North Orchestra Academy can be made at https://www.operanorth.co.uk/opera-north-orchestra-academy. Auditions will be held in Leeds on Saturday 21 April.”

 

 

 


If you would like to speak to the Music Workshop Company about booking a tailor-made workshop, or would like to contribute your project to our guest blog, contact us to find out more:

Claudio Monteverdi: 450 Years of Inspiration

May 15th 2017 marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi.

Born in 1567, in Cremona, Italy, Monteverdi was famous during his lifetime as a musician and composer, and his works are still regularly performed today.

Cremona is a city with a vast musical heritage. It was home to lute makers, later becoming renowned as a centre for musical instrument making, and home to the Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari violin making families. The historic feudal system – the myriad noble families ruling Italy at the time – laid the way for music to develop, supported and funded by the court, offering employment and opportunity for musicians.

Monteverdi thrived in this musical hotbed, exploring and developing music far beyond his contemporaries. He is nowadays considered to provide a transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods – and his compositions influenced 20th century composers such as Stravinsky.

One of the main differences between Renaissance and Baroque music is the move from counterpoint to melody with accompaniment. Much Renaissance music was based on imitation and variations, with ground bass or ostinato, where a tonal structure and multi-movement forms emerged in Baroque music – functional harmony based on a central tonic with a strong harmonic flow and tonal sequences such as the circle of fifths.

Many of these ideas were introduced and popularised in the work of Monteverdi.

Monteverdi began his musical studies at the Cathedral in Cremona, producing his first published works – a collection of sacred songs – at the age of 15. After his studies were complete, he was employed as a court musician for the Duke of Mantua, where he initially worked as a singer and viol player before a promotion to music director.

It can be difficult to see historic figures in a human light, but Monteverdi’s life was full of drama; a nice parallel with the plays of Shakespeare, which were written and premiered during his lifetime over in England.

He tragically lost his wife and his baby daughter, he was robbed at gunpoint by a highwayman, on the death of his employer, the Duke of Mantua, he was fired by the Duke’s successor who could not afford to keep him on, leaving the composer with virtually no money, and he was ambitious, planning to show his music to the Pope. By his mid-40s, he was the most celebrated composer in Italy.

His work L’Orfeo is the earliest surviving opera still regularly performed today.

The beginning of opera as a genre is unclear. The concept was born partly by Florentine intellectuals who were fascinated by the dramas of ancient Greece. But the idea was probably gestating long before 1600. Admiration for antiquity was a strong trend in Renaissance Italy, but the recreation of Greek tragedies was not the sole intent of opera composers.

There was a strong interest in the bucolic, pastoral story – nymphs and gods were featured rather than kings and queens. Instrumental music was increasingly integrated into dramatic performances and madrigals were used as interludes in more serious theatrical court productions. Legends such as that of Orpheus were incredibly popular, and composers found affinity with the divine musical gifts displayed by Orpheus.

Monteverdi took these ideas and created something new: The debut of L’Orfeo defied all previous musical convention. He placed words and emotions right at the forefront, subduing the traditional Renaissance polyphony (two or more lines of simultaneous independent melody) to emphasise one prominent melody line. He exploited dynamics and unprepared dissonance in order to convey human emotion, responding sensitively to the text. He was the first to create opera out of ‘real’ characters – living, breathing, emotional beings.

L’Orfeo was premiered at the Ducal Palace in Mantua – indications are of a small space, a narrow stage and an audience of only men. All of the performers were male, with castrati playing the female roles. The performance was successful enough that a repeat was demanded for all the ladies of the city to attend!

Part of the uniqueness of the score lies in Monteverdi’s fragmentary markings and instructions. As was common for that period, Monteverdi encouraged instrumental ornamentation and embellishment, presenting his score as what today might be considered skeletal. This gives every performance of L’Orfeo its own distinct sound and identity.

Tom Ford – Limelight Magazine

Fragment of score for Poppea

The score also points to a composer in full command of his craft. It may be sparse, but it is not simple. Instrumentation was cleverly designed to characterise, and in some places, Monteverdi instructs what is to be played, not how: “Sung to the sound of five violins, three chitarrone, two harpsichords, a double harp, a double-bass viol and a sopranino recorder,” with only the vocal line and bass notated. This produces exciting challenges for modern performers.

Monteverdi’s second opera, L’Arianna, was completed a year after the tragic death of his wife. Sadly, like large swathes of Monteverdi’s work, this opera has been lost, save for Arianna’s Lament, which was so popular it was published separately several times.

In 1612, Monteverdi took a position as musical direct at the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice. During his latter years, when he was ordained as a Catholic priest, he composed much sacred music and music for civic occasions. Despite being ill much of the time, he also wrote two more operas, including L’incoronazione di Poppea, considered by many to be his finest work. Poppea contains romance, tragedy, and comedy – a new development in opera. The opera foreshadows those of Mozart, its complexity describing the triumph of evil over good through beautiful music.

Monteverdi died at the age of 76 in Venice in 1643. His legacy of works fall into three categories: Madrigals, opera and sacred music. Over 50 of his letters survive, giving a wonderful view of Italy and of the 17th century.

Experience the Music of Monteverdi:

Monteverdi at the V&A

Monteverdi’s Vespers at the BBC Proms

Monteverdi’s Vespers at St. James’ Piccadilly

Monteverdi 450, Colton Hall, Bristol

Come and Sing

Find events in your area…

Celebrate Monteverdi in Cremona!


Contact the Music Workshop Company today!

OperaScotland, the Listings and Archive Website

Has the name of a singer, heard in a particular opera, ever escaped you? Or are you interested in the history of an opera or singer? If the answer is “Yes,” the growing number of online databases can help. MWC caught up with Peter Fraser, one of three founders of OperaScotland, to find out more…

Launched in 2009, OperaScotland is led by three brothers who had no idea that what to them seemed such an obvious need – developing an archive of the live performing arts – had also been addressed elsewhere. For example, AusStage offers a fantastic resource for Australians: elsewhere such activity tends to focus on work within an individual venue or city.

For OperaScotland, the supporting archive mainly consists of large numbers of programmes collected over a lifetime of opera-going by three Scottish brothers, Peter, Iain and Stephen Fraser. Other programmes were inherited from their parents or came as generous gifts from opera fans. It has been primarily from these programmes that casts are copy-typed into the website.

Full casts are also drawn from programmes held in public libraries and more limited performer derails obtained from newspaper reviews and playbills. While initially it had been thought there was not much surviving material in archives, more and more has been found. Amateurs and outsiders fail to appreciate how little ephemera has been put listed or catalogued.

Researching as we are doing, our personal highlights are many. Additional light has been thrown on:

  • Giuseppe de Begnis, famous Italian bass. Opinion was divided as to the merits of his singing, perhaps less impressive than his acting and stage presence. But having sung for Rossini, in 1827-8 he brought a company of Italian singers north to Scotland during their tour of Great Britain. Performances at Edinburgh’s Theatre Royal included the first offerings in Scotland of Rossini’s Turco in Italia, Cenerentola and La gazza ladra.
  • Denhof Company for their outrageous but pioneering success in presenting Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung in Scotland and the provinces for the first time during their short period of existence 1910-13. Casts have been uploaded from programmes, a prospectus and some playbills found in a range of libraries including those in Manchester and Liverpool.
  • The work of George Wood, music seller and concert promoter, who put on three seasons of Italian opera in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the 1850s. He built up the business to be the largest in Scotland before moving to London to try his hand at promotion there.
  • The touring company Carl Rosa gave the UK premiere of Puccini’s La Boheme in Manchester, before moving on to Glasgow then Edinburgh. Scottish audiences therefore heard it before London ones.
  • Erik Chisholm’s work with Glasgow Grand Opera – finding that a programme for the historic 1935 Trojans survived uncatalogued in a library, enabling us to establish the cast.

We promote the archive on line and through face to face networking as well as through new media such as Facebook and Twitter. We have been surprised to find that noticeably more traffic comes from outside Scotland though average time on site is higher for the native visitor.

Aims for the future include building traffic, speaking to societies and clubs, and developing some small scale touring exhibitions. People worldwide use the site to seek information about their performing relatives. Other users are journalists, librarians, researchers and writers working on a wide range of projects and dissertations. Check it out here at OperaScotland.

Subscribe to our newsletter or donate to support our work.

If you are interested in opera, read our blog post Inspiring with Opera.

Contact the Music Workshop Company today

The Scare Factor: Musical Inspiration for Halloween

Music can play on the emotions very strongly; a phenomenon explored throughout music history but more recently and notably manipulated by composers of film and TV soundtracks.

halloween_vintage_05One of the strongest reactions to sounds can be fear. In the run up to Halloween we take a look at some scary music. What inspired the composers and why do these sounds frighten us?

A 2012 article in Time Magazine describes the result of a scientific study to determine why some sounds create a fearful reaction. The research was carried out by Daniel Blumstein, chair of the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA and an expert in animal distress calls, in collaboration with the film composer Peter Kaye.

Blumstein wanted to explore the link between sounds classified as non-linear chaotic noise (animal screams, babies cries and dissonant chords) and the way scary music plays on the ingrained biological reaction that it these sounds provoke. He discovered that horror movie scores frequently used these non-linear noises. The sound tracks for The Exorcist and The Shining, two of the most terrifying classic films ever made, even use recordings of animal screams.

But composers were making use of scary noises long before film existed.

In his opera Don Giovanni, Mozart creates a terrifying scene as his lead character is dragged into Hell.

Earlier in the same opera, the arrival of the ghost of the Commendatory is accompanied by scary chords with silence in between, which heighten the drama of a father back for revenge.

Saint Saëns’ 1874 work Danse Macabre depicts a tale of Halloween horror. According to legend, Death appears at midnight every Halloween. He calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. The skeletons dance for him until the cock crows at dawn when they return to their graves for another year. Saint Saëns illustrates the story with music, using the solo violin to represent death’s fiddle. The work opens with a single note on the harp, repeated twelve times to represent the twelve strokes of midnight. The solo violin enters playing a tritone. During baroque and medieval times, this interval was known as the diabolus in musica – the devil in music. The xylophone is used to represent the bones of the dancing skeletons, imitating the sound of rattling bones.

This short film from Walt Disney’s Symphony is another great example of percussion being used to illustrate dancing skeletons:

Hector Berlioz’s Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath from his 1830 work Symphonie Fantastique is another piece that illustrates a scary story. In his programme notes, Berlioz wrote of his character:

He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the sabbath … Roar of delight at her arrival … She joins the diabolical orgy … The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies irae, the dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies irae.

This excerpt from Hermann’s Pyscho Suite begins with suspenseful dissonant chords not dissimilar from the energetic dance of Berlioz’s Witches’ Sabbath. It employs heavy use of the semitone figure which also gives the feeling of terror in Jaws. The screaming violins replicate those animal cries that play on our primal instincts, creating a sense of fear and discomfort.

The opening music for the classic horror film, The Shining uses the Dies Irae from Berlioz’s Witches’ Sabbath, overdubbed with eerie sound effects. This is really creepy.

Nightmare on Elm Street composer Charles Bernstein also used dissonance and sound effects to create a really suspense-filled, scary soundtrack. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a move away from traditional orchestral scoring, and apart from a few vocal elements, performed by the composer himself and heavily distorted, this film score is entirely electronic.

This clip of the opening to Tim Burton’s Nightmare before Christmas is interesting in that is includes the music for Disney at the beginning. This is in a major key with no dissonance, with lots of sweet, shimmery sounds and upward scales. It makes the listener feel optimistic and happy, where the music for the song This is Halloween reverts to the scary minor key with lots of low notes and sound effects. This music is not as scary as the soundtracks for The Shining and Psycho – it maintains a light-hearted look at Halloween which works well with the story.

The idea of dead people dancing was used to great effect by Michael Jackson in his famous song Thriller. Scary orchestral effects are used as Jackson turns into a zombie and begins the eerie dance. Otherwise the music is not suspenseful – it does not create a feeling of fear. The main aspect in this is the dance, in which Jackson was a pioneer.

Whereas the Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers was just a bit of pure Halloween silliness. This song is narrated by a mad scientist whose monster, late one evening, rises from a slab to perform a new dance. The dance becomes a huge hit when the scientist throws a party for other monsters.

The song features some inspired low-budget sound effects. The sound of a coffin opening was imitated by a rusty nail being pulled out of a board, the bubbling cauldron is actually water being bubbled through a straw, and the rattling chains were simply chains being dropped on a tile floor.

 

 

Inspiring With Opera

Last month we looked at the relevance of classical music in education, following violinist, Nicola Benedetti’s comments about the value of introducing young people to subjects that they may at first find difficult. This month we look at the world of opera – a sticking point even for some music lovers.

Maria_Thomas-300x247Maria Thomas, Founder and Artistic director of the Music Workshop Company, is passionate about opera but is also aware that it has a particular reputation within the classical genre for being inaccessible. She tells us about her recent experiences as an opera lover, discusses the role of opera within the Arts and asks whether opera companies are heading in the right direction to encourage new, young fans…

My first experience of professional opera was at the age of four – Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. By the age of 10 I was a regular opera goer. I suppose it was inevitable that I would love or hate opera following that early exposure.

Opera is something that some people find challenging. I’ve heard people say that they don’t like it when they’ve never experienced a live performance. The most common barrier in this respect is the perception of high prices, but many opera tickets are cheaper than those for football matches or musical theatre shows.

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There’s also the worry about ‘opera etiquette.’ What should you wear, when should you clap; things that can cause stress to what should be an enjoyable experience. Opera companies have addressed these concerns in various ways.

The Royal Opera House website has helpful advice on what to expect when attending a performance, Seattle Opera has a great first timers’ guide covering questions about dress code and what happens on stage, and the Welsh National Opera encourage new audience members with their New to Opera page.

Театр_оперы_и_балета._ЗалThere’s also this guide from the Telegraph, so there’s plenty of encouraging information out there.

I really feel many people would be more open minded about opera if they had enjoyed an opera performance when they were young.

Most opera companies have school matinees which give young people a chance to experience live opera, often supplying support materials for teachers and offering in school projects such as Opera Holland Park’s Inspire Project, Opera North’s Education and Engagement projects, and Scottish Opera’s schools touring programme.

Is opera relevant today or is it an outdated form of entertainment?

One of the challenges for performers and producers is how to set the opera. Should the production be staged in a traditional setting as stated by the composer and librettist, or should it be updated? Some operas have worked extremely well in modern settings, for example Jonathan Miller’s production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti at the Royal Opera House incorporated strong use of modern staging and props, including mobile phones, but not all updates are so successful.

In working to appeal to a modern audience, and to challenge ideas outside of music, some productions are perhaps moving even further away from increased inclusivity.

The Royal Opera House’s current production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (William Tell) by Damiano Michieletto, is one of the biggest stories in opera at the moment, and brings this question of relevance strongly to the forefront. The production sets the story in war-torn Bosnia. The aim is to bring home the horrors of war, moving away from the traditional storybook image of William Tell, whilst still representing this aspect of the character. However, there’s a feeling that the production goes too far.

I was in the audience on the first night of the show. The singers and orchestra were outstanding, but I found myself not enjoying the production. The sense of dismay became real during a rewrite of the traditional ballet scene in the third act. The scene was interpreted with a graphic, violent scene, which was very distressing to watch. No warning was given of the graphic scene (an issue which has now been rectified by the ROH). Many in the audience reacted with loud booing, which was repeated when the production team took their curtain calls at the end.

It has been reported that this is the first time anyone can remember such a strong response from the audience at the Royal Opera House, certainly during a performance.

The response in the press and on social media about this production has raised questions in the opera world.

Should opera be used to raise social issues or challenge audience perceptions?

Opera, unlike live theatre, film and video games, is not subject to age classification. In encouraging young audiences, should all productions be suitable for all ages?

Some operas are clearly not appropriate for young people. For example, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Weil’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny both tackle graphic topics which are not suitable for children. But William Tell is often told as a children’s story, much like Robin Hood. Although the story is about the challenges of war, the heroic personal story of William Tell is usually a bigger feature both in storybooks and at the opera.

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It is clearly an important role of the Arts to challenge social issues, but it should not be gratuitous or self-indulgent. Often a powerful message can be felt by more subtle means. I feel that by performing explicit productions, opera companies (the current English National Opera performance of Carmen includes nudity) are creating a further barrier for future audiences. Most people have their first and most formative classical music, theatre or opera experiences at a young age – being taken to see a production by friends, family or school. If productions are not suitable for young people, families feel discouraged from attending? As opera is becoming more available through the big screen and cinema showings, producers must consider their audience. Not every production should be a children’s show, but difficult topics can be dealt with sensitively.

During my time working at the Royal Opera House, one of my most vivid memories was being back stage as the cast of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman took a curtain call at the end of the schools matinee. The clapping and cheering of the audience was phenomenal, showing that young people can really enjoy opera. I feel very strongly that they should be given the chance to make up their own minds as to whether this is an Art form for them.

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If you would like to know more about introducing young people to opera or are interested in an opera workshop for your school or business, send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

A Focus on Listening

In a recent interview by The Scotsman, world-renowned violinist, Nicola Benedetti, passionately criticised the suggestion that children should not be exposed to classical music.

580px-Nicky_BenedettiBenedetti is a great advocate of music education. In 2010, she became Sistema Scotland’s official musical ‘Big Sister’ for the Big Noise project, as well as creating The Benedetti Sessions, giving hundreds of aspiring young string players the opportunity to rehearse, undertake and observe masterclasses, culminating in a performance with the violinist.

She is an also an ambassador for the BBC 10 Pieces project, an initiative for schools led by BBC Learning and the BBC Performing Groups, focusing on classical music and creativity. The project centres on 20 pieces; 10 for primary and 10 for secondary school ages; covering the spectrum of western classical music from the Baroque period to contemporary works, with a heavy weighting towards 20th Century music.

Benedetti argued that since, if children were given the option either to play a video game or study mathematics, the majority would choose the video game, deciding against teaching them to listen to classical symphonies because they don’t seem interested or it is considered difficult is a nonsense. MWC’s Maria Thomas explains why this is a subject close to her own heart.

Should we be encouraging young people to listen to whole symphonies or even whole operas? Interestingly, neither the primary nor the secondary 10 Pieces include a full symphony, concerto or other complete large-scale work. Individual movements are included, but not full works. Perhaps the chosen pieces are meant as an introduction to classical music, allowing listeners to explore the rest of the works themselves, or maybe, as the proposed lesson plans suggest, the individual movements are designed as a starting point for inspiration for creativity, I don’t know.

Learning to concentrate on listening to a whole symphony or opera is not an easy task, particularly when the work is new to you. I often enjoy listening to works I have studied more than those that I am discovering for the first time. I am more familiar with the themes, the structure, the instrumentation and how the material is developed.

HHCMF14s-37I was lucky enough to have been brought up as a regular concert and opera-goer, being encouraged to learn about the pieces before attending performances and having the chance to listen to recordings before hearing the live performance. Even so, when I hear a new piece, I can imagine how daunting or incomprehensible the idea of listening to a symphony must be, particularly for someone who has not had that opportunity. With no one to make recommendations of what to listen to or explain things about the music such as what to listen out for and the context that the composer was working in, where do you start?

So maybe the single movement decision by the BBC makes sense. Research suggests that with increasing access to new technology, young people are not able to concentrate for long periods, and the popularity of the single movement performance has been popularised by the huge success of Classic FM. However, when I worked at the Royal Opera House one of my favourite memories is of hearing the rapturous applause and cheering following a schools performance of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

I believe it comes down to what we feel is important. Getting the young to listen to any classical music will open their ears to music, art and experiences that are new to them, and will develop other skills such as listening, analytical thinking and concentration.

Research has shown that listening to music can help the brain, but that research also highlighted that familiarity with the music was important.

Another question worth considering is where the responsibility should lie in getting young people to listen to classical music. Should it be done in the home, at school or both?

For parents who have not experience of classical music, the idea of introducing their children to a symphony orchestra concert or recital is completely alien. Trying to research music can be challenging; programme notes, both online and in concert programmes can vary from excellent to incomprehensible, or be aimed at the very knowledgeable.

In schools it is increasingly difficult to introduce classical music into the classroom. Many primary schools do not have music specialists and both primary and secondary schools have music specialists who do not have a Classical music background. It was widely researched as long ago as 1997 that many primary school teachers feel negatively towards introducing classical music in their teaching as they lack confidence in their own knowledge of the subject.

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I don’t have the answers. I’m just glad that the BBC 10 Pieces is making access to Classical Music easier for young people, and that other fantastic outreach projects by organisations such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Warwick University and the Sage are reaching out to their local communities and offering them the chance to explore Classical Music both with families and schools.

It was wonderful to share this enthusiasm for introducing young people to Classical Music and the wider arts at the brilliant Ahead For Culture conference, run by the ROHBridge Project, on 12th June at the Royal Opera House. The morning was hosted by Kirsty Wark who shared her early experiences of the Arts, and featured many inspiring speakers. Sir Anthony Seldon stressed the importance of introducing young people to the Arts in ways that help them to understand and engage with their experiences, Nii Sackey highlighted the fact that young people have their own answers about how they want to engage with the Arts, and Susan Coles gave a motivational call to action encouraging us all to push for the Arts to continue to be a key part of every young person’s education.

The afternoon sessions of workshops got everyone talking and sharing their experiences, before a fabulous performance by Next Generation Youth Theatre. The day was rounded off with an emotional reminder from Camila Batmanghelidhj CBE, founder of Kids Company, (who MWC are proud to work with) of some of the challenges today’s young people bring to their Arts experiences, and how experiences need to adapt to the needs of each young person.

It was a truly inspiring day and will lead to some exciting new projects and partnerships for MWC. Watch this space for more news!

The Music Workshop Company is in the process of developing resource packs for schools, designed to introduce and expand on many aspects of music. We would value your input. If there is a specific topic or aspect of music that you would like us to cover, or if we can make our resources more helpful in any way, please contact us via the website with your ideas and requests, or email info@music-workshop.co.uk.

We also run tailor-made inset workshops, integrating music into teacher training. Meeting with professional musicians who can explain music in an approachable way will give you exciting ideas to develop, and can be a great boost in confidence in the classroom. There is no great mystery to music. Just as you can teach a child to look at a beautiful painting and appreciate it without yourself being able to either paint it or explain how it was painted, it is possible to learn how to introduce children to music and the skills needed to listen to it.

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