Do You Hear The People Sing? Batley and Spen Does…..!

West End Theatre Director Nick Evans talks to the Music Workshop team about an exciting community singing project in memory of MP Jo Cox…

“One year ago the horrific murder of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox, shocked the country. In a nation that was divided by the Brexit debate, and with the news seemingly filled with bleak events across Europe and America, there was a real sense of not knowing ‘what to do’ to make things better. As a theatre director on shows like ‘Billy Elliot’ and ‘Mary Poppins’ my skills seemed less than useful.

Tributes in Parliament Square for murdered MP Jo Cox.

In the Summer, when a group of Jo’s friends in Parliament approached me to think if there was ‘anything theatrical’ we could do to celebrate Jo’s life and values, my skill base seemed suddenly relevant. I knew from my work with Sir Cameron Mackintosh, that the wonderful Boubil & Schoenberg musical ‘Les Miserables’ was Jo’s favourite show. Together with the brilliant new MP for ‘Batley & Spen’ Tracy Brabin, we got to work.

Over the last few months we have assembled 100 young people with a range of skills as singers, actors, designers, dancers, stage management and production crew, all drawn from Batley & Spen and the surrounding communities of West Yorkshire. This August, ‘Les Miserables’ will be staged in traverse (we think for the first time ever) in an empty industrial space in Batley. The project sees directors, musicians, choreographers and designers from top shows like Billy Elliot, Aladdin and Mamma Mia come to Yorkshire to inspire the next generation of talent.

The project has been driven by that talented young people of the region, and they are quick to talk about how the project has affected them. Alice Schofield, 16, from Batley said,

“Les Mis is all about the people coming together and starting a revolution for the good of everyone, and I think Jo Cox really believed in the community coming together to make a better society, a better world”

Michael Frith, 18, from West Yorkshire is playing the iconic role of Val Jean, and says working with a team of West End professionals has been a unique experience,

“Having an opportunity like this, being local, being free, being so accessible is an absolute privilege”.

The project has worked closely with the schools in the constituency, and a student of Upper Batley High School, Bilal Khan, 13, is clearly relishing making his acting debut in the role of Gavroche,

“It just goes to show that a place like Batley & Spen can pull a West End Musical off as well, and opportunities like this don’t come knocking on your doors every day. If you really want to do it why not, no one can stop you – just go and do it like we have done”.

As a visiting director, I’ve been blown away by the talent I’ve encountered in the area. The young people involved have an innate bravery, and I think we can make something really special happen for this brilliant community – and for the friends and family of Jo Cox – in putting together a show that will hopefully have a lasting legacy in Batley.”

The Company are hoping to attract fundraising and support from local people and businesses to realise the project. Their JustGiving page is at https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/bsyct/hearthepeoplesing

Performance dates are 9th -12th August, and information about tickets for the show will be available from the end of this month at www.hearthepeoplesing.com



 

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Irish Song – A Window on History

Irish traditional music has existed for centuries, with songs and dance tunes passed on from generation to generation through the oral tradition. This practice of learning ‘by ear’ is still common today. Despite the number of printed tune and songbooks, students of traditional music generally learn tunes by listening to other musicians.

The traditional music that developed in Ireland first arrived with the Celts. Until the last decade or so, scholars dated the ‘arrival’ of Celtic culture in Britain and Ireland to the 6th century BC. However, recent research has given rise to the idea that Celtic culture emerged in Britain and Ireland much earlier – in the Bronze Age – suggesting its spread was the result not of invasion, as previously thought, but of a gradual migration enabled by an extensive network of contacts that existed between the peoples of Britain and Ireland and those of the Atlantic seaboard.

The Celts were originally from Europe – countries including Austria, evidenced by rich burial-site finds, Northern Italy, and even as far east as Turkey. By the middle of the 1st millennium AD, with the expansion of the Roman Empire and extensive migrations of Germanic peoples, Celtic culture had become restricted to Ireland, the western and northern parts of Great Britain (Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall), the Isle of Man, and Brittany. Between the 5th and 8th centuries, the Celtic-speaking communities in these Atlantic regions emerged as a reasonably cohesive cultural entity, with a common linguistic, religious and artistic heritage that clearly distinguished them.

spring_hill_review_jan_-_june_1907_1907_14768255862The Celts were influenced by music of the East. It is believed that the traditional Irish harp may in fact have its roots in Egypt. In ancient times the harp was one of the most popular instruments. Harpists were employed to play for chieftains and to create music for noblemen. In 1607, native Irish chieftains fled under threat of invasion, leaving the harpists to travel the land as itinerant musicians, playing where they could. One of the most famous of these harpists was Turlough O’Carolan, a blind musician and songwriter born in 1670 who travelled throughout his life from one end of Ireland to the other, composing and performing.

There are several collections of Irish folk music from the 18th century, and by the 19th century ballad printers were established in Dublin.

Like all traditional music, Irish folk music has evolved slowly, and most of the folk songs around today are less than two hundred years old. Where the oldest songs and tunes are from rural settings and come from the Celtic language tradition, the more recent songs generally come from cities and towns and are written in English.

The ultimate expression of traditional singing is an old-style called sean nós. This is usually performed solo, or very occasionally as a duet. Sean-nós singing is highly ornamented, with the voice placed towards the top of the range. A true old-style singer will vary the melody of every verse, but not to the point of interfering with the words, which are considered to have as much importance as the melody.

Non sean-nós traditional singing, even when accompanied, uses patterns of ornamentation and melodic freedom derived from sean-nós singing. It also uses a similar voice placement. This song from the Irish band Altan shows a more modern take on the traditional style.

Caoineadh is Irish for a lament. There are many laments in the Irish song repertoire, expressing sorrow and pain, often of a person lamenting for Ireland itself, having been forced to emigrate due to political or financial reasons. Laments were also used to express loss of a loved one or have their roots in war or the various economic crises caused by both partition and war. This song, Far Away in Australia, is a lament as an Irishman leaves home to seek better fortune, but like many Irish ballads is imbued with hope for the future.

The song, Mo Ghile Mear, written by Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill, is a lament of the Gaelic goddess Éire for Bonnie Prince Charlie, who was in exile.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley relates to the Irish Rebellion of 1778. Written by Robert Dwyer Joyce (1836-1883), it expresses a young man’s sadness at leaving his lover to join the United Irishmen, a sorrow that is cut short when she is killed by an English bullet

Other aspects of Ireland’s history are found in popular songs such as Whiskey in the Jar, which tells of the betrayal of highwayman Patrick Flemmen who was executed in 1650. This ballad became a signature song for The Dubliners in the 1960s and was even recorded by Thin Lizzy and Metallica.

If you would like more information about our Irish song workshops, contact the Music Workshop Company today.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

As Christmas approaches, there’s always a race for the number-one spot in the charts. This year the Music Workshop Company team have been discussing their favourite seasonal music and have come up with their own top songs. Here’s a little bit about each of the team and their Christmas choices.

Maria Thomas is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Music Workshop Company. She specialises in Early Years, Creativity workshops and World Percussion workshops.

“My favourite is the 1961 song Christmas Time in London Town (words by Frederik Van Pallandt, music by David Flatau).

It was a favourite at my Mum’s school and I love the imagery in the words. It reminds me of trips to London as a child to choose a present in Hamley’s!

I also love the Calypso Carol/O Now Carry Me to Bethlehem, which is another favourite from childhood. I love the Calypso rhythm.”

Matthew Forbes is a cellist who also plays piano, mouth organ, kazoo, djembe, guitar, and mandolin…. And is a composer! Matthew leads workshops on Composition, Song Writing, Indian Music, African Drumming and Ceilidh.

“Easy. It’s Fairytale of New York by Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues. It has everything; sad, funny, ironic, moving, energetic, sentimental and festive. Perfect”

Colin McCann is a percussionist who specialises in Samba workshops but also loves leading Junk Percussion workshops.

“My favourite is In The Bleak Midwinter (words based on a poem by Christina Rossetti and music by Gustav Holst). I love the words; they are so emotive.”

Chris Woodham is a professional percussionist who specialises in World Percussion workshops but also loves leading Composition workshops.

“My favourite Christmas Song is When a Child is Born, by Boney M, (written by Zacar with lyrics by Fred Jay) which was released in 1981, the year of my birth.

It’s from the Christmas Album by Boney M that used to be a firm favourite in the Woodham household.  I’ve always been drawn to reggae, and the album includes lots of lovely ‘reggaefied’ classic songs.  I really like When a Child is born because it uses humming then a full choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, also has some spoken word and a key change. What’s not to like! It was recorded at Abbey Road and Air studios both of which I have been lucky enough to work at in the past.”

Sarah Ford is an actor, director and singer, and leads many of our theatrical workshops such as Play in a Day.

“My favourites are Angels from The Realms of Glory (words by James Montgomery to the tune of “Regent Square” UK) and Hark the Herald Angels Sing (music by Felix Mendelssohn, words by Charles Wesley, amended by George Whitefield and Martin Madan).

The first one is because it’s a grand, full-out sing and the second because I love singing the descant.”

Johanna McWeeney is a violinist and journalist who writes and edits the Music Workshop Company blog and newsletters.

“My favourite Christmas piece is Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, an orchestral piece that dates back to 1948. The lyrics weren’t written until 1950. I just love the melodies, the witty use of percussion and the fun textures from the brass, particularly the horse at the end. It really conjures up Christmas for me and it’s great fun to play.”

Alison Murray is the Project Manager for the Music Workshop Company and liaises with clients to help them find their perfect project.

“Once In Royal David’s City, music composed by Henry John Gauntlet (1805-1876), words written by Cecil Francis Alexander (1818-1895), originally written as a poem.

Why?  The words of the song are so beautifully written, simple yet so meaningful, and of course when you hear the solo at the beginning, the sound is so pure and spine tingling. I have sung this song myself so often, since primary school days (a very long time ago now!) and we always sing it our church crib service, with everyone around the crib holding candles, it’s just magical.”

Singing with Confidence

“No matter if it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear.” Sing, Sing, Sing a Song, Joe Raposo 1972

A singing workshop is a great way to get the New Year off to a positive start.  Singing releases feel-good chemicals such as endorphins into the brain, lifting the January blues and relieving stress. It’s great physical exercise, raising oxygen levels in the blood, encouraging deep breathing and giving your lungs and facial muscles a workout. Singing is good for you mentally, giving an increased feeling of self-esteem and wellbeing: It’s very hard not to feel happy when you sing. Singing is also a really good way to communicate, build a sense of community and teamwork, and let off steam. Workshop Leader, Matthew Forbes says, “Any group of singers has a different dynamic to it, as it is a human organism. The excitement of discovering this and of joining it from the inside is without comparison.”

The Music Workshop Company’s singing workshops are fun, uplifting and educational, and our expert workshop leaders tailor the session to suit your class or group.

Once you’ve seen the benefits of a singing workshop, you may want to run your own singing sessions. This is a great way to compliment our workshops, or to make singing a regular group activity in your school or workplace. However, not everyone feels confident about singing, particularly when leading a group, so the MWC team have put together some tips and ideas to get you started.

Singing Workshops for Non-Singers

Start with some warm up exercises that involve stretching the body. This can help get everyone energised and boost confidence. Move your face: Smile, frown, wiggle your eyebrows, yawn… And get your body moving too.

Think about posture. Stand with your head over your heart and your heart over your pelvis. This is a nice way of getting a relaxed alignment. Keep your head in a neutral position and don’t stick your chin out. If you are leading the workshop, positive body language will make you feel more confident about singing.

You will be more conscious of your breathing when you sing than you are normally. Allow your lower abdomen to relax so you can properly fill your lungs. As you sing, contracting your abdomen in a controlled way will help support the breath.

Here’s a good, quick set up to start a singing workshop, from Sarah, one of our Workshop Leaders…

“Everyone stand, feet hip width apart, and feel the floor with your feet. Raise your big toe only, and then release. Feel yourself rebalance. 

Next, gently lean forward, hanging down, with your knees released. Gently roll back up the spine to standing and continue to raise your arms to the sky in a big stretch.

Bring your arms down to your sides, and place one hand on your belly, below your tummy button. Breathe in. Next, blow out candle an imaginary candle. Feel how the lower tummy follows through. Try this a few times. This is where breath should originate for singing.”

Do some vocal warm ups which involve making silly noises. Stand your group in a circle and play a game, challenging each person to make a sound entirely different from the previous person. You can make whoops, screams and other silly noises. This is great fun and really helps get past the shyness, fear and even emotional discomfort that some people feel about singing. You can even develop this into a piece of music by laying it over a pulse created by clapping or stamping and having someone lead different combinations of individual sounds.

Don’t label yourself or any of your participants as tone deaf. Many people lack confidence and practice at singing, particularly as adults, especially if their singing was criticised when they were children. Recent research conducted by the BBC for a musicality test exploring whether enthusiasm for music rather than formal training alone helps confer ability found that only a very small proportion of the population are truly tone deaf.

Downham-Whitefoot Community Choir 100813

If you’re running a workshop for adults it might be an idea to spend some time sharing stories of childhood singing experiences. These might be good experiences or bad. Make this into a game that will make people laugh and unify the group. If you’re working with children, get them to help make up a song about things they love doing. Include actions and drawings to engage all the senses.

Ask participants to make fluctuating and non-fluctuating sounds, imitating noises like sirens and telephone dialling tones.

Try some note matching exercises. Instead of singing or playing a note and then asking participants to match it, ask them to sing a tone first, which you then match. Your participants are then effortlessly singing in tune with another person, perhaps for the first time.

Remember, the less ‘perfect’ you can make the singing in any of these games, the more inhibitions will drop away. Focus on good breathing and confidence before working on sound or pitch, so you’re working on a level where everyone can succeed.

Don’t forget, it’s National Sing Up Day on March 14th 2014. Have a look at the Sing Up website for loads of ideas, songs and activities, and contact us to book your singing workshop!

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