Otis Redding – A Career Cut Short

December 10th 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of soul singer Otis Redding’s death in a plane crash at the age of just 26.

Just three days earlier, Redding had recorded what was to become his biggest hit. He knew the song would be huge – he remarked to his manager,

I got it. This is my first million seller.

He was right. The song (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, was released in January 1968, shortly after Redding’s death. It shot to number one on the R&B charts in early 1968 and, from March of that year, topped the pop charts for four weeks. Dock of the Bay became Redding’s most popular record, selling more than four million copies worldwide. It went on to win two Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

Otis Redding wrote the first verse of the song while he was on tour with the Bar-Kays in August 1967. At the time, he was staying on a houseboat at Waldo Point in Sausalito, California. Just weeks earlier, he had played the Monterey Pop Festival – a performance that was to go down in history. As the tour continued, he would scribble lyrics and ideas on napkins and hotel paper. In November 1967, Redding joined producer and guitarist Steve Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee, to record the song.

Cropper described the origins of Dock of the Bay in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air in September 1990:

Otis was the kind of guy who had 100 ideas. […] He had been in San Francisco doing The Fillmore. And the story that I got he was renting boathouse or stayed at a boathouse or something and that’s where he got the idea of the ships coming in the bay there. And that’s about all he had: “I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again.” I just took that… and I finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I collaborated with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. […] Otis didn’t really write about himself but I did. Songs like Mr. Pitiful, Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song); they were about Otis and Otis’ life. Dock of the Bay was exactly that: “I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay” was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform. [Source: Wikipedia]

Sitting in the morning sun. I’ll be sitting when the evening comes. Watching the ships roll in. And then I watch ’em roll away again, yeah.

It was one of those rare moments when an artist knows immediately that he’s just created a masterpiece.

Together, Redding and Cropper finished the music and lyrics of (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, and the song was recorded on November 22nd 1967 with additional overdubs on December 7th. The emotive yet restrained vocals are backed by Cropper’s clean guitar playing – but the song was never finished. There’s a whistled tune heard before the song’s final fade. According to Cropper, Redding had “this little fadeout rap he was gonna do, an ad-lib. He forgot what it was so he started whistling.”

After the recording session, Redding’s tour continued. There was a television appearance to make in Cleveland, followed by a concert in Madison, Wisconsin.

But on its final approach to Madison on December 10th, 1967, the private plane carrying soul-music legend Otis Redding crashed into the frigid waters of a small lake three miles short of the runway, killing seven of the eight men on board, including Redding.

According to Ben Cauley, founding member of the Bar-Kays and the sole survivor of the crash, the band usually travelled “by station wagon and U-Haul”. If the distance to a gig and the dollars from it added up, they would load up the plane with Redding’s friend, pilot Dick Fraser.

In a 2007 interview in Memphis, Cauley says,

Something I’ll never forget about that plane… The first of the last three nights we were together, we got to the airport about 5:30 or 6, and we asked Dick if we could crank it up so we could get warm, but he said the battery was low.

Cauley said the band didn’t think too much of the comment, and the plane made the trip to Cleveland without incident. Next morning, they took off from Cleveland to get to their gig in Madison, Wisconsin. Redding sat beside Fraser in the cockpit. Cauley and Redding were back-to-back. Four other members of the Bar-Kays – guitarist Jimmy King, organist Ronnie Caldwell, drummer Carl Cunningham, all 18, and saxophonist Phalon Jones, 19 – squeezed into the plane with their 17-year-old valet Matthew Kelly. Bassist James Alexander and vocalist Carl Sims couldn’t fit in, and took alternate transportation.

“We just talked as we always did on the plane,” Cauley says, ” Otis was talking about how he’d just cut a record and said, ‘You’ll hear it when you get back. We need to put the horns on it, so you’ll do that. That was the first time we heard about Dock of the Bay. That’s the last thing he talked about — how much he loved that record and that it’s something he’d wanted to do for a long time.”

Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay was released in its unfinished form several weeks later. The sounds of seagulls and waves crashing in the background were added by Cropper, who mixed the song after Redding’s death. Redding had requested these sounds to mimic those he heard while he was staying on the houseboat. Redding’s whistled verse became an indelible part of the now-classic record. The song became the first posthumous number 1 hit in pop music history, and the biggest pop hit of Redding’s career.

In the six months before his death, Redding had gone from one success to another. Aretha Franklin took her cover version of his song Respect to number 1 in the pop charts. His performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival had transformed him into an icon of the late 60’s counterculture. He was already a giant in the world of soul music, and during an era when the Beatles and Motown ruled the charts, he was beginning to gain recognition on a huge scale within the largely white mainstream.

Redding’s death was announced in the New York Times with only four column inches at the bottom of page 19, in which the names of the other musicians were listed. He was not yet considered a superstar, although his reputation among black audiences was enormous.

According to an article of 1968, hardly any of even Redding’s greatest fans realised he was only 26. The tragedy of his death was compounded by the shock of the discovery of his youth, a fact that makes his talent so much more extraordinary.


 

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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



 

Nursery Rhymes – Literacy, Imagination and Identity

Nursery rhymes are traditional poems sung to small children. They often contain historical references and fantastical characters, and many have been rumoured to have hidden meanings.

The earliest nursery rhymes documented include a 13th century French poem numbering the days of the month. From the mid 16th century children’s songs can be found recorded in English plays. Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man is one of the oldest surviving English nursery rhymes, first appearing in The Campaigners, a play written in 1698 by Thomas d’Urfey (1653 -1723). Interestingly, D’Urfey, active as a writer in the days when the term ‘wit’ was held almost as a career epithet, also composed songs and poetry and was instrumental to the evolution of the Ballad opera.

The first English collections of nursery rhymes were published before 1744.  Tommy Thumb’s Song Book and Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book included rhymes including London Bridge is Falling Down, Hickory Dickory Dock, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary and Baa Baa Black Sheep; the very same songs popular today, nearly 300 years after they were first published. In fact they were probably sung for many years before publication, passed down in the oral tradition.

There is a lot of speculation about the words of these rhymes with suggestions that they refer covertly to insalubrious or violent topics. It is commonly believed that Ring a Ring o Roses is about the black plague that hit London in 1655, with the ‘rosie’ thought to refer to the rash that developed and ‘we all fall down’ (dead) being the result, but although this theory fits with the illustrative lyrics, there is actually no evidence to support this.

John Newbery’s collection of English Rhymes, Mother Goose’s Melody (or Sonnets for the Cradle) was published in 1765. This is the first record of many of today’s classic nursery rhymes. Newberry’s compilation seems to come from a variety of sources including drinking songs, historical events, traditional riddles, proverbs, ballads, lines of Mummers’ plays and even ancient pagan rituals.

The name Mother Goose is associated with Maurice Ravel’s piano suite (Ma Mère l’Oye) which was originally written for two children of Ravel’s acquaintance and subsequently orchestrated for ballet. The movements of Ravel’s suite relate more to fairytale characters such as Sleeping Beauty and Tom Thumb than to the nursery rhymes of Newberry’s publication.

There are rumours that Mozart wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He didn’t. But he did write variations on a French children’s song, Ah! vous dirai-je, maman, originally an anonymous pastoral song dating from 1740. The words to the popular English lullaby are from an early 19th-century English poem by Jane Taylor, The Star. The tune has been used for other songs too, including Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Despite, or maybe because of, the lack of real historical clarity, nursery rhymes and their weird and wonderful characters continue to entertain. History and the role of music in society are undoubtedly interwoven in a fascinating way into the sometimes seemingly nonsensical words of the songs. Pop Goes the Weasel is a nursery rhyme and singing game, first found in a manuscript of 1853, which not only references a pub that still exists, The Eagle on City Road, London, the words were added to an already existing dance tune.

Considering elements such as the incorporation of a pub into this song, it does seem likely that many nursery rhymes were not actually written for children. According to Kay Vandergrift, Professor Emerita of Children’s Literature at Rutgers University, most of them were part of an oral-based society that relayed news, spread coded rumours about authority figures, and worked out its moral dilemmas in rhyme and song. Existing nonsense rhymes would be adapted to make references to current events. It was not until the 19th century and the Victorian romanticising of childhood the past that nursery rhymes were written down and presented in collections for small children.

The poems are inhabited by kings and queens, peasants and drunkards, historical and mythical characters from a wild, often rural past. They predate many of our modern preferences, yet they are still relevant to today’s children and parents.

The world that spawned the rhymes seems far away from our modern lives, but the reasons people sang nursery rhymes are still the same.

Why Nursery Rhymes are Important

The dish ran away with the spoon…

Adults instinctively converse with babies using a sing- song voice with short, repetitive phrases and long pauses for the baby to respond.

This ‘dialect’ can be described as musical in its characteristics of rhythm, timing and rising and falling pitch. The qualities for relating well to babies and toddlers are also the basis of music, a nice synchronicity, since music is a means for bringing people together.

The way in which parents interact with their baby is vital to the baby’s development. It has been found that mothers who are having difficulty relating or who are suffering from depression can be helped if they are encouraged to sing and play musical games with their children. The singing provides a framework to support the mother to baby interaction.

Nursery rhymes fall into two categories:

  • Lullabies – designed to lull a baby to sleep or soothe a fretful toddler, lullabies are an age-old part of childcare in all cultures.
  • One-to-one songs/play songs – more appropriate for older babies and toddlers, these songs. They are sung and played on laps, often featuring actions such as knee joggling, tickling and surprise dips and spills. They are mini dramatic stories full of language, excitement, anticipation and rhythmic movement.

They help infant development and family relationships:

They are good for the brain. The repetition of rhymes and stories teaches language and builds memory. Nursery rhymes also often represent a child’s first experience of literacy. Before a child learns to read, they can see how a book works.

Nursery rhymes preserve generations’ worth of history and culture. Familiar rhymes provide common ground between parents, grandparents and children, and between people who don’t know each other.

Singing is a great group activity. Singing nursery rhymes allows children to feel confident about singing and dancing, engaging them with music and building self esteem.

The moralistic lessons in some rhymes might seem important, but the main message of nursery rhymes is that they are fun to learn and sing. The supposed meanings of the songs and their obscure origins do not detract from their value – the words just sound good and help children discover a shared language, shared experience and a sense of a shared past.

Resource:

http://www.mamalisa.com has lots of great songs and nursery rhymes from around the world. Here’s one we use in our workshops – a Turkish version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm


Contact the Music Workshop Company today!

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.

TV Talent Competitions: A Route to Success?

TV talent shows have always made for gripping viewing. From programmes such as Opportunity Knocks and Stars in Their Eyes, the familiar format that takes ordinary people and thrusts them to stardom has long been popular.

These days many of the shows with highest ratings feature normal people being shown to excel at some task, whether that be cooking, baking or singing. Celebrity spin-offs abound, but always with the implication that the star is performing outside his or her comfort zone, on the level with the viewer.

There are criticisms that today’s highly produced talent shows are exploitative, but the lure of instant success along with the competitive thrill keeps us watching. Seeing the progress of a contestant from the first audition right through to the record deal gives a sense of, “I knew her back when,” as well as the intoxicating sense that anyone can obtain instant wealth, celebrity and status.

In the last two decades, the popularity of talent shows seems to have grown. Since Pop Idol in 2001, which launched the careers of Will Young, Gareth Gates and third-place runner-up Darius Danesh, and Pop Stars the Rivals which began Cheryl Tweedy’s career, programmes such as X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and various shows searching for the latest musical theatre star have dominated our screens. So much so, in fact, that comedian Peter Kay even created a spoof version called Britain’s Got the Pop Factor… and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice, a title which sums up the extent of TV coverage of these shows.

The process of manufacturing successful pop groups and artists is not new. The band The Monkees whose music is still popular today was created for a TV series, as, more recently, was S Club 7. And the Spice Girls was formed after an audition process advertised in The Stage:

WANTED: R.U. 18–23 with the ability to sing/dance? R.U. streetwise, outgoing, ambitious, and dedicated? Heart Management Ltd. are a widely successful music industry management consortium currently forming a choreographed, singing/dancing, all-female pop act for a recording deal. Open audition. Danceworks, 16 Balderton Street. Friday 4 March. 11 am-5:30 pm. Please bring sheet music or backing cassette.

[Wikipedia]

In January 2017, having lost the rights to its popular singing competition, The Voice, the BBC launched yet another vocal contest. Let it Shine, the brainchild of Take That’s Gary Barlow, will feature a search to find performers for a new musical. The winner will be offered a job rather than a transient record contract, and will tour the UK in a musical based on the songs of Take That for a whole year. Despite Barlow’s assurance that his show will be different, avoiding the negativity and mocking criticism popular in some high-ratings competitions, Let it Shine has already run into problems. There have been accusations that the result is rigged after it became known that several of the participants are already professional musical theatre actors. The media has expressed outrage that people who have already trained to sing should deign to enter a competition that might bag them a job.

[image: Matt Deegan via Flickr]

Gary Barlow [image: Matt Deegan via Flickr]

Despite the obvious issue that the winner will be expected to perform one or two shows a day for twelve months and will obviously require stamina and a significant level of vocal training to do so, it was apparently expected by the public that only completely untrained singers should enter in order not to dispel the myth that this kind of success is available to everybody.

It’s the other end of the spectrum from shows such as I’d Do Anything, a search to cast the role of Nancy in Oliver! which drew resentment and criticism from theatre professionals for denying a job to working actors.

So are these talent shows a good way to launch a performing career? 

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Leona Lewis

Looking more closely, it becomes apparent that many of those who have succeeded in these competitions and gone on to have careers with any longevity already had some training. X Factor winner, Leona Lewis, attended the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology. Susan Boyle, who won second place in Britain’s Got Talent but has gone on to sell over 19 million albums and win two Grammy Awards had taken years of singing lessons before the surprising audition that rocketed her to overnight fame.

It could be suggested that elements of the pop industry are, to some extent, manufactured. Many successful artists at the moment are either the result of Industry-formed groups or talent shows, and this has always been the case. In this sense, the TV talent show simply becomes an extension of the way the pop moguls create successful artists, developing the process for viewers’ pleasure.

These shows give another route to a career for a few singers. Many will fade back into obscurity. The competition is tough and the criticism offered by judges on screen is rarely constructive – one-time X Factor judge Tulisa’s “You smashed it,” not really in the realms of useful feedback, and because it makes good viewing, the negative comments are often brutal.

For those unprepared for the ensuing career there are pitfalls. Contestants are generally required to sign a contract with the show that may tie them in with a label or management company that may not be interested in promoting them, and that may involve poor fee and royalty terms. And the pressures of life in the spotlight can cause public difficulty on a personal level. Kerry Katona of Atomic Kitten, a band that was created by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark frontman Andy McCluskey, is a prime example of a normal person who has struggled to cope in the public eye, and Susan Boyle has well-documented mental health issues that have caused long breaks from performing.

However, despite the criticisms and temporary setbacks, music has always been a competitive business. Many runners up have ended up with more successful careers than the winner of their show. Interviews with competitors who didn’t win focus on the experience, contacts and opportunities that came from the show.

Aoife Mulholland  was eliminated from How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria in week 5 immediately went onto the West End Stage as Roxy in Chicago. In an interview with the Radio Times in 2012, Mulholland said,

I let myself wallow for about 24 hours, then I picked myself up and realised what an amazing opportunity I had. I had training, contacts, Saturday night TV exposure so I got on the phone and set up a few meetings with different agents.

Talent show winners:

Little Mix – X Factor, 2011

Kelly Clarkson – American Idol, 2002

Leona Lewis – X Factor, 2006

Paul Potts – BGT 2007

Alexandra Burke – X Factor, 2008

Joe McElldery – X Factor, 2009

Jodie Prenger – winner of I’d do Anything now has a TV and acting career including appearances on Loose Women and Celebrity Bargain Hunt

Talent show runners up:

Beyoncé – 2nd place with her group Girls Tyme, later Destiny’s Child on Star Search 1992

Susan Boyle – 2nd place, Britain’s Got Talent, 2009

Jennifer Hudson – 7th place, American Idol, 2004

One Direction – 3rd place, X Factor, 2010

Olly Murs – 2nd place, X Factor, 2009

Stacey Soloman – 3rd place, X Factor, 2009, subsequent winner of I’m a Celebrity

Rebecca Ferguson – 2nd place, X Factor, 2009

Cher Lloyd – 4th place, X Factor, 2010

Samantha Barks – 3rd place I’d do Anything. Later the same year she won the lead as Sally Bowles in a touring production of Cabaret, opposite Wayne Sleep. She went on to play Eponine in the film version of Les Miserables.

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Jennifer Hudson performs to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

Tell us what do you think! Are TV Talent competitions are a good way to launch a performing career? Comment below to let us know your opinion, advice and experience.

 

 

Looking Forward to 2017

david_bowie_-_toppop_1974_10As the year draws to a close, it’s a time to reflect on 2016 and to look forward to the New Year. 2016 has seen the deaths of many true music legends – popular musicians including Prince, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, and over Christmas, George Michael and Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt. It has been a tough year in music education and the music industry too, with the ISM struggling to get a response to its Bacc for the Future Campaign and the anxiety caused by the Brexit vote.

Anniversaries

To start 2017 on a positive note there are opportunities to look back at the contributions of musicians over the centuries. The New Year marks the centenaries of Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, two monumentally influential jazz musicians. Both Monk and Gillespie were born in October 2017. Monk was the most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington while Gillespie is recognised as one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time, and teacher to other great musicians including Miles Davis. An October celebration of these two kings of jazz could make a great focus for Black History Month. Look out for our blog about these great musicians later in the year…

Another renowned African American musician, Scott Joplin was born 150 years ago this year, and 2017 also marks the centenary of his death. Joplin died in tragic circumstances aged only 49, but his reputation as a pianist and his role in popularising Ragtime music mean he is still well known today.

department_store_ukulele_adIt is 350 years since the birth of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi. Monteverdi was a key figure in the transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods in music history. His opera, L’Orfeo, is the oldest surviving opera still regularly performed.

It is 50 years since the death of Hungarian composer and music edu
cator, Zoltán Kodály, who popularised the sol-fa method of vocal training, making music learning accessible to children of all backgrounds. Read more about the use of sol-fa in our blog Sol-Fa – Singing Through the Ages.

And it’s 100 years since that most popular of instruments, the ukulele, was patented by the Honolulu Ad Club!

Events

The Youth Music Give a Gig extravaganza will take place in March 2017. The Give a Gig Week will run from March 24 to 31, aiming to raise funds for Youth Music. Youth Music is asking musicians to organise concerts and events to raise money with artists including Liam Gallagher and Tom Odell already on board.

The UK’s biggest music education event, Rhinegold Music and Drama Education Expo, will take place in London on the 9th and 10th of February 2017. The Expo is a chance to network and get up to date with other music education professionals, and to take part in workshops, conference talks and CPD. Registration is already open online. And Rhinegold is launching an exciting new event in Manchester on October 4th, the Music and Drama Education Expo, for teachers of music and performing arts.

And finally, the 10th International Conference for Research in Music Education will be held at Bath Spa University between April 18th and 22nd, 2017.

The Conference website states:

The aim of the conference is to gather together researchers, teachers and practitioners to share and discuss research that is concerned with all aspects of teaching and learning in music: musical development, perception & understanding, creativity, learning theory, pedagogy, curriculum design, informal settings, music for special needs, technologies, instrumental teaching, teacher education, gender and culture. Music education is also viewed in the context of arts education, the whole curriculum and its sociocultural contexts.

Whatever your area of music education there are many exciting events taking place next year. If you’d like to let us know about an event, or to feature your event in a guest blog for the Music Workshop Company, feel free to contact us or to tell us about it in the comments below. The Music Workshop Company team wish you a happy, successful and musical New Year.

 

Sol-Fa – Singing Through the Ages

November 14th 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Curwen, an English Congregational Minister and music educator who was responsible for refining and popularising the tonic sol-fa system of musical notation. Although he did not invent tonic sol-fa, Curwen developed a distinct method of applying it in music education which included important aspects of both rhythm and pitch that have been formative in much of the singing and early-years music teaching ever since.

The sol-fa, or solfège, system is designed for singing. If you have ever heard the song Do Re Mi from Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical The Sound of Music, you will be familiar with the idea. This concept transfers over to instrumental learning with the understanding that children can learn a great deal about pitch, rhythm and tone by learning to sing which can then be applied on any instrument.

Initially developed in the form we recognise today by Sarah Glover (1785-1867) a music teacher from Norwich, to aid Sunday School teachers with a cappella singing, Glover’s teaching method used movable solmisation syllables (a system of attributing a distinct syllable to each note in a musical scale) as an aid to sight-reading, alongside a sol-fa notation, which she had devised as a stepping stone to reading music from the staff.

There is evidence to suggest that a similar system of solmisation existed many centuries earlier. In her research paper Non-Lexical Vocables in Scottish Music, Christine Knox Chambers of Edinburgh University traces the use of solmisation back to China, Korea and even the Native American tribes. In Indian Classical Music the notes of the basic seven-note scale have the names sa, re, ma, ga, pa, dha and ni. And in Scottish Gaelic, the word canntaireachd (chanting) refers to an ancient Scottish Highland method of solemnisation which ‘notated’ music played on the Great Highland Bagpipes. This made it possible for music to be passed on in the aural tradition even without instruments.

Sol-fa or solfège as we know it was first seen in Europe in the 11th century, developed by Guido d’Arezzo, a music theorist and a monk of the Benedictine order who is credited with inventing modern staff notation. Staff notation replaced a system called neumatic notation, an ancient system of inflective marks which indicated the general shape of the musical line but not necessarily the exact notes or rhythms to be sung.

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Arezzo’s original solfège note names derive from an 11th-century hymn in which the solfège syllable is the word accompanying the first note of each phrase. The starting notes of each phrase are C, D, E, F, G, A:

In the sol-fa method, the seven tones of the scale are named do, ray, me, fah, soh, lah and te and are arranged into ascending and descending scales where do is the note C.

There is also a method called moveable do, which Curwen and Glover both employed, where the note do can be the tonic in any key.

Having experienced considerable difficulty himself with music reading and traditional music notation, Curwen became interested in the sol-fa method and its potential for teaching and developing music reading. He felt the need for a simple way of teaching how to sing. He believed that music should be easily accessible to all classes and ages of people.

In order to facilitate this, he devised a step-by step approach to teaching: Firstly reading from sol-fa notation, secondly reading from staff notation in conjunction with sol-fa notation below, and thirdly reading from staff notation alone. As his ideas developed he devised the pitch hand signs that are familiar to most music teachers as part of the Kodály Method and incorporated the French time names which are familiar from childhood music lessons (taa taa, titi). The use of sol-fa served as a memory aid as well as a learning aid.

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Many of his pedagogical ideas are fundamental not only to other music teaching methods such as Kodály and Dalcroze, but also to general educational practice.

Curwen’s principles of education:

  • Let the easy come before the difficult
  • Introduce the real and concrete before the ideal or abstract
  • Do one thing at a time
  • Let each step, as far as possible, rise out of that which goes before, and lead up to that which comes after
  • Call in the understanding to assist the skill at every stage

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Further reading:

A full description of sol-fa:https://blog.key-notes.com/solfege.html

More information about John Curwen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Curwen

A full description of Curwen’s method: http://music-ed.net/Curwen/Ped&TchngTechs.html

Information about the Kodály Method: http://www.britishkodalyacademy.org/kodaly_approach.htm

Indian Ragas: http://raag-hindustani.com/Notes.html

Your Year in Music

Our workshops here at the Music Workshop Company explore music, culture and history from all over the globe. Many festivals and important calendar events can be linked to a workshop theme to add depth and understanding to a topic.

This month we take a look ahead to see how music workshops relate to learning throughout the year.

Autumn Term

October is Black History Month, a month dedicated to the remembering and celebration of African culture. This is a culture rich in musical heritage, much of which is perfect for group learning and participation. Workshop choices include African Drumming, African Songs, South African Songs, Blues and Afro-American Songs.

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October 12th is Children’s Day in Brazil, a chance to try a Samba Workshop. Many countries around the world celebrate Children’s Day, honouring children and raising awareness of children’s issues. Read more about Latin American Percussion in our blog post.

October 31st is Halloween, a perfect opportunity to work on song writing and composition. Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve) is a Christian festival dedicated to remembering the dead, but has become synonymous with ghosts, ghouls and other spooky beings. A composition workshop could explore horror-movie style creepy music.

November 20th is Universal Children’s Day, an annual celebration first proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954. It was established to encourage all countries to dedicate a day, firstly to promote mutual exchange and understanding among children and secondly to initiate action to benefit and promote the welfare of the world’s children. Song writing and composition workshops can be designed to look at the subject of Children’s Day.

November 30th is St Andew’s Day, the feast day of the Scottish patron saint. Learn about Scottish folk music in a Scottish Songs workshop, or try some Scottish dancing in a Ceilidh Workshop.

Spring Term

January 19th 2015 is Martin Luther King Day in the USA. The life and contribution of Martin Luther King is observed on the 3rd Monday in January throughout America. Integrate Blues and Afro-American Songs Workshops into your study.

January 26th is Australia Day. It’s the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet of convict ships from Great Britain, and the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove by its commander Captain Arthur Phillip, in 1788. This is a great subject to explore in a composition workshop and we also offer Australian Songs for a direct link to that extraordinary time.

February 1st February is National Freedom Day in the USA. President Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery on February 1st 1865. Explore American culture with our American Songs and Song Writing workshops.

Monday 2nd February 2015 is Constitution Day in Mexico and a chance to try a Mexican Songs workshop.

February 6th is Waitangi Day in New Zealand Day. This holiday commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi; New Zealand’s founding document. Explore the New Zealand culture with a New Zealand Songs workshop.

March 1st is St David’s Day, the feast day of the Welsh patron saint. Wales, and an opportunity to study Welsh Songs and Dance in our workshops.

African DrumsMarch 6th is Ghanaian Independence Day. An African Drumming workshop will give a fantastic window into the culture, people and history of Ghana.

March 17th is St Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Learn about the incredible musical history of Ireland in our Irish Songs workshop.

April 2nd is International Children’s Book day. Song writing and Composition workshops can be based on favourite books and stories to look at aspects such as character and plot development in literature.

Summer Term

April 23rd is St George’s Day in England. England has a wonderful folk music history which you can discover in our English Songs and English Dance workshops.

May 23rd May is Labour Day in Jamaica. Until 1961, May 24 was celebrated as Empire Day in Jamaica, in honour of the birthday of Queen Victoria and her emancipation of slaves in Jamaica.In 1961 the day was renamed Labour Day, remembering the anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. Relevant workshops include Jamaican Songs and Song Writing.

June 1st is Children’s Day in Poland. The festival was introduced in Poland in 1952 and coincides with the beginning of summer. Schools organise special activities and the festive events run during the first week of June. Parents buy small gifts for their children. The Polish Songs workshop looks at the culture of Poland.

June 14th is Bastille Day in France. Bastille Day is the French National Day commemorating the beginning of the French Revolution. This is an opportunity to explore the French Songs workshop.

All of our workshops are tailored to the specific needs of our clients and the participants. To discuss a custom-built workshop exploring any of these festivals and events, contact the Music Workshop Company today.

 

 

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.

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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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