Inclusive Dance Company Changing Lives in Hertforshire

Silverbirch Dance is an inclusive dance company based in Hertfordshire, UK. Founded in 2002 by Suzie Birchwood under the premise that anybody and ‘any body’ can dance, the company aims, through a programme of performances, workshops and projects for schools, colleges, local authorities and community groups, to enable people to explore the creative possibilities in their own bodies and imaginations in a safe and supportive environment.

The Music Workshop Company spoke to David Nurse, Artistic Director of Silverbirch Dance, about the inspiration behind the company, and current projects and opportunities for participants in and around Hertfordshire.

“At Silverbirch we believe that watching performances and taking part in workshops led both by disabled people with and people without disabilities raises expectations of what disabled people can achieve and contribute. By creating safe social spaces where dancers can build their self-confidence and be supported to stay healthy, active and engaged, we aim to show that disability is not a barrier to a fulfilled and happy life, and through this, challenge perceptions of disabled people.

My own motivation for running the company lies firstly in the development of my practice. I have been involved in running companies before, spending 12 years as Youth Group Director for Magpie Dance, and I wanted to take on responsibility for the whole of a company’s work. Because Silverbirch provides such a wide range of offerings in various settings this is a chance for me to build on my previous experience, enhancing the work of the company and the skills of our participants and facilitators.

I am particularly keen to have disabled artists in an authorial and leadership role so that they are doing the work rather than having the work ‘done to them’. The company members at Silverbirch are incredibly dance-literate: Amazing dancers, performers and communicators. I want to continue to develop these skills so that they can be recognised as dance leaders and facilitators by the wider world.

Through inclusive creative dance projects I have seen (and heard) people literally find a voice. One young man who was an elective mute developed his non-verbal communication skills and confidence to such an extent that after an end of term performance he stood up and gave a 5 minute speech about the group and what we had been doing: Something he had never done before. After this it became quite hard to get him NOT to make a speech after each performance!

One member of the company at Silverbirch has developed her self-confidence through our inclusive sessions and mentoring on dealing with situations and our responses to those situations. Six months ago, any new situation, ‘surprise’, or sense of tension would reduce her to tears. Her participation at Silverbirch means she is now able to take a moment, calm herself and continue to contribute to the group.

At a recent performance in a primary school where we performed for the whole school, the pupils were captivated and intrigued by the company. One girl who was wearing hearing aids leapt up at the end to tell one of our dancers, ‘You’re amazing!’ I think the performance and workshop were particularly impactful for a number of students who had impairments. There was one boy who seemed to have difficulty focusing and joining in with his peers. In our workshop he was gradually drawn into the group until he was participating without his support worker, fully engaged, focused and included.

Projects at Silverbirch

Silverbirch Dance currently deliver a number of diverse and dynamic projects and creative opportunities:

Silverbirch Dance

This is our graduate performance company which rehearses once a week and gives performances around Hertfordshire and the surrounding area. Through weekly technique and creative workshops Silverbirch Dance explore the many and various ways that the human body can be used as an expressive instrument.

We aim to develop company members’ skills so that they can take a leadership role in the creative life of their community as performers and facilitators.

The company’s current touring production, ‘HOP!’ is a vibrant and dynamic exploration of a Harlem nightclub, created by Suzie Birchwood and the company and performed to specially commissioned music. The show’s characters reflect the first inclusive club in America where all were welcomed and included regardless of their age, gender, abilities, sexuality, race or creed.

Each performance of ‘HOP!’ is paired with an inclusive creative dance workshop led by company members and based on the characters and themes within the piece.

DanceBase

These are our regular term time creative inclusive dance sessions for young people and adults where all are included and encouraged to explore their creativity in an inclusive, accessible and safe space.

DanceBase sessions are delivered by our amazing team of inclusive dance facilitators, assisted by members of the Silverbirch Dance company.

We currently run an Adult Group (16+) in Ware, Hertfordshire on Tuesday evenings during term time. We also run a Youth Group (under 16) and Adult Group (16+) in Watford, Hertfordshire on Wednesday evenings.

UV

This our regular club night, which is run by a management team of young disabled and non-disabled people and adults for their peers. The team make the creative decisions and carry out marketing for each night. The management team also undertake most of the fundraising for UV events. Recent themes include ‘The Roaring ‘20s’ and ‘Bhangra.’ UV aims to deliver a true clubbing experience with professional DJs and current music in a safe and inclusive environment.

Silverbirch Dance also deliver weekly inclusive dance sessions in local SEN schools and we are always open to new partnership possibilities with other schools and organisations. We have recently worked in collaboration with Hertfordshire Youth Orchestra and Hertfordshire County Youth Dance Company on a performance of excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. This was premiered at The Weston Auditorium. We continue to work in collaboration with these and other groups and Hertfordshire Music Service.

Throughout my career, I have always wanted to challenge stereotypes based on a person’s perceived abilities, gender, ethnic origin, age, nationality or sexual orientation.

I also believe that diversity enhances the creative possibilities of any group.

I believe diverse groups come together to create a total greater than the sum of their parts. We all have different abilities and sharing the workload enables us to achieve more than we ever can by working individually.”

For more details on the amazing projects at Silverbirch Dance and to find out what the company could do for you please check out the website: silverbirchdance.com

To book a ‘HOP!’ performance and workshop package for just £75 pounds please call the office on 07902042469 or email Artistic Director David Nurse david@artsbase.org.uk.

You can contact David Nurse by email at david@artsbase.org.uk or telephone the office on 07902042469


If you are interested in contacting the Music Workshop Company about booking a workshop or would like to feature your project on our next guest blog, contact us today.

 

 

 

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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:

Take Your Music Further

Here at the Music Workshop Company, we are passionate about creating opportunities for young people to explore music. We make sure that each of our workshops involves a performance element so participants can enjoy the experience of playing to an audience.

Leading educational travel company, NST, specialises in running concert tours, primarily for school children but also catering for adults. NST knows that the buzz musicians get from performing is unlike any other feeling, and the chance to perform in exciting international venues is even more of a thrill.

In this month’s guest blog, we catch up with Sheena Orchin, Music Product Executive at NST, as she tells us about world travel, fantastic venues and what makes a great concert tour…

Sheena“NST takes talented musicians, bands, orchestras and choirs away to new places, enabling them to share their talents around the globe. After all, music is a universal language that translates and is appreciated worldwide.

We’ve arranged thousands of concert tours for musicians of all ages. Through our services they’ve shared their love of music in Paris, on the Rhine, in Belgium, New York, Tuscany, the Black Forest, Barcelona, Prague, Lake Garda, indoors, outdoors, in quaint churches and grand cathedrals, on bustling market squares and picturesque bandstands, in community schools, retirement homes, and even at Disneyland® Paris. The list of experiences is endless!

Blog - Disney image

One thing common to every experience is that groups who have booked one of our concert tours find they have a shared focus to work towards, further igniting their passion for music. But I find that many groups shy away from organising a tour just because it seems like an overwhelming task.

My first piece of advice is:

Share your talent with the world – there’s so much to gain!

Andrew Millinchip, music teacher at the Grange School, took his students on an NST concert tour to Belgium. He wrote to say:

The trip provided a focus for rehearsal during the previous term. Spending time together as a group greatly enhanced the bonding of choir members, and time away from school allowed my group to concentrate 100% on making music.

There is a wealth of evidence supporting the idea of learning outside the classroom. A 2004 paper by researchers at Kings College London concluded that there was:

Substantial evidence that outdoor learning can impact positively on children and young people’s attitudes, beliefs and self-perceptions – independence, confidence, self-esteem, personal effectiveness, coping strategies.

It also found that there was:

Significant evidence of the effect of outdoor learning on social development and greater community involvement*

Our groups have enjoyed unforgettable, magical musical experiences around the globe, and have shared these comments with us:

Since returning from our trip, my choristers have been so inspired. Not only have they gained confidence in their musical abilities, they gelled together as a group and are brimming with enthusiasm for music. We just can’t wait for our next tour, so expertly arranged by NST – Susan Francis, Princethorpe College

This trip has been incredible and one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life so far. It has been so interesting to learn about the German culture. It was wonderful– Shani, aged 14

So I’d like to bust some myths about the difficulties of touring and share our essential tips for creating a concert tour that is memorable for all the right reasons…

Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

Three main concert tour myths:

  1. It’s too much like hard work:

Organising a tour is as easy or hard as you want to make it. By choosing to partner with a tour operator like NST, you will immediately smooth out some of the planning bumps. We’ve done it all before and can hold your hand every step of the way. We tailor-make every tour from scratch, and deal with all the planning, timings and booking every aspect of every trip, from transport and accommodation, to concerts, concert promotion, meals and excursions.

  1. I’ll get tangled up in all the red tape:

It is possible to organise a trip independently, but you then take on responsibility for all the health and safety aspects of the trip. By using a tour operator such as NST you’re covered from the moment you book right up until your safe return, both for health, safety and insurance matters and for your financial protection. And because we’ve done it all before, the work you have to do will be kept to a minimum.

  1. Once I’ve booked with a tour operator, I’ll be on my own:

Every music group that travels with NST is partnered with their own Concert Consultant and Music Tour Travel Advisor in the planning stages. They can also choose to be paired with a Tour Manager who will accompany them on their tour from beginning to end. Tour Assistants and Concert Assistants are available in many destinations too, and the promotion of your concerts in resort will be done for you. And if you come across any issues whilst you’re away (that your Tour Manager can’t solve there and then), we operate 24 hour emergency support too.

Top tips for organising a successful concert tour:

  1. Plan in advance:

Make sure you give yourself, pupils and parents as much time as possible. Most groups will book their trip 18 months ahead of travel. Planning well in advance gives parents more time to budget, save their money and pay in smaller instalments. Take a look at our quick reference timeline (below) for guidance.

Blog - Timeline image

  1. Tap into tour operator knowledge:

Tour operators provide access to a wealth of knowledge and experience. Not only will they be able to answer your questions, they might even suggest options you hadn’t already thought of. They’ll be able to tell you what other group leaders have chosen to do on tour and give you an insight into the feedback they’ve given too. At NST, we have a range of tried and tested itineraries to use as a starting point, which can be adapted personally for you.

  1. Get more from your budget in three easy steps:

Be flexible with your travel dates, transport options, departure points and your accommodation location. Remember, the longer the trip is, the more expensive it will be. Fill your tour with free visits to help keep the cost down. Consider joining up with another group; another subject group, year group or even another school. The more travellers there are, the lower the price per person will be.

  1. Promote and launch your trip with free resources:

We can help you to do this with our range of A3 posters, destination specific Power Point presentation templates and pre-printed parents’ leaflets. We recommend that you use all of NST’s promotional resources to organise a launch evening as this will help increase interest and confirm numbers. We also recommend that you organise a parents’ evening to go through the full itinerary of your trip closer to your departure date, using our dedicated free PowerPoint template.

  1. Take a contingency fund and pocket money:

Don’t get caught short. Believe us, it happens! Group leaders should carry a small float and credit card to cover any unforeseen events, and group members should take pocket money in local currency for soft drinks, snacks and souvenirs. Using a banking system will also allow students to budget their money and prevent them from spending it all during the first day or two.”

Germany Rhine River Moselle (Mosel) near Cochem / Sehl

Germany Rhine River Moselle (Mosel) near Cochem / Sehl


 

You can find out more about NST on the website www.nstgroup.co.uk, where you can also try the exclusive online itinerary planning tool, or call them on 0845 293 7951 (calls will cost you 3p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge).

*(Rickinson M, Dillon J, Teaney K, Morris M, Cho M Y, Sanders D, and Benefield P, ‘A Review of Research on Outdoor Learning’, FSC, Shrewsbury, NFER/Kings College London, 2004).

Teaching with Technology: A Community Vision

The Music Workshop Company is focused around the community aspects of music making, shared experiences and direct musical engagement, but technology is opening up new opportunities within music learning. As the Internet becomes ingrained into every aspect of life, Simon Hewitt Jones, Director of ViolinSchool, is exploring the potential of online learning. We catch up with Simon to ask how he sees the future of violin teaching…

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 10.48.08We recently held the final concert for ViolinSchool’s Summer Orchestra Project, which was streamed live on the Internet. We had students joining us from the USA, Australia, Germany, South Korea, and probably other places I’m not aware of. One of our American students, who I’ve been coaching via video exchange, even made it there in person. She came straight from the airport to be at the concert.

Image Courtesy of Sandra Rouch

Image Courtesy of Sandra Rouch

I think it’s no coincidence that we had such a wide and international audience, because I believe something is changing in the world of learning. In fact, in the past few months, I’ve noticed a profound change in how people approach learning the violin. This came home to me when, earlier the same week, a majority of our London students chose to take their lessons via video in our new virtual classroom, rather than brave the tube strike that brought much of central London to a halt. Once the technology is set up, the student and the tutor are carried away by the work they are doing. The technology gets forgotten, and it’s all about the learning.

What most people care about is improving their violin playing and music skills, and having strong relationships with their tutors and fellow learners. But those relationships are not confined just to one medium or one type of tuition. I’m not suggesting lessons via the virtual classroom as a replacement for lessons in person, but, without a shadow of a doubt, I can say that we are seeing better and better results when learners take advantage of a broad mix of tuition options. Personal coaching, group lessons, online classes, the orchestra, and online courses all have their part to play in providing a rounded experience and giving each learner greater perspective about their learning.

Image Courtesy of Tristan Jakob-Hoff

Image Courtesy of Tristan Jakob-Hoff

As our use and understanding of digital technology grows, we’re increasingly providing guidance to students around the world, so far in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. And our students there are asking exactly the same questions as we do here in London:

  • How can I become a better violinist?
  • How can I become a better performer?
  • How can I become a better musician?

For everyone there will be a different, personal answer to these questions, but we all share the same challenge: To improve how we learn, and to improve how we think, in order to improve how we make music.

There are two guiding forces that have driven ViolinSchool over the past few years: Community and creativity. Every day, I am inspired by the enthusiasm and imagination of the ViolinSchool community. It’s truly a group of creative thinkers who love to learn. The stronger that community is, and the stronger the individual connections within it, the more we will benefit from each other’s experiences, and the more we will learn. We don’t want geography to be an obstacle to that. We want to help violinists everywhere by building relationships with people all over the world. We believe that anyone, regardless of age, experience or geography, should be able to enjoy the wonder of making music with the violin.

I’ve identified three key things to help us get there.

1) The learner is empowered

Learning the violin should be a joyful, creative journey, which is why we reject dogmatic, ‘guru-style’ violin teaching. Our ideal is to teach every student to teach themselves.

2) Geography should be no obstacle

Yes, there are times when you just have to be there, but there are also times when you can achieve the same results online. It can be easier, cheaper and faster for someone in the Australian Outback, the Rural MidWest, or even Essex, to learn technical skills via an eLearning module, before coming to a lesson.

It’s also a really effective approach. You can get so much out of a lesson when the foundations of technique and theory are already there.

3) Technology makes our community better connected

What excites me about digital technology in education is not the technology itself: That novelty wears off after a few days or weeks. What excites me about technology in education is how it can bring a community together. When the community is broader and better connected then it’s easier to share our knowledge and understanding, and we all become enriched by the diversity of peoples’ experiences.

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Since last January, ViolinSchool has been rolling out a program of learning resources. We’re committed to building on the great traditions of violin pedagogy that have developed over the last 300 years. We’ve grown up with the treatises of Galamian and Carl Flesch and the studies of Kreutzer, Sevcik, Dounis and others, and we’re now on a mission to update those traditions for today’s new generation of students. We’re working to revitalise violin pedagogy in a way that caters for every experience level in a fun, enjoyable way, from complete beginners to music college students and professionals.

We are steadily producing a wide array of studies, technical exercises and videos, as well as downloadable sheet music, in-depth guides and articles. We’re currently stepping up our production, so that by the end of next year ViolinSchool will provide one of the most comprehensive learning resources about violin playing that’s available anywhere.

But what excites me most about these new tools is the eLearning Modules that we’ve been developing, and which we’ll start releasing this summer as part of our new eLearning trial. These interactive study modules, which are informed by my research at the Royal Academy of Music, break down technical, musical and performance-related topics into a series of clear, easy-to-understand principles. We present the principles in the form of what we call ‘Learning Objectives’ – things our learners need to do in order to acquire specific skills.

ELearning has been used successfully for many years across a wide range of specialist areas, but it’s never been done properly before for the violin. The beauty of the eLearning Modules is that they provide students with a clear understanding of how the whole jigsaw of violin playing fits together. As students become more aware of how they do what they do, their playing becomes more consistent and their confidence increases. Because they have a clearer understanding of how they’re progressing, they get more out of lessons and coaching sessions.

Wherever our students are, whether in London or somewhere thousands of miles away, we look forward to welcoming them in our new digitally-connected community, and helping them to develop their playing to the fullness of their potential!

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ViolinSchool’s eLearning trial runs through to September and beyond. If you are interested in asking about any aspect of the work at ViolinSchool, or would like to take part in the eLearning trial, you can contact the team by emailing support@violinschool.org

Drums of the World

It’s International Drum Month, and to celebrate, the MWC team have been exploring the world of drums – and the drums of the World.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of types of drum. They differ in sound, playing technique and materials, but also in their cultural and musical significance. Some drums have developed for dancing or performance music, others are vehicles for group experiences, meditative, celebratory and even military use.

What is a drum?

800px-Velociraptor-by-Salvatore-Rabito-AlcónA drum is a member of the percussion family of instruments. It is classed as a membranophone, which is a great word that sounds like a species of dinosaur!

What it actually means is that a drum consists of a membrane or skin stretched over a shell or vessel.

Drums can be made from anything – wood, metal, ceramic, plastic or even plants such as gourds. Junk percussion has become popular too, with instruments made from discarded and recycled materials. Sound is produced by hitting the membrane either with the hands, or with beaters or drumsticks.

Most drums are classified as non-tuned percussion. This means they are of indefinite pitch, they don’t play any particular notes. But some drums are tuned to definite pitches. Orchestral kettledrums, (timpani) are always scored to have specific notes, and Indian tabla drums are not just tuned, they play different pitches depending on the technique used to strike them. As the sound decays, the player applies pressure with the heel of the hand, which changes the pitch.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the tabla is practised as a solo instrument it will not necessarily be tuned, but when used as an accompanying instrument it will be tuned to specific notes, normally the first note of the octave, known as sadja or sa in Indian music (the tonic). The range of notes is fairly limited, so depending on the key of the music, the drum may be tuned to the fifth (pa) or fourth (ma).

The drum is tuned using wooden pegs called gattas. These are used to increase and decrease the tension of the skin. Pulling the gattas down increases the pitch as the skin becomes tighter, just like winding up a violin string will make its pitch higher. Pulling them up decreases the pitch. This mechanism is common in tuned drums – orchestral kettledrums have a modernised but similar system.

I do love the tabla. It’s so resonant it’s almost vocal, and the Tintal rhythm patterns add hypnotic energy to Indian music. I can’t get enough! Matthew Forbes, Cellist, Composer and Workshop Leader

Drums are found throughout the world and in all world music. Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe all have their own drum music, and each has a huge variety of percussion instruments.

Early evidence of drums include an image of a man-sized bass drum on a Sumerian vase which dates from around 3000 years BCE, and at least four sizes of drums were used in ancient Mesopotamia. Instruments from Ancient Egypt dating to around 1800 BCE have been discovered, and drums are mentioned in one of the earliest Chinese poems dating from 1135 BCE.

Drums seem to have reached Europe during the Crusading Era in the 12th century, where often they were played with a stick in one hand while the musician played a small pipe at the same time. This combination was often used for accompanying dance. Much more significant to the orchestral world was the arrival of the Arabian naker or naqqarah in the 13th Century, a small kettledrum, a modern version of which is now found in most symphony orchestras.

When most of us think of drums, the first thing that springs to mind is the drum kit (or drum set, as the American’s call it). A typical drum kit includes a snare drum, tom-toms, bass drum and cymbals such as hi-hat and ride. No pop or rock band is complete without one.

Check out this video to find out about the history of the modern drum kit…

Drums are played in so many other musical groups too. Brazilian samba is music for dancing, played in ensembles of many percussion instruments. Samba is an energetic music that immediately creates a positive, carnival atmosphere, and it’s a great way in to ensemble playing. It’s also a proactive way to start a workshop with participants who may not be confident instrumentalists. MWC Workshop Leader Chris Woodham says,

The starting point with all of my workshops, composition or otherwise, is drumming. That’s the way in, and the way into the students understanding that I’m an expert. It’s accessible; everybody can hold a drumstick; and I’ve found that it’s a great way to get everybody involved and working towards the same goal.

Read more about Samba music in our post, The Samba Workshop – How it Works.

For MWC Founder, Maria, the drum is the perfect instrument.

They are fabulous. It’s easy to get a sound from a drum, but extremely difficult to become a real drummer, whether you’re playing drum kit, djembes or tabla. Playing drums is very physical. It’s a great feeling to feel the vibrations of a drum passing through your body. I really enjoy playing djembes as part of a drumming circle. The energy and intricate rhythms are so powerful.

HHCMF14s-34The djembe is an interesting hand-drum from West Africa. The drum was used by storytellers and healers, as well as for ceremonial occasions. It is interesting to note that the power of musical vibration was considered significant for much more than entertainment purposes in so many ancient cultures – a holistic view that is once again becoming integrated into our awareness. You can read much more about the djembe and the benefits of drumming in our African drumming blog.

If you would like to find out more about drums and drumming, or to book one of our workshops in African Drumming, Samba, Junk Percussion or other drumming techniques, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you!

Body Percussion – You Make the Music

Body percussion is a brilliant way to warm up for a music workshop, and a useful tool for creating music in a group. It is incredibly accessible; the human body is an instrument every participant possesses. It is also valuable for internalising fundamental musical concepts including rhythm, beat and tempo.

I love Body Percussion because it’s a high energy, very accessible art-form. Seeing the amazing ideas that workshop participants come up with is brilliant, as is the reaction when they see what is possible when making beats on your body!

Ollie Tunmer, Body Percussion specialist

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As a group warm-up activity, body percussion stimulates circulation and creates an energy in which it is impossible to feel self-conscious. As a musicianship tool, it provides strategies to equip students with a collective sense of pulse, memory for different rhythms and the opportunity to full engage with the musical material.

In composition it provides an inspiring way to explore sound, rhythm and the physical relationship with music.

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It is also an engaging way to explore the music of World cultures. The folk traditions of many countries include the use of body percussion. The Juba, or hambone dance from West Africa became a traditional dance among African-American slaves in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Slaves were forbidden from owning rhythm instruments for fear of secret codes hidden in the drumming. Instead they created music using body percussion, stamping the feet, slapping and patting the arms, legs, chest, and cheeks. This percussive dance, originally known as “Pattin’ Juba,” would be used to keep time for other dances. Steps had incredibly descriptive names such as “Yaller Cat,” “Pigeon Wing” and “Blow That Candle Out.”

Other traditions that use body percussion include the palmas, or intricate hand claps in Spanish Flamenco music, tap dancing and Ethiopian armpit music.

Body percussion works on the same basis as any percussion instrument, but uses the body to create the different vibrations and sounds. These can include:

  • Stamping the feet on the floor
  • Patting the thighs with open palms
  • Clicking the fingers
  • Clapping the hands
  • Patting or knocking the chest
  • Slapping the cheeks with an open mouth
  • Clicking the tongue

Inhaling and exhaling air, and various vocal noises including grunting and whistling can add to the repertoire of tones, and sounds can be adapted to create different effects. For example, clapping the hands in different positions will change the pitch and resonance.

Body percussion can be performed solo, but it is exhilarating as an ensemble activity, both to performers and audience members. The well-known percussion group Stomp use a combination of non-traditional, junk percussion instruments and body percussion in their performances.

Body percussion has many possibilities. It can be adapted for any age and ability. It can be introduced into a diverse range of workshops, from African Drumming or African Songs, to Composition workshops. It can be used as a warm-up, an icebreaker or a full workshop.

You can use existing games and ideas or create your own.

Watch composer Steve Reich Steve Reich explain his piece Clapping Music, and the inspiration behind it.

Here are some simple ideas from the Music Workshop Company to get you started.

Warm up

This can be done seated or standing.

Start with a copying activity. Start with four beats to establish a beat. Clap a rhythm that fits into a four – beat bar. Keeping to time the group should repeat the rhythm.

Gradually make the rhythms more complex. If the group doesn’t quite catch one of the rhythms, repeat it once or twice. Don’t comment on whether the repetition was correct or not, just repeat it.

Keep talking and instructions to a minimum, but make eye contact with every member of the group.

Start to add other body sounds; knee slap, click, stamp, chest…

Vary the dynamics, but keep the pulse the same throughout.

This warm-up can be developed by getting participants to create their own rhythms for everyone to copy. Either ask for volunteers or working round the group.

Body percussion

Vocal activity

Try making up a call and response vocal activity using speech and percussive vocal sounds.

Participants can take it in turn to lead this game, and it can be varied using different tempi and dynamics, or by adding more physical sounds such as stamping the feet and clapping hands.

Body Percussion Patterns

Begin to build up a body percussion piece by setting up an eight beat pattern, such as this:

Feet       Feet

Leg        Leg

Belly     Belly

Clap

This can be developed in a number of ways, for example as an ensemble piece using similar ideas to Reich’s Clapping Piece.

Watch some body percussion performers and use your imagination to create your own rhythms, sounds and games. You can even develop ways to notate your piece, deciding on symbols for each sound and rhythmic pattern, and finding creative ways to write them down in your group.


Contact the Music Workshop Company to book your Body Percussion Workshop and begin your exploration of musical possibility!

MWC Supports Protect Music Education

This month, we wanted to bring to your attention the Protect Music Education campaign, a drive launched in April by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) to rebuild Government support for music education.

The campaign focuses on 5 key points:

  • The Government must unequivocally support music education
  • The Government is telling local authorities to stop funding music services
  • Local authority funding is in addition to national funding
  • The flagship National Plan for Music Education is at risk
  • Music is central to society, education and economy

Protect-M_EThe benefits of music education, particularly amongst children who learn an instrument, have been explored widely in recent years. We have read many times in the media about the improvement in literacy and numeracy, as well as the development of skills including co-ordination, presentation and team working, which come with the study of music. Learning an instrument has been shown to have a positive impact on academic studies.

In 2013, researchers in neuroscience at the Northwestern University, Illinois, found that childhood music lessons also have long-term effects on neurological health. The study demonstrated that participants who had between four and fourteen years of musical training had faster responses to speech sounds than participants without any training, despite the fact that many of them had not played an instrument for about 40 years.

As well as being of benefit to individuals, the creative industries are worth £36.3 billion a year to the UK. The music industry is worth between £3.5 billion and £3.8 billion depending on which measure you use.

Despite this knowledge, funding cuts in music education have been a common trend for a long time. According to a BBC report from 2011, Education Secretary, Michael Gove, insisted he would ensure that all children had access to quality music education, but even with that assurance he was unable to guarantee funding beyond the end of the year.

In 2010/2011, the Government spending on music education was £127.5 million. This dropped to £111.6 million the following year.

Despite the Government’s commitment to support music education, many local authorities are being forced to cut funding, with their main budgets being slashed by at least 30%. Some councils are cutting music education budgets altogether, with the Department for Education recommending in March this year that hubs should no longer be funded by local authorities.

The recent consultation document on local education funding shows that central government expects local government to cease funding music in English schools from 2016 and there is little certainty as to the continuation of funding after the current financial year. The expectation is that music services will be funded through music education hubs and school budgets, and no longer from the Education Services Grant (ESG).

The consultation is part of a plan to make savings of up to £200 million to the ESG, stating, “Schools should take greater responsibility for their own improvement, leaving local authorities to focus on their statutory functions.” These statutory functions are broadly administrative and include planning for the education service as a whole, providing a director of Children’s Services, health and safety, pensions and other services.

Screen shot 2014-05-12 at 18.04.18This recommendation, along with cuts in funding to the Music Education Hubs, puts the National Plan for Music Education at risk.

According to a report in the May 2014 edition of Music Teacher Magazine, the Musicians’ Union are currently backing a campaign to prevent the Council in Cornwall and the Isle of Wight from cutting 92 music teaching jobs, after Councillor Steve Priest remarked on BBC South that he would be, “looking for musicians in the area to teach our children as volunteers as there are many people who can play instruments”.

On May 17th, former winner of the Young Musician of the Year, Mark Simpson, writing in the Guardian, expressed his concern that funding cuts in classical music are depriving children from low income backgrounds of the opportunity to learn an instrument.

The problem is not specific to the UK. In Ottowa, Canada, where in 2012 fewer than half of schools had even a part time music teacher, astronaut and scientist Chris Hadfield criticised cuts in music education, saying, “All these cuts are not doing our children any good, they’re not doing the development of our children any good, and I don’t think they’re doing much for Canada.” Speaking at an event promoting music education in schools which took place on May 5th, Hadfield explained, “Learning to play the guitar taught me to improvise and be creative. Music taught me to be a better astronaut.”

Protect Music Education is attracting support from musicians including violinist Nicola Benedetti and soprano, Dame Felicity Lott, journalists and organisations such as the London Symphony Orchestra and Trinity College, London. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of the potential threat to music in education.

MWC’s Maria Thomas says, “Many of the musicians here at the Music Workshop Company, received their early musical training through the music services. For generations, local music services run by councils have created opportunities for young people to develop their musical skills and make friendships that last for life. The Music Workshop Company fully supports the Protect Music Education campaign.”

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Add your support to Protect Music Education today, and help ensure that future generations have the chance to benefit from learning music, with all the pleasure and benefits it can bring.

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!

Top Tips for Concert Organisers

As the end of term, and probably the end of term concert, approaches, here at MWC we have been thinking about exactly what it takes to make a great show.

You’ll be able to read all of our ideas soon in our new resource pack on concert organising, but for now, here are some of our top tips for a successful evening…

Welwyn Festival photoPreparation and Rehearsal

The performers need to know all of their pieces or lines, but make sure you don’t over-rehearse. Your show will be flat and uninteresting if performers (and staff) are fed up with the material before they go on stage.

Check that anyone speaking is facing the audience so their voice carries. Find a focal point at the back of the hall for performers to speak to.

Have a dress rehearsal. A run-through in performance order helps build confidence for the night.

If performers are walking on stage in a particular order, check they know which person to stand next to. Line them up outside the performance space and practice walking on.

Keep costumes, props and scenery simple. Don’t ask parents to supply costumes: it’s a nightmare for people who don’t consider themselves “arty”. It’s worth contacting your local amateur dramatics society, operatic group or theatre to see if they would mind lending you what you need.

Consider copyright and PRS issues. The music publisher can advise you on this.

Practicalities

What happens if your piano accompanist is ill on the night? Do you have someone who could cover or is it worth recording the music as back up?

Will you record the performance (audio, video or photograph)? Do you have the appropriate permissions from all the parents? Will you allow parents to record the performance or will you sell copies of your recording?

If you have an active PTA or other parent group, get them involved. They could make costumes, props and scenery, help backstage, sell refreshments or help with front-of-house duties.

ReedsThe Performance

A good front-of-house team is essential. They will be responsible for greeting the audience, directing them to their seats (the toilets, the refreshments) and stewarding in the event of an evacuation.

Whoever introduces the concert should announce fire and evacuation procedures. It’s also helpful to let people know where the toilets are, whether there will be an interval, if refreshments are available in the interval or after the performance and how to collect performers after the show.

If you have instrumental performers, make sure they have help tuning their instruments. Allow plenty of time to tune stringed instruments. Check that performers have everything they need; spare strings, reeds, mutes…

When performers aren’t using their instruments, they need somewhere to put them, particularly the percussion instruments which can make a sound with the slightest movement. Collect instruments straight after a performance (this can be worked into the staging) or organise for them to be put on the floor.

Performers should be encouraged to smile and bow after their performance. Practice this in the dress rehearsal. Bowing acknowledges the audience’s applause and allows the performers their moment of glory.

People who help with preparation, costumes, props, scenery, lighting, should be thanked. A thank-you card signed by the performers is a nice touch, and key supporters should be acknowledged before the end of the concert.

After the Performance

Make sure you’ve collected any equipment you need and that younger performers have all been picked up by their parents.

How will you celebrate the successful performance? An after-show party for the organisers, arranged by someone other than you, is a great way to share the post-concert buzz.

Good luck with your show!

If you have questions about any aspect of your Christmas performance, email us at info@music-workshop.co.uk and we’ll send you a reply. We’ll also share the questions and responses with others. Or why not join in our Twitter Q&A on Thursday 28th November between 4 – 5pm. Tweet us your questions @musicworkshopco and we’ll respond.

 

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