Planning the Perfect Workshop

Maria and the Music Workshop Company Team are gearing up for the Rhinegold Music Education Expo, which will take place on March 12th and 13th at London’s Barbican Centre. This year we’re excited to be holding consultation sessions for clients, helping you get the most out of your music workshops.

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We particularly love creating bespoke projects, understanding your needs and making a music workshop that absolutely fits the bill. The finished event should be an enjoyable and straightforward experience, so we’ve put together a simple guide for anyone planning a music workshop, based on our experience of things that sometimes get missed and cause hiccups on the day!

Planning and Design

You will find that the more notice you can allow for the design and planning of a workshop, the easier it will be. We often accommodate workshops at short notice, but ideally prefer a month to prepare for a workshop. This gives us time to get to the heart of what you need and fit in with every aspect, from topic and curriculum to students, instruments and scheduling.

Who Should Call Us?

It’s easiest for us when your enquiry comes directly from the decision maker, whether that’s the Head of Music, Head Teacher or another project leader. We always aim to respond to enquiries within one working day. With any bespoke project, we plan each element to suit and it can be difficult to assess exactly what is required without speaking to the right person.

The more information you can give us on enquiry, the more detailed our proposal can be. For example, if you want the workshop on a specific day, let us know. How many groups or participants will be involved? What outcomes do you want? Is the focus on a multi-cultural day, G.C.S.E. coursework, or Arts Week, or do you want the workshop linked to a theme or topic of study?

Confirmation and Contracts

Our workshops are confirmed by email with contracts, and terms and conditions emailed out.

If you are waiting for confirmation of funding, or need time to assess the number of potential participants, workshop dates can be held for you, but workshops do then need to be booked within one month of the original enquiry.

The Workshop SpaceDownham-Whitefoot Community Choir 100813

To hold an effective workshop, we need enough space for all the participants to sit in a circle.

Remember, workshop noise levels can be quite high (particularly for Samba!) so it’s important to be somewhere where other people won’t be disturbed. It’s also best to be somewhere that others won’t disturb the workshop. This can be challenging to be in a hall at the centre of a school where people are walking in and out, so plan your workshop space carefully. However, we will always do our best to accommodate the facilities you have.

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We do need to be made aware of any venue challenges. For example, if the space we’ll be using for the workshop is only accessible by stairs and there is no lift, it’s important to know so we can get any heavy equipment in place.

Fees and Invoicing

All our prices are fully inclusive and include the musicians’ time, planning, set up, the duration of the workshop, use of instruments (where supplied), travel, administration and public liability insurance.

Our quotes are valid until the end of the following academic year, so a quote given in October 2015 will be valid for a workshop held before August 2017.

Workshops are usually invoiced after the date, but if it makes the payment process easier we can supply the invoice in advance. Payment is due within 14 days, as specified in our terms and conditions. We ask to be made aware if you are not able to meet the 14-day payment terms, which can be the case if payments for your school are issued centrally by the local authority. It is useful for us to have the contact details of the bursar or finance manager, so we can liaise directly regarding payment.

If you reach the end of the financial year with money left to spend, we can invoice you in advance for a workshop you book for later in the academic year. This means you can count the invoice in one financial year, for a workshop in the next.

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Workshop Day – Final Thoughts

It’s the small things that make a difference to the smooth running of a workshop on the day, so here are a few things that help us:

  • Please ensure the school office know about the workshop. It can be confusing for a musician to turn up and feel they’re not expected.
  • Please ensure there is somewhere for the musician to unload instruments, preferably close to the workshop space.
  • It takes about 30 minutes for the musician to get unloaded and set up, so if the workshop co-ordinator is not able to meet the musician, please arrange for someone else to show them the workshop space and allow them to get unloaded.
  • Help in unloading the instruments is always appreciated.
  • Access to the staff room for hot drinks and toilets is also appreciated.

We look forward to seeing you at the Expo if you can make it. Meanwhile if you’d like to book a consultation or speak to us about booking a workshop, contact us for a chat.

 

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singing with Confidence

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

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

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

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

Singing Workshops for Non-Singers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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