Wales – Land of Song

The feast of Saint David, patron saint of Wales, falls on March 1st, the date of his death in 589 AD. Saint David’s Day has been regularly celebrated since his canonisation in the 12th century. To celebrate, we are exploring the music of Wales.

Wales holds a special place in our hearts here at the Music Workshop Company; firstly because it’s the home nation of founder and Artistic Director, Maria, and secondly because of its apt and joyful reputation as “Land of Song”.

“Door of Abbey of Ystrad Fflur. have crumbled and disappeared. The solemn procession and song of tonsured priests, themimicry of the heavenly choir by urchins of the hills hastily draped in white, and the fervidchant of the Cistercian fraternity, blending with the deep and thrilling tones of the organand sweetest voices of chilldren,— Ave, Regina coelorum !Ave, Domina angelorum ! have long ago passed away. Generations many, of the gentlest and best, the bravest andstrongest of the Ceredigion households, he in dust around,—princes, princesses, lords ofmanors and castles, warriors once terrible in battle, and the poorest of the poor, without dis-tinction or memorial, as equal as grains of sand, as unknown as if they had never been. Howimpressively quiet is their rest amid the mountain solitudes! ANTIQUITIES : LLANDDEWI-BREFI. 165 All that remains of the abbey is this solitary arch of Norman design. The land onwhich the abbey stood, and much of the country around, belongs to the estate”

This is partly a modern stereotype, based on the popularity and worldwide reputation of Welsh male voice choirs, a history of Nonconformist choral music and the Eisteddfods. But even as early as 1187, medieval chronicler Geraldus Cambrensis recorded that the Welsh sang in as many parts as there were people, and even that quite small children could harmonise. Music in Wales was a primary form of communication.

Welsh traditional songs, like those of other cultures, were based on seasonal customs such as the welcoming of spring and New Year. However, this music was suppressed for generations as a result of the Act of Union in 1535 and 1542, in which the legal system of England was extended to Wales. The intention behind the act was to create a single state and legal jurisdiction – fundamentally, Henry VIII was making the point that Wales was part of his England, and its separate language should not disabuse anyone of this fact. Section 20 of the 1535 Act made English the only language of the law courts and said that those who used Welsh would not be appointed to, or paid for, any public office in Wales:

from henceforth no Person or Persons that use the Welch Speech or Language, shall have or enjoy any manner Office or Fees within this Realm of England, Wales, or other the King’s Dominion, upon Pain of forfeiting the same Offices or Fees, unless he or they use and exercise the English Speech or Language.

The effect of this clause was to lay the foundation for an Anglicised ruling class of landed gentry in Wales. This would have many consequences, not least for Welsh music. The language became the preserve of the workers, creating class divide within Wales and cultural ignorance outside.

Welsh traditional music declined further in the 18th and 19th centuries with the rise of Nonconformist religion, which emphasised singing over instrumental music. Any English subject belonging to a non-Anglican church or a non-Christian religion was called a Nonconformist. More broadly, this covered any person who advocated religious liberty. Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Calvinists Methodists, Unitarians and Quakers all fell under this definition. Due to the puritanical nature of many of these religions, traditional music became associated with drunkenness and immorality. However, many hymns that developed from the Welsh Methodist revival of the late 18th century were set to popular secular tunes or adopted Welsh ballad melodies.

The Male Voice Choir

The tradition of Welsh male voice choirs grew up out of mining, industrial and religious heritage, and in the competitive choral singing of the eisteddfod. It was not uncommon for a group of miners working together to form a choir to enter a competition or eisteddfod and disband shortly after.

Other choirs thrived and survived, such as the Treorchy and Morriston Orpheus choirs, both now famous throughout the world.

The men were tough workers and had hard lives, but produced some of the most soulful, powerful, sensitive music. Land of My Fathers is the National Anthem of Wales. Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in Welsh, the words were written by Evan James and the tune composed by his son, James James, both residents of Pontypridd, Glamorgan, in January 1856.

Despite the decline of the mining industries, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s comment, “We are a musical nation,” is as relevant as ever. Male voice choirs remain a feature of life in Wales. More recently, too, there has been resurgence for Welsh male choral singing. In 2000, Tim Rhys-Evans, former musical director at Welsh National Youth Opera and a classically trained singer, formed the award winning Only Men Aloud! And Only Boys Aloud! Only Kids Aloud! followed, ensuring that choirs have a future among the younger generation.

Members of the Royal Welsh Ladies Choir – 1908

Female and mixed choirs, though historically not as well represented, are now equally popular, and choral singing is increasingly recognised for its health and wellbeing benefits.

Eisteddfod and Competitive Singing

​Competitive singing is very popular in Wales. The National Eisteddfod of Wales is the largest festival of competitive music and poetry in Europe. Running over eight days each summer, it features competitions and performances entirely in the Welsh language, with all official announcements also in Welsh. It attracts over 6,000 competitors and audiences of over 150,000.

Another example of competitive singing can be seen in the Mari Lwyd (the Grey Mare) – a type of pre-Christian house-visiting wassail said to bring good luck.

The Mari Lwyd (a hobby horse made from a horse’s skull mounted on a pole and carried by an individual hidden under a sackcloth) and its companions would go door-to-door, singing, and challenging the families inside to a battle of rhyming insults in Welsh. At the end of this battle, the group would be invited into the house for refreshments.

A Gymanfa Ganu is a Welsh festival of sacred hymns, sung with four part harmony by a congregation, usually under the direction of a choral director. More than a thousand Gymanfa Ganu are held in Wales each year, taking place in almost every village and town. Other larger versions take place at festivals such as the National Eisteddfod of Wales and the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. Gymanfa Ganus are held across the world wherever people of Welsh heritage live, significantly in Patagonia, Argentina.

Maria Thomas attended her first Gymanfa at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, when she competed in the instrumental competition as a teenager.
I attended with friends and family, and even though I don’t speak Welsh and therefore didn’t understand the announcements or the hymn words, the sense of community was fabulous. Singing is a great activity, and when hundreds of people come together to sing, it is a very special atmosphere.

To listen to some examples of traditional Welsh song and choral singing, check out our Spotify playlist:

 

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Be Part of the Extraordinary: Support the Horniman Museum

The Horniman is an award-winning, family-friendly Museum and Gardens in south London’s Forest Hill. Established in Victorian times when tea trader and philanthropist Frederick Horniman first opened his house and collection of objects to visitors, the Museum is currently undergoing a major three-year development of its gallery spaces.

As part of this project, the Horniman’s world-renowned Anthropology collection will be redisplayed to create the World Gallery: A special space designed to encourage a wide appreciation, curiosity and celebration of the world, its people, places and cultures.

In order to make this happen, the museum is crowdfunding until October 31st.

The Horniman’s Charlotte Stanley talks to the Music Workshop Company about the significance of the new gallery…

But first, check out this video which tells you all about the project: 

About the Horniman

“Since the museum first opened, our collection has grown significantly. It includes internationally important Designated collections of anthropology and musical instruments, as well as an acclaimed aquarium, natural history collection and 16.5 acres of beautiful gardens.

Over 1,300 musical instruments from the Horniman’s collection can be seen in the Music Gallery. Its display spans a wide range of instruments from around the world, making up the largest number on show in the UK.

The Horniman’s high quality collections, buildings and gardens allow us to draw together, in innovative ways, issues and stories relating to peoples, cultures and environments at a local, national and international level.

The Museum actively seeks to attract users of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. It has an exceptional record of educational achievement and encourages participation from as wide a range of people as possible.

We currently attract over 914,000 visits per year to our site. We have a loyal and high repeat audience, and visitor satisfaction is high at 98%.

The World Gallery

The Horniman is creating a new, free, World Gallery, which will celebrate what it means to be human. The World Gallery will reveal the strength and depth of the Horniman’s internationally important Anthropology Collection and be a place of inspiration for visitors of all ages. It will include more than 3,000 extraordinary objects from around the world, works of art and fun things to touch, play with and even smell.

This major project includes creating the World Gallery, Learning and Engagement activities and the conservation of architectural heritage.

Features of the World Gallery:

  • Visitors will be welcomed into the new gallery with an introduction to the emotional role that objects play in our daily lives. Digital displays will present local people talking about their personal treasures, and visitors will be encouraged to reconsider the significance of objects on display elsewhere, questioning which we place value on and why.
  • At the heart of the gallery are a series of encounters presenting life from the Americas, Africa, Oceania, Europe and Asia. The objects that visitors will encounter will celebrate human creativity, imagination and adaptability from the past to the present-day.
  • Beyond these encounters, different perspectives on our collections will explore the many ways that people understand and describe the world. Highlighting universal categories and ideas, objects will be displayed in different groups to pose questions about how people classify the material world around them.
  • Frederick Horniman’s founding vision for the Horniman Museum and Gardens will be explored with objects from Surrey House, the forerunner of the present Museum. Horniman gave his museum and its collections to the people of London to help them discover the world – a legacy that lives on in the World Gallery.
  • The gallery space is completed with kites and banners hanging from the newly renovated ceiling vault. Collected and commissioned from Guatemala, China, London and beyond, these emblems signify the global instinct to come together in celebration, play or protest.

Learning and Engagement

For the last 50 years we’ve been renowned for our unique handling collection, offering the opportunity to touch objects from our collections such as a shark’s jaw or a piece of an Ancient Egyptian coffin. With a new learning programme we are developing new ways to engage with local people, community groups and school children.

We will encourage a wider appreciation of our collection, examining its history, connections and relevance to people today by creating lessons for schools and resources for teachers and families, alongside resources and information in the gallery.

Conservation of architectural heritage

There have been vital architectural and infrastructure improvements in the gallery space. Some much-needed TLC and structural changes have re-introduced daylight to the space, enhancing the visitor experience and recapturing the spirit of the original building. The refurbishment and repair works will enable us to preserve both our internationally significant collection and our historic buildings.

Our Grade II* listed museum was designed in 1896 in the Arts and Crafts style by Charles Harrison Townsend. Our much-loved Clocktower and original buildings were chosen by the people of Lewisham as their iconic building for the 2012 Olympics celebrations.

Please help us bring the World Gallery to the Horniman

The Horniman is crowdfunding for the World Gallery up to 31 October. This is your opportunity to be part of this amazing project!

From personalised poems by the Horniman walrus to private tours of the new gallery, a range of rewards are available at crowdfunder.co.uk/worldgallery.

 

Website: http://www.horniman.ac.uk

Email: enquiry@horniman.ac.uk

 

 


The Music Workshop Company is passionate about supporting creative and educational projects. If you would like to be featured as a guest blogger, please contact us using the form below. We’d also love to hear from you if you would like to ask about booking one of our music workshops. 

The Influence of African Musicians on Classical Music

Western classical music, by its very definition, is rooted in the sacred and secular traditions of the western world, centred around Europe. Although the genre has been influenced throughout history by folk song, jazz and music from other continents such as America and China, it rarely diverges far from its Western identity.

Much like Western music outside the ‘classical’ box, African music is incredibly diverse, varying greatly by region. There is lots of opportunity for creative inspiration.

In his 2006 book, Listening to Artifacts: Music Culture in Ancient Israel/Palestine, Theodore Burgh suggests that classical music ultimately has its roots in North Africa, in the art music of Ancient Egypt, as well as other ancient cultures such as Greece. However, there seems, at first glance, little evidence of African influence in classical music. When it is found, for example in Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, it is generally Afro-American in origin, interpreted in a western-dominated form of music.

When explored, the contribution of black composers and musicians, and the influence of African music, forms a fascinating part of classical music history.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Probably the first and perhaps best-known classical composer of African descent, Saint-Georges was the illegitimate son of a Guadeloupe plantation owner, Bologne de Saint-Georges, and his mistress, an African slave girl of probable Senegalese birth called Nanon.

A contemporary of Mozart, Saint-Georges was barred from sharing his father’s French noble status because he was black, but his father ensured he was educated as an aristocrat. He studied fencing with a famous swordsman, becoming a champion fencer. He learned harpsichord, and he studied violin with one of the famous French virtuosi, Jean-Marie Leclair the Elder. His success both as a musician and athlete made him famous, but while religious leaders were agitating for an end to slavery, interracial marriages were still forbidden, and his skin colour built him an ambivalent status in society.

Although close to Queen Marie Antoinette, Saint-Georges was refused the prestigious post of director of the Paris Opéra, for which he was considered in 1775, because two of the company’s leading sopranos objected and successfully petitioned the Queen against his appointment on the ground of his race. Even so, he was a major star in Paris in the 1770s, nicknamed “Le Mozart Noir” on concert posters, often sharing equal billing with Mozart.

The later part of Saint-Georges’ life was disrupted by the French Revolution. Although he had been active in campaigning against slavery and sympathised with the democratic aims of the revolution, his aristocratic background meant he was not trusted.

He continued performing and directing up to his death, and he was remained famous enough to attract large crowds. However, living alone, he contracted a bladder infection and died on June 10, 1799.

Commemorative editions of his music were published, but within a short time, new restrictions on blacks came into force across France and its empire. Slavery had been abolished in 1794, but was re-imposed by Napoleon Bonaparte. Under Bonaparte’s regime, Saint-George and his music were removed from orchestra repertoires, wiping him from the history books for nearly 200 years.

His profile has risen in recent years thanks to concerts by ensembles including the Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, but he has not yet regained the equal footing he held with Mozart among classical music fans.

Embracing Ideas in the Romantic Period and Beyond

Towards the end of the 19th century, composers were looking towards different cultures for inspiration. Antonín Dvořák’s interest in themes from the ‘new world’ is well documented. His move to New York brought him directly into contact with Afro-American music.

In fact, Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, From the New World, written in 1893, contains some of the most famous examples of Afro-American themes in classical music. But Dvořák’s themes are not actually of Afro-American origin. The composer wrote accurate imitations of the pentatonic melodies, a technique which he also used in his American string quartet.

Interestingly, these compositions were pretty much contemporaneous with an emerging style of music in North America called ragtime.

Ragtime descended from the jigs and marching music played by African American bands, referred to as “jig piano” or “piano thumping”. Rags by Scott Joplin such as The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag are still instantly recognisable, and Ragtime had a lasting influence on classical composers. Igor Stravinsky wrote a solo piano work called Piano-Rag-Music, while ragtime is evident in the works of Erik Satie, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud and the other members of The Group of Six in Paris.

In 1930, William Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony marked the first symphony by an African-American man. The work marries conventional classical forms with popular African styles, also referencing the blues. The bass line of the final movement moves from an F to a D-flat, resembling Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

The following epigraph, from African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 1896 work, Ode to Ethiopia, appears with the fourth movement:

Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul,

Thy name is writ on Glory’s scroll

In characters of fire.

High ‘mid the clouds of Fame’s bright sky,

Thy banner’s blazoned folds now fly,

And truth shall lift them higher.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

The composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) is considered to be the only black composer to have broken through from the Romantic era. Born to a Sierra Leonean father, Coleridge-Taylor was from Holborn, London. He incorporated black traditional music with classical music, with such compositions as African Suite, African Romances and Twenty Four Negro Melodies. The first performance of his work, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, was described by the principal of the Royal College of Music as, “One of the most remarkable events in modern English musical history.” Despite this success, Coleridge-Taylor’s music is out of fashion and all-but out of print.

Accepted to the Royal College of Music aged 15, despite concerns about his skin colour, he swapped violin studies for composition. His tutor was Charles Villiers Stanford. Stanford challenged his student to write a clarinet quintet without showing the influence of his favourite composer, Brahms. Coleridge-Taylor wrote the piece, and when this work was revived in 1973, the New York Times critic called it, “Something of an eye opener…an assured piece of writing in the post-Romantic tradition…sweetly melodic.”

Despite little modern recognition, his influence lives on: From 1903 to his death in 1912, he was professor of composition at the Trinity College of Music in London. However, violinist Philippe Graffin performed the violin concerto at the Proms in 2005, and the Nash Ensemble have recorded the composer’s piano quintet.

Modern Times

Modern classical music has been more influenced by African culture. John Cage’s 1940 work, Bacchanale was the first significant modern synthesis of African and Western music. It was also instrumental in the development of the prepared piano, as the composer sought out African sounds with only room on stage for a grand piano.

Other composers such as George Crumb, Ligeti and Steve Reich have explored African influences, while composers born in Africa include Nigerian composer Joshua Uzoigwe. A member of the Igbo ethnic group, many of Uzoigwe’s works draw on the traditional music of his people.

Classical music is far from reaching the limits of inspiration from African music, and it is far from incorporating the work of black composers on a level playing field. However, for centuries, composers and the curiosity of the creative mind have shown us that the more the classical music world stretches its knowledge beyond the boundaries of its own traditional culture, the more unique voices will be found.


If you would like to speak to the Music Workshop Company about booking a workshop inspired by African music, contact us today:

Get Funky

We’re looking forward to Black History Month in October, and as the new term starts, we’re taking a look at funk music. Funk is a genre that originated in the 1960s with musicians such as James Brown, was pioneered by singers like Betty Davis who was influenced by her husband, jazz musician Miles Davis, and by Jimi Hendrix. Funk was exemplified by the genius of Prince and it was among the styles explored by David Bowie, and integrated into his music.

This year has been significant in that it has featured the sad loss of two of these great music icons, Bowie and Prince, so a celebration of the music and its influences seems fitting.

There’s also an exciting addition to the exploration of the influential contributions made by the African American community in the USA. On September 24th 2016, the Smithsonian African American Museum’s music exhibit opens its doors, with a three-day celebration. The museum will showcase musicians and music history from R&B, hip-hop, jazz, rock, and many other genres, covering 400 years of history. It’s a timely reminder of the influence of many African American musicians.

The exhibition will feature James Brown’s electric Hammond Organ and an exact replica of the P-Funk Mothership, the space ship used as a stage prop by funk band Parliament Funkadelic. The original ship was scrapped and sold by the band in the early ’80s.

Funk is a genre created through a mix of soul, jazz and rhythm and blues music. It brings the rhythmic groove of the electric bass and drums to the foreground, de-emphasising the prominence of melody and chord progressions. Like many African influenced genres, the focus is on complex interlocking rhythms played on bass, drums, electric organ and guitar. Funk bands often have horn sections of saxophone, trumpets and trombones that play rhythmic punches.

The word funk refers to a strong smell, derived from the Latin, fumigare, to smoke. It captures the idea of a mustiness or earthiness that was adopted by jazz musicians to mean something strongly felt.

Funk is characterised by a two bar (two-celled) off-beat structure, originating in sub-Saharan African musical traditions.

[source: Wikipedia]

This rhythm which derives from the mambo and conga was first integrated by musicians in New Orleans in the 1940s, and used to great effect by James Brown’s rhythm section. Like other music which originates in Africa, its roots are in the spirituals, blues, work-chants, gospel shouts and body rhythms of the African communities. Like other forms of African-American music, funk provided an outlet for the expression of the daily struggles of the poor and lower-class.

The chords used in funk are the same richly colourful extended chords used in jazz, chords with added sevenths, ninths and 11ths, but unlike jazz, funk uses very few chord changes and often features static single-chord vamps with a driving pulse. Chords are often modal – mixolydian or dorian in nature rather than major or minor – and melodies mix these modes with blues scales.

James Brown was one of the earliest exponents of funk. He redefined the genre as it was developing in New Orleans, being the first musician to put funk in a rock-n-roll beat. His signature groove gave heavy emphasis to the downbeat of every bar, moving away from the backbeat (one-two-three-four) that typified African American music.

Other musical groups and musicians picked up on the James Brown sound, and funk began to grow. The 1970s were the high point for funk in mainstream music, with bands including P-Funk (Parliament Funkadelic), Sly and the Family Stone, Rose Royce Donna Summer and Chaka Kahn to name a few. David Bowie’s 1974 album, Young Americans was funk influenced, as was Station to Station.

By the 1980s funk had been driven from the airwaves, replaced by hip hop and R&B, but rock bands began copying elements of funk, with groups including the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Rage Against the Machine developing styles of funk rock and funk metal. The late 1970’s and 80’s also saw the rise of funk icon, Prince. Using stripped down instrumentation similar to that of James Brown, Prince was to have more of an influence that any funk artist since the 60’s. His music was as ambitious and outrageous as his stage show, combining eroticism, technology and rhythmic and melodic complexity. He won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award, and in 2004 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone ranked Prince at number 27 on its list of 100 most influential artists of the rock & roll era.

 

The Piano Music of Chopin – Topping the Charts for 200 Years

For our guest blog in May, we’re looking forward to an update from AQA. We heard from the exam board last year and they’ll be updating us on recent GCSE, AS and A level developments.

ChopinThis month we focus on the wonderful piano music of Fryderyk Chopin, whose birthday was on March 1st. Chopin’s piano music, which features on the AQA GCSE syllabus, is perhaps less immediately familiar to students than the music of their favourite pop band, but his influence on other musicians and composers was enormous. Most students will have heard the music of Chopin in one form or another.

Fryderyk (or Frédéric) Chopin was born in March 1810 in Zelazowa Wola, about 30 miles from Warsaw, Poland. He was just 39 years old when he died, but had established himself as a leading expert on the piano as a composer, teacher and performer.

Chopin’s entire body of work focuses on the piano. All his compositions include the piano, and many of his works are for solo piano. In fact, Chopin is the only great composer whose work all involves the piano –  He didn’t write any symphonies, operas or choral music, and he produced only a small number of pieces compositions that involve other instruments. He wrote around 200 works, 169 of which are for solo piano!

Chopin was hugely influential in the development of modern piano technique and style. He was the first composer to overcome the percussive nature of the physical instrument and produce truly lyrical sounds. He created new colours, harmonies and means of expression, exploiting every facet in the new developments in piano construction. The seven-octave keyboard opened up new musical possibilities and the improved mechanism aided virtuoso techniques. But more than this, Chopin possessed a poetic touch that makes his compositions unique. His influence on harmony was monumental, with composers including Wagner following his ideas.

PianoChopin’s connection with the piano was particularly important for his compositions. He is the first composer to write purely in terms of what the piano could do, with no attempt to echo the sounds of the choir or orchestra. His inspiration, unlike that of composers such as Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann, never came from paintings or literature.

Chopin’s performances of his own works were often slightly different from the written versions, suggesting that composition and improvisation were linked in his creative process. Many of his compositions were linked to his teaching, with a number of works composed for and dedicated to his students, or written for friends, including Liszt.

Whether or not Chopin can be credited with bringing Nationalism to music, it is true that Polish tradition influenced his work. The musical forms he used, alongside the modes and rhythms, demonstrate his Polish heritage. Other influences came from time spent in Vienna and Paris, and other master composers including Mozart, Field, Paganini and Bellini.

Chopin spent time with a number of key composers of the Romantic period including Liszt, Berlioz, Schumann and Mendelssohn. He travelled around Europe, like most of his contemporaries, touring England and Scotland in 1848.

A master of piano music, most of his works were written for the smaller piano forms: Ballades, Études, Mazurkas, Nocturnes, Polonaises , Preludes and Waltzes. He was a master of the miniature, and many music historians accept his piano writing technique as a model.

Chopin is perhaps best known for his Mazurkas and Polonaises. Both are Polish dances, reflecting the composer’s roots. He also developed the Nocturne. The term nocturne was first used to describe a piece of music by the Irish pianist and composer John Field in 1814, but Chopin, in the words of critic James Huneker, “invested it with an elegance and depth of meaning which had never been given to it before”.

The Mazurka became the national dance of Poland in the later 18th and early 19th Century, developing into a highly stylised dance piece. Chopin drew on the traditional rural Mazurka in his piano pieces, retaining the energy of the style while adapting it into a sophisticated art form, which it retained in European music.

Chopin’s Polonaises were written after the November 1830 Warsaw Uprising, when Chopin was living in France. The dance had long been out of fashion, but he perhaps used the form as a symbol of Poland. He used the familiar rhythmic and melodic formulae of the traditional Polonaise, keeping many of the dance elements even though the works were for the concert hall rather than the ballroom.

Polonaise_Op._53Chopin’s dances were written for concert performances and have been described as dances for the soul, not the body.

Chopin’s piano works keep his music near the top of recording sales even today.

His music also frequently appears in popular culture, as integral and familiar as the most famous Beatles song. From 1945, Perry Como’s song Till the End of Time is based on Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise, and Barry Manilow’s Could it Be Magic is based on the C Minor Prelude of Opus 28. Alicia Keys’ album As I Am opens with an adaptation of the Nocturne in C sharp Minor No. 20, and the Raindrop Prelude was used in a commercial for the video game Halo 3.

Samba – The Heartbeat of Brazil

Samba is the most typical, important and recognisable music of Brazil. It is common throughout Brazil, but is most frequently associated with urban Rio de Janeiro, where it developed during the 19th and 20th centuries. It is celebratory music, frequently identified with Carnival and the exotic, feathered dance outfits. Rio’s football grounds will come alive with samba music and dance during the 2016 Olympics.

[Image: Ian Gampon]

[Image: Ian Gampon]

The music and dance of samba originates in Africa, with its roots in the religious traditions of Angola, the Congo and Cape Verde, brought to South America via the West African slave trade. The Africans trafficked to Brazil belonged to two major groups: the West African and the Bantu people.

The origin of the word samba is uncertain. It is possible that it derives from semba, which is a popular form of music and dance in Angola, but the word semba means dance in only two Bantu languages.

One of the oldest records of the word samba appeared in 1938 in an article by Father Miguel Lopes Gama of Sacramento who was writing against what he called the samba d’almocreve, a kind of dance drama popular among black people of that time.

And according to author Hiram Araújo, who has written extensively on the history of the Carnival, samba was a name for the festival of dances held by slaves in Bahia.

In the mid 19th century, the word samba defined various types of music and dance made by African slaves. This music was from different kinds of batuque – African music and dance originally performed for specific social and ceremonial occasions. But samba assumed different characteristics in each Brazilian state depending on the cultural heritage of the Africans in that region.

Early styles of samba, in particular samba de roda, can be traced back to the Recôncavo region of Bahia where religious ceremonies were followed by informal dancing. But it was in Rio that the music and dance practiced by former slaves who migrated from Bahia became integrated with other musical genres; the polka, the maxixe, the lundu and the xote.

Modern samba developed only at the end of the 1920s, and as it consolidated as an urban and modern expression, it found a place on radio stations, spreading across hills and neighbourhoods to the affluent southern areas of Rio de Janeiro.

Initially viewed unfavourably by the middle classes because it had roots in African music, the samba, with its hypnotic rhythms, melodic intonations and playful lyrics, became hugely popular, and in turn led to the development of new genres such as bossa nova.

Black women from Bahia were seen as free, bold women. They created something of a cultural revolution in Rio, and so samba acquired its own unique character and the samba schools were born.

[Image - Ian Gampon]

[Image – Ian Gampon]

Samba schools are large organisations of up to 5,000 people. They compete annually in the Carnival with thematic floats, elaborate costumes, and original music. The schools have a strong community basis and are traditionally associated with a particular neighbourhood. In Rio de Janeiro, the schools are often linked with particular shanty-towns.

The schools focus around various events, the most important of which is the annual carnival parade. During Carnival, samba boosts the Brazilian economy by around 500 million US dollars and creates approximately 300 thousand jobs in Rio alone.

Each school spends many months designing its theme, choosing the song, building a float and rehearsing. Fourteen of the top samba schools in Rio use a specially designed warehouse complex called Samba City to build and house their elaborate floats. Samba City, or Cidade do Samba, is the size of ten football pitches!

This video shows a samba drumming band in full swing.

To find out more about the instruments and rhythms of samba music, and to learn about how a samba band comes together, check out our blog The Samba Workshop – How It Works.

Chinese New Year: Celebrating the Music of China

Chinese New Year falls on the 8th of February in 2016. It is a public holiday marking the first day of the lunar calendar, so the date is different each year. The occasion centres around New Year’s Eve, the day of family reunions, and New Year’s Day, a day of close family visits and new year greetings, but celebrations often begin three weeks before. As we head into the Year of the Monkey, the Music Workshop Company takes a look at ancient Chinese music and the fantastic stories that accompany it.

The music of China has an extraordinary history stretching back thousands of years. Documents and artefacts give evidence of an advanced musical culture as early as 1125 BCE, when the emperors of the Zhou dynasty were in power.

According to Chinese mythology, music was created by Ling Lun, a scholar who lived around 2700 years BCE. Lun was sent by Emperor Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, to the western mountain area to cut bamboo pipes that could emit sounds matching the call of the immortal bird, the phoenix or fenghuang.

Gu Hongzhong, The Night Revels of Han Xizai

Gu Hongzhong, The Night Revels of Han Xizai

The formal system of court and ceremonial music in China was established during the Zhou dynasty, almost 3,000 years ago. At this time, music was conceived as a manifestation of the sounds of nature, with its yin and yang, complimentary and opposing forces. A system of pitch developed based on a ratio which symbolised heaven and earth, and on a pentatonic scale which derived from a circle of fifths theory.

Chinese philosophers took various views. To Confucius, music was vital for the refinement and cultivation of the individual, whereas the philosopher Mozi argued that music was an extravagant indulgence, and potentially harmful. In ancient times, in order to be considered a scholar, the study of music was integral, alongside that of calligraphy, painting and board game.

Instruments in ancient Chinese music were classified under eight categories, depending on the materials that made the sound.

  • Jin – metal
  • Shi – stone
  • Si – silk
  • Pao – gourd
  • Zhu – bamboo
  • Tu – clay
  • Ge – hide
  • Mu – wood
Listening to the Qin by Emperor Song Huizong

‘Listening to the Qin’ by Emperor Song Huizong

At this time, instrument called the qin was significant. The qin is sometimes called The Instrument of the Sages, and is associated with Confucius. It is now called the guqin, literally meaning ancient instrument. The word qin means both instrument and music. In fact, the word qin is still integrated into many Chinese names for instruments. The Chinese word for piano is Gāngqín.

The guqin is a seven-string instrument of the zither family. An ancient example of the qin was among instruments excavated from the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng, which was made around 433 BCE. Originally a five-stringed instrument, a sixth string was added to the qin around 1000 BCE by the Emperor Wen of Zhou, in mourning for his dead son. Emperor We of Zhou then added a seventh string to increase morale.

The body of the qin is made of wood, but the strings were made of silk, hence it was categorised as si, because it was the silk that made its sound. Interestingly, the ancient Chinese symbol for music was a combination of wood and silk, and the word music also means joy.

The sound of the qin is quite aesthetically unusual. Techniques include sliding up and down the string, even when the sound has already become inaudible. The string is plucked, but its resonance is used for several notes. Instead of trying to force a sound out of the string the player allows the natural sounds to emit from the strings. This sliding on the string even when the sound has disappeared creates a space or void in a piece. A deep connection is created with the listener, as whilst the player continues to slide, the listener fills in the notes in his mind.

There are many other traditional instruments which make up the unique sound of Chinese music. The erhu is a two-stringed bowed instrument that far predates the modern violin, originating about a thousand years ago.

Many Chinese instruments underwent changes in the early to mid 20th century. Most are now tuned with western tempered pitch and this has very much altered the sound of Chinese music. To increase volume, string instruments are often strung with steel or nylon, rather than silk.

In this performance on guqin, traditional silk strings are used. The music, from the Song dynasty, accompanies a poem written by Jiāng Kuí, a famous Chinese poet, composer and calligrapher who lived between approximately 1155 and 1221. This translation is given with the video:

When winds breathed slowly

and carried cotton blossom drifts

floating from the willow strands,

there in the fragrant willowshade,

we rested in green depths.

 

Sailing round faraway beaches,

sailing as evening falls;

in this total disorder

of aimless sailing,

where can I make land?

 

I’ve met my share of mankind,

but none are like the willows by that

gate of departure. None remain.

If trees had hearts like men do,

they would not be so green with life.

 

Night comes on, your high city disappears,

There’s only the tangle of endless mountains.

Like Wei Lang, I’ve left you-

But remember; this bracelet of jade;

believe this promise that we’ve made

When I left, you begged me “Soon return!”

For fear we’d leave the red flowers loveless.

 

And I didn’t take your pair of scissors with me,

but if I had, I still couldn’t cut

these thousand binding, silken threads

of melancholy exile.

 

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 and MWC Workshop Leader

TriesteProfile

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.

GGBodyPerc

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!

A Year in Music Education

The Music Workshop Company has had a positive and exciting time in 2014. We’ve worked with participants we’d not met before, designed brand new workshops, revisited some of our previous clients and thoroughly enjoyed facilitating a whole bunch of creativity and music making.Family

Much of the recent emphasis on music and music education in the media falls on the lack of funding faced by professional musicians and music educators, and the failure to make space in the curriculum for this valuable educational area. MWC is passionate about music education, and determined to have a positive impact through music workshops.

In order to give a sense of exactly what the Music Workshop Company is about, we’ve put together a round-up of some of our 2014 highlights: Our year in music education.

We got off to a flying start in January with a Rock School Workshop at Thomas Deacon School where we’ve worked before, and our first visit to Clarendon Fan Court Preparatory School for a Composition “Rock ‘n’ Roll” workshop.

“I was really pleased with the way the workshop leader got the children working as an ensemble from the start. Even as a whole year group, it made them focus on working together for the rest of the day. The material and songs chosen to demonstrate the points the workshop leader was making was relevant to the children, and he made sure everyone was included and involved at every stage of the day. I would most definitely recommend The Music Workshop Company to colleagues.” Claremont Fan Court Prep, Esher, Surrey, January 2014

We also had the opportunity to work with Ealing Mencap Group.

“The musician (Sarah) was very organised, well prepared, and had a very pleasant manner which our young people with learning disabilities seemed to appreciate. She was able to engage some people who find this very difficult and ran the session to meet their varying needs. I was impressed with her.” Kathryn White, Ealing Mencap, January 2014

photo-15In February, we enjoyed meeting past, present and future clients at the Rhinegold Music Education Expo at the Barbican. You can read all about the Expo in our blog post. We’ll be there again in March 2015 and look forward to seeing you if you can make it.

Our projects for March included a Music Composition project based on “Differences” at Milton Court Primary School.

“The children were thoroughly engaged in the workshops …a fun day was had by all … overall a very enjoyable experience.” J Pearn, Milton Court Primary, Sittingbourne, March 2014

We also led our first Community Orchestra project with Yardarm Folk Orchestra & Sussex Orchestra.

“The experience was seamless from the start and the workshop itself was brilliant. The Music Workshop Company immediately understood our problems at our initial enquiry … booking the workshop was simple and everything ran like clockwork. The workshop identified and dealt with the main problems which are faced by the two orchestras that participated. The pace and style of presentation were very appropriate and they were delivered in a capable and confident manner which held everyone’s attention throughout. This is definitely the most valuable activity that our orchestra has done since its formation.” Malcolm (Yardarm) and Eileen (Sussex) Orchestras, Benfleet, Essex, March 2014

Also in March we had our first of two visits to one of our longest standing clients, Newstead Wood School, with a West African Drumming Workshop. African Drumming is one of our most popular workshops for both adults and children, and it brings a surprising number of benefits. Read about the impact of drumming on confidence and well-being in our blog post.

In April, we got involved in the ISM’s Protect Music Campaign, and had a brilliant time at Clarendon Ongoing Opportunities, a group we have been working with for several years.

“High levels of engagement and listening with a group involving some with severe learning disabilities, young people were given ownership and variety” Thomas Hillman, Clarendon Ongoing Opportunities, April 2014

In May we visited our good friends at the Harpenden Gateway Club. We have run workshops for the group since 2007!

Harpenden Gateway Mencap May 2014 025-300x225“Thank you so much for your wonderful music workshop at Gateway last week.   Our members thoroughly enjoy your visits, as indeed the turnout that evening showed!” Natalie Chaston, Harpenden Gateway, May 2014

We returned to Newstead Wood School in June for their annual Composition Workshop leading to a performance at their school concert. You can read about this project in more depth here.

We also had a fabulous time at Story Wood School with a Samba Workshop.

“Enjoyed the range of instruments and putting them together as a Samba band- it sounded great! Very positive and enjoyable!” Rachel Marsh, Story Wood School, June 2014

Then we had another amazing day with West Mercia Brownies. It was great to be invited back!

July was a busy month with school workshops, holiday club projects and a corporate project, including a fun day at the Oak Tree Centre in the Lightmoor Village Centre for the Bournville Village Trust working with participants from aged 3 to 13.

photo-14During the school holiday in August, we spent a hot, sunny day in Fairlands Valley Park, Stevenage taking part in a music day. We worked with participants of all ages in our family workshops.

And as the new school year began we worked with children and parents at Lostock Gralam Church of England School, to write a new school song, which you can listen to on our audio page.

“A very enjoyable experience for both adults and children in school. The finale where we shared the song was fantastic!” Lostock Gralam Church of England School, September 2014

We got more great feedback from one our October workshops:

“The children were introduced to new instruments and had the chance to play them…. All the children enjoyed the interactive style of the workshop.” Laura Burton, Moseley Church of England School, October 2014

And in the October half-term, we were lucky enough to spend a day at the Elgar Birthplace Museum working with families to create new pieces of music. It was a real privilege for the workshop leaders to work in the home of one of England’s greatest composers, and the workshop was brilliant fun. The pieces we created there are also available to listen to on our audio page.

“A big thank you for the lovely event you ran last week.” Lily Dean, Elgar Birthplace Museum, October 2014 

Body percussionIn November we visited Wyvil Primary School to celebrate their Latin American Day, and as the end of term approaches we have a whole host of workshops to look forward to, and plenty of creative ideas for next year.

Thank you to all our clients and participants for making 2014 a truly memorable year.

We are always open to receiving last-minute enquiries if we are available to run a workshop for you, and we are taking bookings for the New Year. Contact us to arrange your custom-built workshop today. We are looking forward to making music with you!

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