I went to two schools concerts as part of Spitalfields Music Festival running from 11-26 June 2010. They couldn’t have benn more contrasting in content, presenters and musicians but there were some key aspects common to both in the way they presented the music to children.
The first concert on Fri 18 June 2010 10.30am at Shoreditch Church was presented by Sam Glazer with students from the Royal Academy of Music where we were transported into the unique sound world of the inspirational composer Iannis Xenakis.
The second concert on Wed 23 June 2010 10.30am at Christ Church Spitalfields with The Sixteen and presenter Hannah Conway was specially-designed to introduce the music of Monteverdi’s music to all ages and attention spans.
The key feature of both of these concerts was that they were interactive. The pupils did not passively observe the musicians performing on stage but were actively drawn into the action and even helped create the performance whether it was by responding to questions, going on stage, singing a pre-learnt song, learning actions to music or being recorded to help produce the final composition.
The most original method was pioneered by Hannah Conway who got the pupils to react to the sounds they heard whether through actions or singing a response. For example, whenever they heard imitation the children put their thumbs up, whenever the sopranos showed off the children yawned, when the singers were in conversation they counted the singers’ entries on their fingers and when the soprano sang a certain tune the children echoed it down an octave in response.
The actions were first introduced when learning about a particular aspect of the music with short demonstrations and then the pieces were heard in their full entirety. Normally this would be when children would either switch off or get an overload of sound. However, this system helped focus the children’s aural skills by listening out for certain features that were then reinforced by an action. Not only did the actions help aid the memory of each of the musical features discussed but made the children part of the performance. In short, Hannah has created a new interactive way of listening.
Both concerts recognised the fact the children’s minds will wonder unless they are fully engaged. The presenters used techniques to settle restless children, such as playing copy cat when they had to copy the actions of the presenter whether it was putting their hands on their head or stamping their feet. Interestingly, these moments were not planned but incorporated when the need arose.
They also constantly tested the children but asking them questions. I was impressed by the way Hannah Conway tested the childrens’ memories, as she frequently returned to themes introduced earlier on in the concert to see if they could remember the details, whether it was what action went with imitation or the name of the keyboard player. Furthermore, this helped reinforce the learning process.
Way of communication:
The tone of language used for both concerts was informal, for example with the musicians being introduced using their first names. They used simple language and any complex names were learnt through imitation and repetition. For example, I even can remember the name of the lute-like instrument, the kitarone (though I may have not spelt it correctly). There were some even some funny moments for example when Hannah Conway interrupted the singers thinking they they were doing something wrong.
When explaining or describing something, the presenters made sure it related to the children. For example, on describing the Royal Academy of Music Sam Glazer explained how it was near Madame Tussauds Wax Museum – relating it to something the children would be familiar with.
As an adult I thoroughly enjoyed the interactive element of the concert and even though other adults were initially reluctant to join in, they appeared to enjoy themselves when they finally did. Originally I was unsure how to make a concert interactive, but now I have plenty of ideas for the future.