I had the fantastic opportunity to test-drive my musical storytelling on my 3 ½ year old nephew. The story that I was working on was one of his favourite books, so I hoped it would be appropriate for his age. The day before I had brought my cello out and showed him how it worked and even let him have a go. I first tried playing it to him just after we got back from a long walk and he was playing with his new racing track. However, when I got to introducing the ‘big, bad wolf’ I was told, ‘Alice, can you stop playing your cello now, it too loud’.
I little deflated, I gave it another attempt the following day, asking whether he wanted to hear the story if I didn’t play so loud. I started by putting my mute on, but after a few notes he told me to take it off! Much to my relief he stayed engaged for a full 20 minutes, and even played a part in telling the story.
I sat on the sofa while he sat on the floor with the story book on my music stand, so that it was clearly visible. He alternated from lying on a blanket and listening, to standing up to look at the story book when prompted and even got up really close looking at my cello.
The interaction with one child worked very well, as once the pattern was introduced, I started to ask questions. I asked what would happen next, what someone said or what someone was doing in the picture? i.e. and what do you think Claire said? He caught onto the phrase of ‘look at my bad knee’ and repeated it in a suitably whinny voice, as well shouting out what animal the music represented (though deducing it from the picture and not the music). We sometimes diverted from the story for a moment, when he wanted to say something or ask a question. Not wanting to force him on, I didn’t restart immediately at these moments, but he ended up initiating the return to the story saying ‘come on Alice’ and pointing at the book.
After the story, he was very keen to try the cello again and though aided, produced a very good bow tone. He returned to his cars but at least 30mins later he had acquired part of a vacuum cleaner nozzle, which he starting ‘moaning’ down. He told me he was making ‘sad music’ which I assume was in response to the ‘sad music’ in the story. Not wanting to perform on his own, we played ‘sad music’ together, mine being Tchaikovsky’s ‘Early French Song’. He then indicated when he trumpeted down the vacuum that I had to start or stop playing my tune, so we played for a while with him conducting the music.
I had complimented him on his good listening and playing, so when his Mummy came into the room, he whispered exactly what he wanted me to tell his Mum. He was obviously very proud and made sure I told her how good he had been on the cello. On the way home, he even told his Grandma (Mamma) how he had played the cello.
Very pleased that the interaction was so successful, but I would have to re-think how I could adapt this to a group of children.